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The Dark Triad: How To Save Yourself From Dating Dark Personalities Online

By June 3, 2024Blog
Dating Dark Triad

Online dating gives singletons access to lots of dating opportunities but with that comes the good, bad and downright dangerous. Think Dark Triad traits: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. These three personality traits are characterised by manipulative behaviours, selfishness, and ruthlessness, and the exploitation of others.

As people with Dark Triad traits try to influence people for their own personal gain, with little or zero regard for others, being able to quickly detect who is worth your investment of time and emotions is an important tool for your healthy dating journey.

And it’s not just online dating. Dangerous people are everywhere, now more than ever as visual social media use (think selfies and videos) has been found to significantly increase narcissism in as little as four months whereas predominantly verbal social media use (think written text) has not [1], and narcissism is strongly linked to aggressive and violent behaviour, in males and females, both provoked and unprovoked [2].

So whilst this change in the dating landscape exists, the solution for daters is to look at ways to detect and avoid those risks and do so quickly and fairly effortlessly. And that’s what we’re going to talk about right now.


Online Dating – Testing, Testing, 1, 2, 3

Initially, with online dating you are merely looking for matches online and then seeking to build on those connections offline during a first date, to see what those connections (1) look, (2) sound and (3) feel like. Here is a simple way to think about those 3 facets with a focus on authentic connections.

1. Look

Does your mutual body language reflect mutual interest and excitement, even if to begin with that interest and excitement is simply a genuine motivation to get to know one another better because you have both sensed there may be something between you that could potentially flourish.

2. Sound

Is there a fairly upbeat rapid back and forth between you? Researchers have uncovered that when we subjectively feel like we’re clicking with someone, we take less than 250ms, i.e. less than a quarter of a second, to respond to one another in conversation [3].

A response time of less than 250ms happens before conscious control kicks in signalling that the response is genuine rather than them merely mirroring or otherwise manipulating you. Someone who is manipulating you might try to convince you of a genuine connection between you but if their responses take longer than 250ms it could be that they’re actually trying to fake rapport with you.

3. Feel

Can you viscerally, deep within your body, feel positive emotions as you interact with one another such as inner calm, butterflies in your stomach, or flutters around your heart.

Once you know how the initial connection looks, sounds and feels like during that first date, then you can much more easily work out (and even more easily alongside other strategies I use with dating coaching clients), whether you want to go out on a second date. And if you do and they do, great. But you still need to know if this new connection you’ve made is good for you. And if it’s safe for you.

Remember that when it’s a genuine connection, it flows effortlessly; when it’s forced or fake, it’s like trudging through treacle.


Dating Goals Can Elucidate

Being disingenuous is a core part of those with Dark Triad personality traits. What you see, or rather, what narcissists, Machiavellians and psychopaths show you, is not who they really are. Not. Even. Close.

So one way to quickly work out if the person you’ve been on a date or two with is actually someone with Dark Triad traits, is to watch how they behave, and to ask them certain questions to work out if what they say is what they mean. For example, uncover whether they are simply after a one-night stand or are looking for lasting love, assuming you are too. Here’s why this can be elucidating.

One study building on numerous other studies that have found a link between people with the Dark Triad traits having a preference for short-term relationships, found that, specifically, and helpfully for you:

  • people with narcissism had a preference for one-night stands and friends-with-benefits, whilst
  • people with psychopathy preferred booty-call relationships [4].

Okay. So even though the person you’re dating may well just be looking for short-term fun rather than a serious relationship, it’s also possible that they actually have one of the Dark Triad traits and you’re just about to give yourself a lucky escape.

Remember that they may fool you into believing that they want a serious relationship, while their actions are signalling that they are actually trying to rush you into sexual relations. Remember that they may lavish you with praise and adoration even though they’ve only recently met you, all whilst trying to bed you.

So finding out if your date is looking for a serious relationship, or lasting love, and importantly, whether they are behaving as though they are, could prevent a lot of heartache for you, and save you from the more dangerous consequences of being with someone with narcissism, Machiavellianism, or psychopathy.


Dating Behaviour – Ghoster or Breadcrumber

Now what if you’ve been on a date or three and the person has started ‘ghosting’ or ‘breadcrumbing’ you, or if they’ve started doing that before you’ve even met? What does that tell you?

Assuming you haven’t freaked them out and they’re not ghosting you for their own safety’s sake, it can suggest something is amiss. Best case scenario, they’re not being respectful nor compassionate towards you, which isn’t a good start for any relationship (and that’s a major understatement). Worst case scenario, they are displaying signs that they have one of the Dark Triad traits.

Researchers looked at whether the presence of Dark Triad traits predicted inauthentic self-presentation on online dating and the use of ghosting and breadcrumbing during online dating interactions [5].

Those with vulnerable narcissism were significantly likely to present themselves inauthentically on online dating sites, i.e. present a false persona.

  • Therefore, if you notice inconsistencies in a dater’s stories, or between their words and actions, pay attention. Pay very close attention to everything they say and do, and that which they don’t say and do which also raises the alarm for you.

