12 Surprising Red Flags That Expose Narcissists on the First Date

Whether on the first date or the one-year anniversary, narcissists eventually exhibit twelve red flags that give away their true nature. More covert manipulators may unmask themselves only after they suspect you’re already invested in the relationship. However, it’s still good to watch out for any of these behaviors on a first date because it’s only downhill from there and these manipulation tactics will only worsen over time. Relationships with narcissists can cause PTSD, which is why it is so important to familiarize yourself with manipulation tactics as soon as you can. Here are the twelve surprising signs you may be dating a narcissist:  

They morally grandstand and virtue signal about how honest they are, engaging in impression management to get you to trust them. 

It is usually a red flag when manipulators stress to you early on, unsolicited and unprovoked, about how “honest” they are and how they would “never lie to you.” The people who depict themselves this way early on tend to be pathological liars. This is a preemptive defense. It’s a form of moral grandstanding used by manipulators to manage your impression of them so you doubt yourself when you do notice the discrepancies between their actions and their words later in the relationship. Narcissists and psychopaths virtue signal about having high moral values and integrity they do not possess. They may even attack the character of others and claim they would never partake in such “immoral” actions. However, you will soon find out their actions rarely match their words. Remember that trustworthy people normally do not have to emphasize qualities that come naturally to them because, for them, honesty and integrity are their default ways of living and being. Pathological liars use this form of moral grandstanding to preemptively depict themselves as honest and trustworthy when they are anything but. 

They try to make you jealous.

Research tells us that narcissists provoke jealousy for a number of reasons, namely to gain a sense of power and control over their partners but also to test the relationship and compensate for low self-esteem in the cases of vulnerable narcissists. Whether it’s blatantly checking out the waitress on the first date (and looking at you to gauge your reaction and make sure you notice them doing this) or bringing up an ex-fling in an excessively fond way, if a narcissist drops this red flag on a first date or before the first date, you’re in for a traumatic rollercoaster. Cut ties early and run while you still can. Resist the urge to enter your “raccoon era” and don’t fight over what simply isn’t worth fighting over. A partner who is truly worthy of you would never make you compete for them.

They bring up their exes when you’re not on the topic.

Welcome to red flag central. Would you like a margarita with those manufactured love triangles? The narcissist is notorious for bringing up their exes – whether by devaluing them as crazy, obsessed, and bitter, or idealizing them and putting them on a pedestal in hopes it’ll spark your interest and add to their appeal. In reality, all it does is make them appear emotionally unavailable and toxic. On a first date, someone should be focused on impressing you and getting to know you. Get back to the present moment and detach from anyone who appears stuck in the past.

They’re heavy on the future faking.

You’ve only met this person and they’re already talking about marriage, vacations, mortgages, and the names of your first-born children. It’s one thing to flirt, tease, and make a joke or two about the future, but a whole other affair to plan so far ahead with someone you barely know. They may get you to imagine romantic dates, lavish vacations, gifts, a peaceful family life, marriage, or children. This future faking can happen within the first few dates and drag out for weeks, months, or even years but it always ends up the same. You begin investing in a dream, only to wake up in a living nightmare with a manipulator who never fulfills the promises they made you. Narcissists and psychopaths future fake for a particular agendawhether it be for attention, adoration, sex, money, a place to live, a loan, or the momentary thrill of duping you. They may future fake to get you to commit early on and exploit your resources. If someone’s running a speeding ticket by promising a future that doesn’t exist yet, it’s time to hit the brakes as quickly as possible before you crash.

They stage pity ploys and seem fascinated by your empathy.

You may experience the narcissist’s fascination with your empathy as reminiscent of an extraterrestrial observing human emotions and activities. That’s because a narcissist who lacks empathy can only mimic what he or she thinks it looks like without ever actually practicing it. So, they are fascinated with what makes you tick. They want access to your bleeding heart because they love victims who turn the other cheek and are sympathetic to their pity ploys. That’s why they’ll often begin the first date or the chats preceding it with sob stories about their broken heart and their life struggles. They want you to feel sorry for them, so they appear vulnerable. Yet these wounded baby birds operate more like poisonous snakes. They want you to feel a compulsion to rescue them just so they can have a bite. If someone tries to excessively gain your sympathy on the first date, beware. There are plenty of trauma survivors with genuinely horrific experiences who do not disclose such traumas unless it is warranted or asked about. A person who has authentic respect for your boundaries would be mindful of the information they dump on strangers.

They are a bit too interested in your childhood.

In a similar vein, narcissists and psychopaths don’t just get you to fixate on their problems: they want to know about yours as well. That’s because it helps them better understand your insecurities and vulnerabilities—the same qualities they will later use against you to entrap you in the abuse cycle. They want to know if you have “daddy issues” or a toxic mother. They want to know if you went through a recent heartbreak or trauma. The reason they scour for this information is quite nefarious: they’re looking to see if you’re more susceptible to being preyed upon by them. They know that victims who have been harmed in the past may be susceptible to retraumatization. They want to know how resilient you are and how they can take you down. Healthy dating partners don’t violate your privacy or needlessly poke at your wounds. Anyone looking for personal information at such an early stage of dating is a red flag.  

