10 Red Flags of Narcissists on Dating Apps You Should Never Ignore


Negging is a covert put-down manipulators, pick-up artists, and narcissists on dating apps dish out to make you more susceptible to their advances. While some may use negging as a form of “playful teasing,” it often does not translate that way and is used by abusers to disorient you in hopes you will seek their approval. And sometimes it does work: some research indicates that when someone’s self-esteem is lowered, they are more vulnerable to the romantic advances of others and are more compliant to requests and agreeable. Watch out for off-kilter comments or backhanded “compliments” that detract from your visible strengths. For example, if you’re a very attractive woman, a person who “negs” you may insinuate that your makeup is doing all the work for you rather than your natural features to detract from your beauty or insult you through a comparison. They could say something like, “Nice makeup. My grandma has that blush.” Or, if they’re jealous of any of the achievements listed on your dating profile, they might say something like, “You’re an engineer? They must be letting anyone enter the field nowadays.” These bizarre insults will be used to put you down, especially if this person senses you are out of their league. You deserve a dating partner who is mature enough to give you healthy praise and doesn’t require these depraved tactics to get ahead.

Numerous pictures with the opposite sex (if they’re straight) or even their small children. Multiple selfies if they’re a man.

Are they looking for a date or a harem? If a man is featured in numerous photos with another woman or multiple different women for the majority of his photos, he’s hoping to set up a silent competition and showcase his desirability. He will do this with shady female best friends, or even past exes. At best, he’s insecure and trying to make it seem like he gets more action than he really does, or tactless and unempathetic in the way it might make potential suitors feel. At worst, he’s a narcissist who loves to provoke jealousy and dabbles in manufacturing love triangles even before you’ve gone on a first date. This kind of behavior will only escalate later on. Watch out for multiple selfies especially in men; research indicates that while selfies are not a significant indicator of narcissism for women (likely because most women have been conditioned to take them and focus on their appearance, narcissistic or not), they are significantly associated with narcissism scores in men. If your dating matches feature their young kids on their profile, this is also a major red flag as it indicates he’s willing to violate their privacy while attempting to show you he’s a “good parent.” Some will use their children or pets deliberately to make themselves seem more nurturing; more nefariously, others are looking for a “mother figure” to raise their children for them rather than a true partner. Do not fall for this. While it’s wonderful to share an occasional picture of a pet or disclose that kids are an important part of one’s life, if you get the sense that these images are being used to portray someone in a specific way, it can be a red flag. People who are authentically nurturing, desirable, and sensitive will reveal this side of themselves organically over time through their personality traits and behavior – they don’t need to use their kids, their exes, or their pets as props to make them look good.

They give you preemptive “challenges” to make you feel like you have to win their approval.

Narcissists and manipulators on dating apps try to lure their targets in with a preemptive challenge. They know that if you’re an attractive woman, you likely have numerous matches to sort through and want to “stand out” from the crowd. They will attempt to kickstart communication or provoke a response by using this method. They might ask you to prove yourself in some way to them to get you to respond to them. For example, they could say things like, “You’re pretty and all, but do you actually know how to hold a conversation?” or “I used to do a lot of romantic gestures for my ex like make them a playlist and write poems. Let’s see if you could inspire that” or “So you graduated from Harvard. Is it really as hard as people say it is?” These challenges don’t have to be particularly sophisticated – they can even be as simple as a typecasting statement like, “You seem like the type of woman who…” Again, these “challenges” are really just degrading attempts to make you work for their validation and prove your strengths to them. It’s a twisted way for the narcissist to try to position themselves as the “chooser” when they are nobody to you and are likely the one who needs to prove themselves to you. Remember: you have nothing at all to prove. Most people with healthy boundaries would not rise to this challenge and would simply walk away from these conversations. But if you’re a person struggling with self-esteem or trauma, the manipulator knows you might attempt to “prove” them wrong in some way or prove your worth, even though they are fully aware that they are the ones unworthy of you. That’s the reason narcissists issue preemptive challenges in the first place – to test you to see if you’ll take their bait.

They mention their exes or previous dates in their bio or messages.

It’s one thing to disclose past memories to someone you know well in a conversation that warrants it and another to use it as an introduction on a dating app. You should never tolerate a potential dating partner mentioning an ex during your first few conversations with them, whether it’s online or in real life. In the best-case scenario, they are emotionally unavailable and not over their past relationship. In the worst-case scenario, they are a narcissist trying to set up a love triangle to get you to compete. If they’re degrading previous dates they’ve been on, you will likely be next on the list to be put down. If they mention, “I was betrayed by my ex,” as one of their early messages, be wary. Many narcissists will try to paint their exes as cheaters early on when they were the ones who engaged in betrayal. Ask yourself why they feel the need to share this personal information with strangers – there’s likely an agenda behind it. This information is simply not needed when first getting to know someone and places the responsibility on you to do emotional labor you’re not being paid for or to provide reassurance that you are nothing like their ex. The narcissist is actually looking for victims who will prove their loyalty to them with this pity ploy.

