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Monday
Apr092012

Liars, and Letches, and Narcissists! Oh My!

Meeting new people and engaging in flirtatious banter are my favorite things about dating. In all honesty, the initial “getting to know you phase” was what I missed most when I was married. Unfortunately, there are occasionally those dates that are excruciatingly painful to sit through. One such date involved someone whose on-line photographs depicted a youthful, attractive and successful man who apparently enjoyed scuba diving. At the very least, I thought we could swap travel stories.

As I entered the restaurant for our date, a man waved at me frantically from across the room; this man was 10 years older and 50 pounds heavier than he appeared in his photographs. Oh, no. After our initial introductions, I asked him where he has been scuba diving recently. He hasn’t dived since he was in the military. 12 years ago. (That’s right -- This guy’s profile depicted a man I would have found attractive and interesting over a decade ago. But who is this guy I was sitting across from now?). He then proceeded to tell me all about his ‘current’ self by providing me with a 15-minute protracted, one-sided and conceited monologue. When he finally stopped to take a breath, he asked me what I wanted for dinner. I decided to pass, paid for my drink and wished him luck on his dating pursuits. “What?” He winked. “I was thinking we could go back to my place around the corner for a beer and see what happens.” I left without a word.

Mr. Scuba Diver possessed three character traits that I absolutely abhor:

1) Liar: The on-line dating profile I saw was of a man 12 years ago, not the man I met. He apparently viewed his current self as being similar or even better than a much younger version of himself. Research has found that people generally do this when they compare who they are now to who they used to be.1 As for me, I would like to think that I am much more discerning about the people I date now than I used to be. This guy, however, was nothing like what he used to be; he was either a liar or delusional. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and go with liar.

2) Letch: The restaurant he selected was conveniently located next door to his apartment in the off-chance we would hook-up. No thanks.

3) Narcissist: His “me-me-me” lecture over the beer and a pulled-pork sandwich he ordered before I even arrived made it clear he was not interested in anyone but himself. If Charlie Sheen had been sitting across from me, the narcissist diatribe might have been entertaining to sit through at least. Not with this guy.

I don’t want to sacrifice another kid-free Friday night to a lair, letch and/or narcissist. How can I better identify them beforehand? Turns out there are a few signals I could have heeded. On-line deceivers often present inaccurate and outdated photographs, particularly about their height and weight.2 I should have asked when his photos were taken, but that assumes he would have answered truthfully. Another way to identify a liar is by listening to how the speak – they tend to underuse “I” statements. A recent study has found that sparse use of this pronoun is related to lying because people want to distance themselves from what they are saying.3 This strategy is also effective in identifying narcissists! Narcissists on Facebook and other social networking sites underuse “me” and “I” pronouns and engage in a lot of self-promotion.4 Upon review of my date’s profile, I could have eliminated him straight away with that knowledge alone. “Am an avid traveler and with good sense of humor. Very successful professionally but also enjoy a large dose of ‘personal’ time” should have been informative enough. Identifying letches may be more difficult, but weeding out guys who take photos of themselves topless with their cell phones can hopefully eliminate the vast majority of them before the first date.  

I am now left wondering whether this linguistic analysis is enough. I have been lied to too often in my relationships. Narcissists tend to be pathological and sexually aggressive-- I have dated more than my fair share of them as well. I would prefer not to repeat any of those disasters. Sadly, based on large scale surveys from across the country, we know there to be more narcissists running around today than there were 20 years ago.5 On-line dating sites often have compatibility, needs assessments, and chemistry profiles of individuals to aid in mate matching. eHarmony even has some form of screening system for psychopaths. Would men be offended if I requested a short psychological test for detecting deceptiveness or personality disorders before committing to a date with them?

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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1Ryff, C. D. (1991). Possible selves in adulthood and old age: A tale of shifting horizons. Psychology and Aging, 6, 286-295.

2Hancock, J. T., & Toma, C. L. (2009). Putting your best face forward: The accuracy of online dating profile photographs. Journal of Communication, 59, 367–386.

3Toma, C. L., & Hancock, J. T. (2012). What lies beneath: the linguistic traces of deception in online dating profiles. Journal of Communication, 62, 78-97.

4DeWall, C. N., Buffardi, L. E., Bonser, I., & Campbell, W. K. (2011). Narcissism and implicit attention seeking: Evidence from linguistic analyses of social networking and online presentation. Personality and Individual Differences, 51, 57-62.

5Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissim epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York: Free Press.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

image source: insidepulse.com

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