6 Dating “Laws of Power” That Help Women Avoid Narcissists, According To An Expert

Men and women can both be narcissists, but women tend to experience specific risks in the dating world. Here are ways they can protect themselves from manipulation, according to a researcher.

Narcissists can be male or female. Women, however, encounter unique safety concerns in the dating world due to hookup culture and a heightened risk of violence. In my last article, I discussed the different “laws of power” narcissists in general use to manipulate their victims. Here are six “laws of power” women can use to protect themselves in the dating world.

LAW #1: Do not let the narcissist know you’re onto them. Instead, adjust your behavior toward detachment and withdrawal whenever you see red flags. Use actions and absence, rather than words, to enforce your standards.

It is tempting to call out narcissistic traits and behaviors in a dating partner. Yet most of the time when we are just beginning to know someone, this will not help the situation and will only escalate manipulation. When you play the fool, you allow toxic people to unmask themselves more quickly than when you try to reason with a narcissist. For example, if you start pointing out the narcissist’s red flags right away, they get a notice that they need to be on their best behavior to win you over. As a result, they may start love bombing, charming or gaslighting you to ensure you stay bonded to them. You can become tempted by their charm to give them second chances rather than look out for your own best interest. Calling out their behavior and holding them accountable can certainly empower you before you detach during some scenarios, but it can also leave room open for potential retaliation or verbal abuse. It is important to keep your safety in mind, especially with someone you don’t know yet.

LAW #2: Be attracted to how he treats you and invests in you long-term, not just how he looks on paper. Match energy and effort. Put attention elsewhere if you sense you’re being ignored or neglected.

It’s important for all people but especially women who have been socialized to be people-pleasers to have higher standards, boundaries and expectations when it comes to dating. It’s vital to reserve your time, energy, attention, and affection for truly serious partners if your goal in dating is a healthy relationship. This is because research shows that in hookup culture, women are more likely to be exploited or blindsided by men who are looking for sex but will portray themselves as looking for a relationship. That is why, above all else, you must look at how he treats you and how he invests in you through his actions not just what he appears to offer. A handsome, financially stable, and seemingly empathic man may seem perfect on paper. But the way he treats you is most important. He may be charming and popular with people in society, but is he empathic toward you long-term, or does he just play the role of a good person to whoever benefits him at the moment? Is he consistent with his romantic gestures, or does he love-bomb you only in the beginning and when he wants something?

Is he successful yet always “too busy” to communicate? Does he have a generous provider mentality which shows that he wants to genuinely impress and emotionally take care of the woman he loves, or is he stingy and unwilling to take you out on proper dates or give you consistent affection and attention? Remember, it’s not necessarily about money: it’s about his character. Even a high-value man with more limited financial means will find ways to romance you and impress the woman he truly loves while a rich partner can still be stingy toward the people he loves. If you’re not feeling like your date wants to put in effort to make you feel special, he’s not truly serious.

LAW #3: Go into dating with the healthy fear and skepticism of becoming potentially committed to the wrong man so you’re geared to protect yourself, rather than the hope of finding “the one” right away so you’re incentivized to settle for less.

Men generally tend to decenter their dating lives. It is a “bonus,” not the entirety of their existence. Women, on the other hand, are socialized to center men and relationships from a very young age. In this case, it can actually be helpful to “date like a man” when it comes to how much you prioritize relationships. Women are taught that their ultimate goals in life is getting into a relationship (even if it’s a toxic one) and getting married at all costs. To effectively counter this habit and deprogram this harmful social programming, consider that one of the happiest demographics of women is single and childfree women, and that research indicates that women tend to experience greater psychological distress after the honeymoon period in marriage.

Think about ways in which relationships in general add stress in your life to curb this conditioning – it’s a far healthier and balanced way of viewing commitment and relationships to see both the pros and cons than being hyper-focused on the social status of being in a romantic relationship. Then, recognize the benefits of staying single and not settling until you meet a high-quality partner. Rather than rushing into relationships and marriage to give your life meaning, think about the ways your life is already meaningful and enriching, and brainstorm how to improve other aspects of your life; write down your goals for your career, finances, friendships, hobbies, interests, physical fitness, and self-care routine. Level up in these areas so that any potential dating partner must add value to your life in order to enter it. Take the pressure off getting into a relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship for the social status and focus more on what kind of partner you want to actually have in your life. You can have fun dating without commitment – but even when you do date, make sure you’re vetting your dating partners thoroughly so you are not manipulated or exploited.