They treat you like a therapist. They share sob stories that are over the top early on, expecting you to comfort them.

Piggybacking off this, if a dating match is sending you lengthy paragraphs about their life history and trauma especially when you haven’t even met (but even in the first few dates), they are treating you as a free therapist, not a dating prospect. Narcissists love to weaponize pity ploys and sob stories which may or may not be true to paint themselves as the victim when they’re really the perpetrator. These types rely on your sympathy to manipulate you. Send an invoice for those billable hours and opt out from these draining conversations early. Dating is about fun and getting to one another – not about one-sided emotional vampirism.

They mention they need someone who “doesn’t take themselves seriously” or “understands their sense of humor.”

People who are genuinely funny don’t need to beg others to understand their “unique” sense of humor. People who know how to use sarcasm as a spice rather than the whole meal don’t have to brag about or defend being “fluent in sarcasm.” Chronic sarcasm used to bully and taunt others can actually be a red flag of psychopathy according to research. Cruel remarks disguised as “jokes” are not to be dismissed or minimized. Watch out for anyone who says they need someone who “doesn’t take themselves seriously.” That means they expect to be able to gaslight you freely and say whatever they want without consequences.

They claim they need a relationship that’s “drama free” on their bio or messages.

It’s always the “no drama” folks who have the most chaos in their lives because they themselves create it. Those who explicitly state they “don’t want drama” are usually the ones manufacturing chaos in the lives of others. If a person can’t handle simple, healthy conflict or even a basic discussion without feeling frustrated, they need a therapist, not a date. This is a red flag as it points to a lack of accountability and inability to engage in introspection.

Sexual come-ons or love bombing to disguise their true motives.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that if a man is fast-forwarding you into imagining kids and marriage with them in the first few messages, they’re usually just looking to have sex with you. No one who wants a healthy relationship will start off as strong as messaging you every hour, with praise and compliments that never seem to end. Manipulators and narcissists know that love bombing their victims is a way to get into someone’s bed and head early on. On the flip side, if they’re starting with the sexual come-ons early on, they are just as interested in hitting it and quitting it – they’re just much more forthcoming about their true intentions.

The date plans are a no-go.

If there’s something “shady” about the date plans a match proposes, don’t go – especially if you’re a woman who is facing far more safety risks when meeting a stranger. If they want you to meet them at their place, or pick you up at yours, they’re not taking your safety into consideration. You have to date with the idea that anyone – especially on an online dating app which is more likely to have narcissists and psychopaths hunting for victims – can become a stalker. Wait until you get to know them better before they have access to where you live or before you forego meeting them in a public place. If they don’t confirm with you the day before the date they’re coming, they’re not serious about you or the date. If they want to take you on unromantic “hang-outs” or meetings like walks or coffee dates, they’re probably looking to date multiple women cheaply, hook up with many people, and will remain low-effort. As a woman, you’re risking your life every time you go out for a date with a stranger: do you really want to do a hike or walk date with someone you barely know? At best, you’ll waste your time with a low-effort manipulator who doesn’t even care to impress you, and at worst, you may end up buried alive in the woods. Be selective about the dates you accept and vet people thoroughly before you meet with them to figure out whether they can carry a conversation with you online. Go at your own pace. Remember: manipulators are looking to rush the process so you don’t catch on and identify their red flags. They may ask you to meet up right away without getting to know you. Resist the temptation to fast-forward the talking stage.

They rage when you set boundaries and try to get you off the app early.

If a dating prospect is trying to get you on the phone with them right away in the first few messages, something is awry. Narcissists require constant attention and they feed off of it. So when you’re not replying to them at their pace (especially if they’re trying to love bomb you), they might try to take a different route: these manipulators will claim that they “barely use this app” and need to text you instead. That way, they can have your full attention because while you may not always be on the app, you will usually see text messages. This is an audacious request considering they haven’t even taken you on a date yet. Watch out for matches who rage at you for denying their requests or retaliate and insult you for setting any kind of healthy boundary. This is narcissistic rage at its “finest.” You don’t need to give a stranger your phone number or social media handles right away nor do you owe them any personal information. They need to work and earn your trust. Unless you’re using social media to vet the safety of a dating match, it’s not necessary. Always do a full background check on a potential dating mate. Dating matches who want your social media usually just want another follower to add to their harem – they want cheap attention without putting in the work. If they’re not making an effort to take you out on a proper date and have meaningful conversations with you, they’re a waste of time and you should reserve your time and energy for better prospects and matches.

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.