Inauthentic self-presentation was also more prevalent in those who had reported breadcrumbing someone in the past, compared with those who had not.

  • So breadcrumbing and inauthenticity may go hand-in-hand. Ergo, if you notice any inconsistencies, use them to mentally prepare yourself for the fact that this person may go on to breadcrumb you at some point soon and if they do, you’ll feel more resilient as and when it does happen, and more easily prepared to walk away.

Interestingly, those who had ghosted someone were significantly higher in vulnerable narcissism and secondary psychopathy whilst those who had breadcrumbed someone were significantly higher in vulnerable narcissism and Machiavellianism views when compared with those who had not ghosted or breadcrumbed anyone, respectively.


Narcissism Can Lead To Abusive Relationships

Importantly, given vulnerable narcissism is linked to intimate partner violence, as found in various studies including in a meta-analytic review of twenty-two studies with a total of 11,520 participants [6], this is a major warning for you that embarking on a relationship with someone who displays vulnerable narcissism – for which the early warning signs may be their stories of ghosting or breadcrumbing in the past, or them doing it to you – could be very dangerous for your future mental health and wellbeing.

Please. Please pay attention to what you are noticing from the moment you start interacting with a dater online, and also offline.

The time you will lose and the psychological damage you may endure will not be worth the excitement and hope you experience at the start of the relationship as they lavish you with fake attention and making you think that they could be just the perfect partner for you.

Remember what I mentioned earlier: who people with Dark Triad traits present themselves as is not who they are. And don’t think you’ll automatically find out who they are, quickly. It can take years for you their mask to fall. Years. And you’ve no doubt heard how difficult it can be for victims of domestic violence (psychological, physical, or sexual) to leave their abuser.

Not only is it emotionally incredibly difficult, it can be fraught with danger.

So be smart and love yourself enough to know when ‘not good enough’ is staring you in the face, very early on, even, perhaps, before you meet.


If You Have To, ‘Head For The Hills And Don’t Look Back’

Dealing with someone with Dark Triad traits takes the meaning of self-care to a whole new level. Ensure you are acutely aware of every encounter you have with someone you suspect might be narcissistic, Machiavellian, or psychopathic. Use all the aforementioned research to help you.

And remember:

a) Do the 3-point test to see what those connections (1) look, (2) sound, and (3) feel like. Importantly, recognise whether you really click or whether the connection feels awkward or forced in some way.

b) Work out what their dating goal is, through their actions even if not through their proclamations which as we know, may be inauthentic. If they’re showing you that they are more interested in a short-term fling, pay attention to all of their communications and conduct and see if the picture is consistent and believable or whether there are things that raise the alarm.

c) Use signs of an inauthentic online dating persona and any stories of previous ghosting and breadcrumbing, particularly those explained away with an inconsiderate or even callous attitude, as warning signs that you may be dating a person with Dark Triad traits.

If you realise you are dating someone with a Dark Core, get away from them carefully and quickly, and the safest way is to do it without letting them know that you know that they have Dark Triad traits.

And to finish off, here are a few quotes from Happy Relationships [7] to help you on your journey:

‘Every time someone tries to enter your life, online or offline, you should be vetting them by asking yourself questions and checking in with your bodily sensations, to help you decipher whether you want to grant them access to your heart, your mind and your life.’

‘People shape your character, your self-esteem and your life. You are valuable, so ensure that the only people allowed to stick around are those who consistently treat you as valuable.’

‘Sometimes it takes time to vet people; simply tell yourself, ‘You have now been vetted. Your application has been denied. Goodbye!’ and then hit delete, physically on your social media account or mentally.’



1. Reed, P., Bircek, N. I., Osborne, L. A., Viganò, C., & Truzoli, R. (2018). Visual Social Media Use Moderates the Relationship between Initial Problematic Internet Use and Later Narcissism. The Open Psychology Journal, 11 (1):163 DOI: 10.2174/1874350101811010163

2. Kjærvik, S. L., & Bushman, B. J. (2021). The link between narcissism and aggression: A meta-analytic review. Psychological Bulletin, 147(5), 477–503.

3. Templeton, E. M., Chang, L. J., Reynolds, E. A., Cone LeBeaumont, M. D., & Wheatley, T. (2022). Fast response times signal social connection in conversation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 119(4), e2116915119.

4. Jonason, P. K., Luevano, V. X., & Adams, H. M. (2012). How the Dark Triad traits predict relationship choices. Personality and Individual Differences, 53(3), 180–184.

5. Willis, M.L., Oliver, E.G., & March, E. (2023). Dating in the dark: Vulnerable narcissism predicts inauthentic self-presentation in online dating. Telematics Informatics, 81.

6. Oliver, E., Coates, A., Bennett, J. M., & Willis, M. L. (2023). Narcissism and Intimate Partner Violence: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 0(0).

7. Owen, S. (2019). Happy Relationships: 7 simple rules to create harmony and growth. UK: Orion Publishing