LAW #4: Be ruthless about your standards and have a strong cut-off game.

Rather than viewing dating as a one-track route to finding a husband, see it more as a playground where you set the “rules” for yourself. You determine your standards, expectations, and boundaries in the vetting process, and perform the cost-benefits analysis that will determine who is a worthy mate – someone who adds value to your life. Writing a list of qualities you desire in a partner as well as your dealbreakers can be helpful. Women are usually socially conditioned to feel they cannot have preferences like men do and focus solely on personality over physical attraction. Men generally are encouraged to go after what attracts them visually. Rather than necessarily emphasizing one or the other, it’s important to strike a balance and consider both what emotionally and physically attracts you in a partner. You are just as deserving of finding someone who meets all your needs. Do not “build up” your dating partner or try to change them – observe who they truly are and act accordingly. If they demonstrate red flags that irk you, cut them off. Men do it all the time with very little qualms – they will not usually tolerate a woman disrespecting them or may even cut someone off for not meeting their expectations and standards. You must do the same.

LAW #5: Identify how he treats women who are more successful than him as well as women he cannot control.

Successful, high-achieving, and intelligent women have a built-in advantage when it comes to dating. Numerous studies indicate that generally men tend to feel intimidated or emasculated by them and opt out without knowing anything else about them, even though they were initially attracted to them. This is an automatic “filter” system that chases away men who have not looked carefully at their own misogynistic attitudes, or worse, are narcissistic and pathologically envious. However, it can be helpful to test this throughout the relationship, as some malignant narcissists will deliberately target successful, attractive women just for the purpose of bringing them down. How does he react when you share an accomplishment or achievement he does not have? Does he congratulate you and offer to celebrate your wins? Or does he center himself, lash out in envy, and minimize your achievement? Does he become cold and withdrawn when you talk about your dreams or goals or when you get more attention than him, whether it’s for your achievements, personality, or appearance? This is the type of man you do not want in your life as he will only seek to control and diminish you. You deserve a high-quality partner who is proud of your accomplishments and positive qualities, just as you would be proud of him.

LAW #6: Consider the unique safety risks women take on when dating. Do not try to be “equal” in an unequal world or spoil a dating partner early on without even knowing him. Remember, you’re the one who takes on the majority of the risks and burdens.

In modern romance, many women feel empowered being independent and want to show that they value equality. That’s a noble gesture, but it dismisses the rampant inequality, violence, and misogyny women experience on a daily basis. The truth is, it does not matter that women now have certain rights, because in dating, you can still be treated as inferior just for being a woman by a man who feels entitled to your company and feels entitled to using you. That’s why it’s important not to suggest that you are “wife material” to a man by cooking and cleaning for him early on, or offering to be their free therapist, or letting them move in and leech off your resources. The world is already rigged toward your dating partner’s favor and you risk multiple forms of violence any time you go on a date; to reduce the chance of having your emotional and domestic labor or even resources exploited, let them persuade you with their actions why you should risk your safety for them instead. As a society, we have gotten it wrong: if women are the ones taking on most of the burdens and risks in the dating world with far less benefits in marriage and childrearing, they should be the one evaluating their partners more heavily before commitment, not working overtime trying to prove their worth for a man.

LAW #7: Keep your options open and never prematurely commit to anyone; never assume exclusivity. 

Dating is different from a relationship. Most men generally know this and behave accordingly to this principle by exploring their options – whether that means hooking up or dating different women, or even leading women on to believe they want a relationship just to get what they want. Women, on the other hand, can get hyperfocused on a single dating partner and forget that she has other options easily. This can leave her vulnerable to being played by a narcissist or otherwise toxic partner who can string her along or emotionally abuse her because he knows she’s now invested and hooked. Rather than trying to settle down with the first person who impresses you, wait to observe his long-term behavior. Date other people if you need to get less attached. Get acquainted with all the red flags of narcissists before you date. Take your time and really enjoy the dating process. This will give you a healthier, more balanced perspective as you look for a potential match.

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.