They seem jealous or envious of you, even though they pretend to support you.

The narcissist likes to surround themselves with people they deem “special and unique” – people who are attractive, successful, talented, popular, and stand out. They enjoy using these people to make themselves look good. The narcissist may be on their best behavior on their first date and pretend to be supportive of you and your achievements. However, if a narcissistic dating partner ever throws a subtle dig, a degrading comparison or a minimizing comment your waywhether on the first date or the fifthdetach immediately and do not pass go. Such envy will only escalate later on in the abuse cycle. Remember: healthy partners will never put down your accomplishments whether overtly or covertly.

They are obsessed with you—they lovebomb and flatter you excessively.

A well-versed and skilled narcissist will love bomb you long before the first date even occurs. They’ll swoop you off your feet with loving words, obsessive attention, and constant contact. By the time the first or second date does come around, they hope you’ll already be besotted with them and overlook their flaws and shortcomings. Love bombing also cuts down on any perceived competition: as the narcissist makes you the center of their world, you begin to center them as your source of validation and forego your other options and plans. If you find that a partner is too fixated on you early on in the relationship in unwarranted ways, it’s time to pull the plug. Slow down, detach, and observe. A healthy partner isn’t interested in fast-forwarding any form of intimacy because they’re looking for something long-term—they want a slowburning and long-lasting romance, not a fire that quickly fizzles out before it’s had time to grow.

There is sizzling, over-the-top chemistry. You find yourself too sexually attracted to them even if you may not have been as interested initially.

Speaking of intimacy, narcissists want it in spades. Since lovebombing can create a powerful biochemical bond, you may find yourself having an over-the-top chemistry with a narcissist that you can’t quite explain. Some survivors of narcissists note that they weren’t initially that interested in the narcissist when they first spoke yet found themselves swinging from the chandeliers after the narcissist charmed them. It’s wise to hold off on any kind of physical intimacy with a lovebombing narcissist as this is one of the main ways they get you hooked early on.

They share your exact same hobbies and interests in a way that isn’t believable.

Narcissists and psychopaths mirror you in a way that defies reasonable explanation. This means they’ll pretend to share the same hobbies, interests, passions, and dreams that you do to manufacture the “soulmate” effect. Enjoy biking in the woods? They recently completed a cycling marathon. Have a dream of being a world-renowned scientist or astronaut? They’re suddenly expressing their interest in going to the moon. Some will even go as far as to pretend they’re your long-lost twin flame or a lover from a past life. While it’s possible that you have just met someone with similar interests, it’s wise to take these claims with a grain of salt until you’ve learned someone’s organic interests over time.

They bring up spirituality for sinister motives.

Narcissists adapt to whatever is popular with each generation. That means a narcissistic “fake nice guy” may feign a passion for “trending” interests like astrology, witchcraft, and tarot just to get women into bed. A narcissistic woman may declare that she is an “empath” early on to ensure you trust her, even though you later find out she is quite callous. Narcissists will also poke and prod about your spiritual beliefs to ensure you believe in forgiveness, morality, and a higher power. This is because they are looking for compassionate victims to prey on. Learn how not to be one of them and set healthy boundaries. Be wary of anyone who emphasizes spirituality to you in inauthentic ways. Healthy partners are not going to be interrogating you about your spiritual beliefs. And remember – a narcissist wants you to believe it is Godly to tolerate abuse and make excuses for them. You’d be far better off honoring your sense of divinity by exercising your right to be safe and respected. 

They’re superficially charming—yet you notice something “off” about their demeanor.

The narcissists and psychopaths of the world tend to be superficially charming. They can charm the pants off anyone. However, most narcissists have a coldness or awkwardness about them that gives them away. They may appear warm and kind yet show rare moments of callousness, contempt, or microexpressions that display haughtiness early on. For example, recent research shows that narcissists may be more likely than other people to exhibit subtle negative facial expressions, especially in response to negative feedback and frustration. Pay attention to these, especially on a first date. You’ve just seen the whiskers of a covert wolf in sheep’s clothing. You don’t want to stick around to find out what happens when that wolf gets hungry for their next meal.  

If you’ve dated or had a relationship with a narcissist, it’s important to seek professional support to process your traumas. Identify the red flags as early as possible so you can break the trauma bond. You deserve healing and freedom.

About the author

Shahida Arabi

Shahida is a graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University. She is a published researcher and author of Power: Surviving and Thriving After Narcissistic Abuse and Breaking Trauma Bonds with Narcissists and Psychopaths. Her books have been translated into 16+ languages all over the world. Her work has been featured on Salon, HuffPost, Inc., Bustle, Psychology Today, Healthline, VICE, NYDaily News and more. For more inspiration and insight on manipulation and red flags, follow her on Instagram here.