A scientist’s guide to life: how not to date a psychopath

As Valentine’s Day rolls around again, forensic psychologist Kerry Daynes explains how to avoid the pitfalls of dating.

I think I’m dating a psychopath. Should I worry?

If you’re asking yourself whether or not you’re dating a psychopath, then that in itself is telling you something. Your partner is unlikely to be a psychopath, but it could be a sign that you’re dating someone you shouldn’t be. Perhaps it’s time to rethink your relationship.

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How can I tell?

Psychopaths lack empathy and are prone to antisocial behaviour. They’re often impulsive, coercive and intense, but no two psychopaths are the same and there’s no single sign to look out for. Look for clusters of behaviour that make you feel uncomfortable.

© James Minchall
© James Minchall

How likely am I to be dating a psychopath?

Most people who show these behaviours aren’t psychopaths at all. They’re probably just d***s.

About 1 to 3 per cent of the population are genuine psychopaths, but despite what the media portrays, few psychopaths are rapists or murderers. I work with criminal psychopaths, who do break the law, but most psychopaths aren’t law breakers.

We call them ‘successful psychopaths’ because they often end up with high profile jobs in areas like politics, business and the military.

Need to know…

  1. Psychopaths can be charming, intense and exciting, but they lack empathy.
  2. Don’t be worried about dumping a psychopath. They probably won’t care.
  3. The majority of psychopaths are not lawbreakers.

Is it easy to fall for a psychopath?

They can be charming; some more than others. One study showed that American psychopaths are more charming than Glaswegian ones! Psychopaths are prone to grand ideas and gestures. They can be intense and exciting to be around.

The problem is that often, their gestures feel hollow because the day-to-day empathy is lacking.

Can psychopaths make good partners?

It’s about what you’re looking for. If you want to go out with someone who’s successful, exciting and charming, but probably not the most sensitive or reliable partner, it’s up to you. I think you’d be foolish to expect any long-term commitment from a psychopath.

Read more from A scientist’s guide to life:

Are you likely to meet a psychopath on an online dating site or app?

It’s possible. There’s certainly a psychopathic culture around internet dating. There are so many individuals to talk to online, it’s easy to stop thinking of them as people and treat them badly.

The anonymity of online dating can make people feel that they’re not personally accountable for their behaviour. It causes changes in key brain regions that are linked to aggression and poor decision-making, and may help explain why some people feel it’s okay to be rude to others online.

What’s the best way to dump a psychopath?

Don’t be frightened of dumping them. Most psychopaths are quite fickle. They look at relationships in terms of what’s in it for them. Whether or not they’re easy to dump depends on the value you have to them.

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It could be that you dump them and they then move on to the next partner who they’ve been seeing behind your back for the last three weeks. You’re free.