You met at your favorite bar and were immediately dazzled by his charm and confidence—not to mention how fun he is. But a few more dates in and you can’t help but feel like something’s, well, not quite right. According to psychologist Martha Stout, sociopaths (an Antisocial Personality Disorder characterized by a lack of moral responsibility or social conscience) make up 4 percent of the U.S. population. And because they’re innately manipulative, sociopaths can be particularly hard to spot. Visions of American Psycho coming to mind? While psychopaths and sociopaths do share some similarities (and are often used interchangeably), there are a few notable differences—chiefly that a psychopath has no conscience whereas a sociopath has a weak one, says psychologist L. Michael Tompkins. And you should also know that violence is not a necessary factor in either. If you think that your partner could be a sociopath, here are the red flags to look out for.
He’s had six jobs in the last five years. Unlike psychopaths (who are often very successful at work), sociopaths struggle holding down a nine-to-five or anything that requires a long-term commitment to others. And they’ll blame everyone else for the reason why the job didn’t work out (like his useless manager or his incompetent colleagues).
He likes to gaze into your eyes…but super intensely. A failure to maintain eye contact can be a symptom of someone hiding something or being insecure. But because sociopaths are extremely confident, they’ll do the opposite—staring in a way that veers on predatorial. “Sociopaths are unfazed by uninterrupted eye contact,” writes diagnosed sociopath M.E. Thomas. “Our failure to look away politely is also perceived as being aggressive or seductive. It can throw people off-balance, but often in an exciting way that imitates the unsettling feeling of infatuation.”
There are stacks of unpaid bills piled up at home. Sociopaths are notoriously irresponsible and ignoring financial obligations is a telltale sign that you could be dealing with one. Think: Not paying bills, racking up massive amounts of debt or abusing a company’s vacation policy. Since sociopaths have little regard for consequences, they don’t fret about responsibilities the same way you do.
He talks in extremes. Sociopaths are compulsive liars, often employing big promises or excessive language—whether good or bad. “You’re the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen,” he might tell you. Coming from someone else, this might be a sincere compliment. But a sociopath will often shower their target with compliments to further their agenda (which is always personal gain). “They are either extremely positive or extremely negative, and they have the ability to rope you in as they shift between these two extremes,” Dr. Kathryn Smerling tells us. “They have the uncanny ability to play on both your strengths and weaknesses.”
And he likes to drink…a lot. Sociopaths often engage in risky behavior like excessive drinking, drug abuse and irresponsible hobbies (like compulsive gambling or breaking the law). And they’ll keep their cool while doing it—none of that next-day remorse that you might experience after having one glass of wine too many.
He never says that he’s sorry. You had dinner plans for 7:00, but your beau is a no-show. At 7:30, when you call him to ask what’s going on, he blames you for not reminding him about dinner because you know how forgetful he is. Even worse? He then makes you feel guilty about making plans in the first place since you should know how busy he is. Sociopaths won’t take responsibility for their actions and have a tendency to play the victim, says Dr. Smerling.
…But you feel sorry for him. You wanted to talk about his behavior, but instead you end up consoling him about another job that didn’t work out (and all the people who wronged him). Psychologist Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door, says, “If you find yourself often pitying someone who consistently hurts you or other people, and who actively campaigns for your sympathy, the chances are close to 100 percent that you are dealing with a sociopath.”
So he might be a sociopath. What the heck do I do now? If the above list sounds eerily familiar, it doesn’t mean that your partner is going to get all Patrick Bateman on you. But it does mean that it’s time to get out of the relationship ASAP. “You will never have any real lasting satisfaction in a relationship with a sociopath,” Dr. Smerling tells us. “Although your partner may show that they are occasionally capable of empathy, their abilities in this area are extremely limited.” Our advice? It’s time to cut your losses, friend.