People with narcissism are not inherently bad people. But they can be challenging to date. Here are the red flags to look out for.

You’ve recently started dating someone who’s charming and confident, but you’re beginning to notice a shallow and selfish side. They seem to lack any signs of empathy or vulnerability.

Is it possible to know if you’re dating a narcissist?

While only a mental health specialist can diagnose narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), if you notice the person you have started dating harbors narcissistic traits, you may want to proceed with caution.

Dating someone with narcissistic traits can be challenging and may require adjusting your expectations about what a relationship looks like.

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a Cluster B personality disorder characterized by an over-inflated sense of self, lack of empathy, and an intense need for admiration.

NPD is estimated to affect 7.7% of males and 4.8% of females in the general population, so you may have encountered a person with narcissism or have even dated someone with these traits.

A partner with narcissistic traits is more likely to play games, act in manipulative ways, and exploit you for their benefit. If a person you’re dating exhibits these traits, it doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is doomed. However, a relationship with a narcissist may also be different than what you are used to.

For instance, dating a person with narcissistic traits may require accommodations, shifts in expectations, and an understanding that there is significant potential for hurt. Many people with narcissism are unaware of their condition, making it especially important you enter the relationship prepared for some toxic behavior.

Here are some narcissism red flags to look out for:

  • Lacking empathy. They seem unable or unwilling to have empathy for others, and they appear to have no desire for emotional intimacy.
  • Unrealistic sense of entitlement. They expect others to cater to their desires and may get angry when corrected, put out, or treated as if they’re “common.”
  • Needs to be the center of attention. They may get unreasonably distressed if they feel ignored or if someone else gets more attention than they do.
  • Displays arrogant behaviors and attitudes. They may constantly talk about their successes, romantic conquests, or money. They might “complain” about how much they get hit on.
  • Exploits and takes advantage of others. They use others for their own gain. For instance, they might be “friends” with someone just so they can use their pool or get rides to work.
  • Regularly talks about their fantasies of power, success, or beauty. Conversations often revolve around material things and never get too deep.
  • Behaves as if they’re exceptionally “special.” They feel like they can only be understood by other “special” people.
  • Envious of others or think that others are envious of them. They may gossip about people they’re secretly envious of, or make up their own reasons for why that person is successful, attractive, well-liked, etc. (“She only looks good because of all that plastic surgery.”)

How to spot a narcissist on the first date

You’re on a first date with someone who’s exciting and fun but you’re worried they might be a little egotistical or shallow. Could your new date have narcissistic traits?

While it’s difficult to identify a potential narcissist on the first date, you might be able to spot a few red flags:

  • Have they been love-bombing you? Has your date been overwhelming you with affectionate texts from the get-go? Love-bombing — excessive and affectionate communication and gestures (compliments, gifts, etc.) at the beginning of a romantic relationship — is typically carried out by narcissists to obtain power and control over you.

In fact, research suggests that love-bombing may be a necessary strategy for romantic relationships among people with high traits of narcissism and low levels of self-esteem. Of course, people without narcissism can also love-bomb, but it’s typically because they really like you and because they are trying to control you.

  • Pay attention to the conversations. Do their conversations tend to revolve around their interests only? Do their eyes glaze over when you start talking? Do they seem to focus most on material things like nice cars or shoes?
  • How do they treat others? Narcissists can be indifferent or even rude to people they think are “below” them. Pay attention if your date complains a lot or gets angry at the waiter for small things. Do they enjoy making the waiter feel uncomfortable?
  • Do they have an excessive need for attention and validation? Do they seem excessively concerned with their appearance? Are they constantly looking around to see who’s looking at them?
  • Do they never get vulnerable? Does your date focus only on all of their achievements and successes? Do they avoid personal questions? Are they focused on getting you to be vulnerable instead?
  • Have you caught them in a lie? Look out for lies, games, and any manipulative tactics. Perhaps they told you they have no contact with their ex-partner, but in the middle of your date, they get a call from their ex.
  • Do you like them less as the night goes on? Research indicates that narcissists tend to make a great first impression due to their perceived self-confidence, but this impression tends to decline over time due to a lack of true connection and depth.

Cluster B red flags

Narcissistic personality disorder is categorized as a Cluster B personality disorder. Disorders in this cluster are defined by dramatic and erratic emotions and behaviors.

Other Cluster B disorders include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, and histrionic personality disorder. People with these disorders often have overlapping symptoms of the other disorders.

Red flags for these Cluster B disorders might include the following:

  • unstable relationships
  • easily triggered/volatile emotions
  • obsessively focused on appearance
  • engages in inappropriate behaviors to get praise or attention
  • easily influenced by others
  • thinking relationships are closer or more intimate than they really are
  • unable to control anger
  • manipulates others
  • difficulty maintaining long-term relationships
  • acts irresponsibly
  • lacks guilt
  • feelings of emptiness
  • lack of self-reflection

If you suspect you’re dating a narcissist, it might be hard to know exactly what to do next, especially if you have feelings for them. Narcissism is a mental health condition, which means they are not choosing to be this way.

Instead, people with narcissism tend to have low self-esteem and protect themselves by engaging in grandiose behavior. If you’re dating a person with narcissistic traits, you may find their behavior quite hurtful at times.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to end the relationship, but it does mean you will want to reflect on whether this is a type of dynamic you are comfortable exploring.

Consider educating yourself on narcissism and on how to set clear boundaries in your relationship. You may also want to consider therapy.

This Psych Central article gives more information on how to deal with a narcissistic partner.

Can you successfully date a narcissist?

Narcissism exists on a spectrum, which means how challenging a person with narcissism is to date can vary significantly. This means that if you have strong feelings for someone with narcissism, there is hope and you don’t necessarily need to end the relationship right away.

However, you may also want to prepare yourself for a potentially different type of relationship dynamic than you may be used to. As a result, you will likely want to develop healthy coping strategies and understand the limits of your relationship. Ensuring you have a good support system outside of your relationship can also be incredibly helpful.

In short, you can sustain a relationship with a narcissist but it will likely require adjusting expectations and realizing you may not get all you want and need from the relationship.

NPD is a personality disorder marked by a lack of empathy, a grandiose sense of self, and an overwhelming need for praise and admiration. Sometimes, this behavior occurs as a defense mechanism for low self-esteem, insecure attachment issues, trauma from childhood abuse, or family of origin issues.

In other words, NPD is rooted in one’s own pain but is manifested in inflicting pain on others, especially those they date. This is because they are oblivious to their impact on others due to the blind spots that narcissism creates.

A love interest with narcissism is more likely to play games, act manipulatively, and use you for their own self-interests.

While you can’t diagnose a person with narcissism on your own, it’s important to watch out for some of the more obvious symptoms of the disorder in order to protect yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to end the relationship if you suspect your partner is a narcissist, however. That choice is entirely up to you.

If you do want to continue your relationship, you will likely want to educate yourself on narcissism, create strong boundaries, and ensure you have a strong support system around you.