How to Spot the 8 Early Signs of Dating a Narcissist

Wouldn’t it be super handy to pick up on the early signs of dating a narcissist before they create emotional havoc in your life?

Unfortunately, the signs aren’t so easy to recognise โ€” their cunning manipulation fools even the best of therapists!

But having experienced a toxic relationship and deep diving into narcissistic abuse, I carry some hindsight. 

Which has helped me to make sense of a terrible time in my life and package it all up into a blog for you. So, I’ve developed a list of early signs you can expect to see from a narcissist. 

But first, let me explain why it’s so tricky to spot them:

Why is it so hard to spot a narcissist?

๐ŸชžThey mirror your ideal partner

At the beginning of a relationship, when everything’s new and exciting, the narcissist camouflages their red flags between their adoration for you.ย 

We’re so swept up in all their magic that we can’t see their abuse unravelling. And before you know it, you’re suddenly in a full-blown relationship with one!

But it’s not your fault.

After all, we grew up in a world of Disney and promises of a happily ever after. That narrative gets etched into our minds. So, when the perfect partner walks into your life, you can’t quite believe your luck. 

They’re everything you ever wanted and pictured having; it’s finally your turn to have the fairy tale ending. 

And that’s totally what it feels like when you first meet them, like an epic-can’t-live-without-you kind of love. But it’s dangerous to feel like that because they use your emotions as a tool to manipulate power over you.

What they’re doing is creating a reference point for you to look back to. So when the moment something off-colour happens, you reflect on those great memories you had together. This becomes your way of rationalising yourself through the ‘bad patch’ and diminishing negative experiences. 

I promised myself that I would never fall in love like it again. Because none of it was healthy โ€”even the good memories. 

You see, narcissists only ever create joyous moments to trap you for longer. Because when you reflect on your relationship, you see how the good times are always sandwiched them between devaluing behaviour and blame. So, when you’re aware of that pattern, your relationship starts making a bit more sense.

I now reflect on my last relationship and honestly feel like I was just a pawn in my ex’s fucked up emotional games. But at the time, you’re not aware it’s toxic. You just think that’s your relationship and your dynamic.

Psychological abuse isn’t mainstream

The lack of information and representation makes you lessen your experience as you have nothing to base it on. Ultimately, we’ve only ever seen abuse as physical and not learned of psychological abuse.

When I think back to all the teen series I binged, like One Tree Hill, I vividly remember nasty Dan Scott. But did I know he was a narcissist?

Of course not. I just thought he was an evil man, a bully. But not a narcissist โ€”I hadn’t even heard of that term. 

Emotional abuser wasn’t even a label I was familiar with, let alone my friends. There just wasn’t information to help you diagnose and understand different types of abuse.

Dating a narcissist isn’t bad all the time

Narcissistic abuse isn’t a one-off event either; it’s prolonged. And the biggest misconception people make is that they assume toxic relationships are awful all the time.

Just look at how many people ask survivors of emotionally abusive relationships: 

“why didn’t you just leave”?

I despise that question. It completely invalidates and places all the blame onto the survivor, not the perpetrator.

This is what makes psychological abuse so insidious: narcissists are not terrible all the time.

For example, how do you complain about a partner who sprees on a helicopter ride for you? Who whisks you away for the weekend or pays for everything?

They appear generous to everyone on the outside, but save their darkest days for when you’re alone with them.

But the day will eventually come when you feel something’s wrong. You won’t be able to pinpoint it, but your gut will feel unsettled.

That feeling is all you need; your emotions are valid. So tune into that and see if you can indicate some of the early signs of dating a narcissist below.

The 8 early signs of dating a narcissist

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1. Love bombing โค๏ธ๐Ÿ’ฃ

Love bombing can be hard to detect; we’re not raised to pick apart loving and kind behaviour. If someone’s going to utterly adore you – who you equally think’s fantastic – that’s quite tough to ignore.

Especially if you’ve had a string of shitty ex-partners setting a low standard. And suddenly, you meet your dream partner who sees you as this perfect person. Who only wants you, who’ll even betray their best friend for you (BIG red flag I missed). 

People typically see love bombing as grand displays of affection, lavish gifts, out-of-this-world dates and promises of a future together. 

But it can also beโ€ฆ.

Connecting to your love language. 

Love languages ๐Ÿ’Œ

So, whether that’s through acts of service or words of affirmation, a narcissist will lock into yours. They’ll figure out how you like to be loved and use that to feign intimacy with you.

This subtle love bombing will depend on how much you value certain qualities in a partner. For example, suppose you highly rate a partner who expresses their affection by complimenting you or sending you adoring messages; that’ll mean more to you than a gift.

Another way they put you on a pedestal is through comparison. For example, they’ll feed you ideas of you being like no one they’ve ever met before. Or, they’ll say things like:

“we’re such a power couple; everyone wants to be like us”. 

All these things accumulate, making you think this is such a unique relationship that you’re soulmates and belong together.

But all it is, is a means to speed up becoming an ‘official’ couple. Narcissists basically want you all to themselves so they can begin controlling you.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is they need you to lift them up while mentally beating you down. Their goal is to have you emotionally reliant on them, thus giving them the power

Gift-giving ๐Ÿ’

Narcissistic gift-giving, for example, is a selfish act used to help them gain admiration and validation. It’s never about genuine affection for you. Instead, they use it to claim ownership of the day โ€” like gifting you a piece of jewellery. 

You see, they’ve done this great thing for you, but you owe them now! So, there’s always a hidden intention behind the gift, and they’ll reveal it in due course. Therefore pay attention to what comes after their so-called ‘generosity’.

Chemistry โค๏ธโ€๐Ÿ”ฅ

I had an insane amount of chemistry with my ex, which was hard to ignore. But as Dr Ramani discussed on one of her podcasts, valuing chemistry above traits like kindness and respect is a much riskier path to follow.

Safety and connection are far more necessary. But we dismiss those qualities in search of chemistry because it’s what we’ve seen in movies and TV. They portray it as this thing we need for a relationship to be passionate. But you can still have romance without harming yourself in the process. 

A relationship should progress gradually and be comfortable and safe. The excitement builds and doesn’t go full steam ahead without giving you a chance to stop and reason.

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2. Intently listening ๐Ÿ‘‚๐Ÿพ

This was one of the early signs of dating a narcissist that I only realised after the relationship had ended. And it makes so much sense when you know why they’re doing it.

When I first met my ex, we had that one night.

You know, the one where you don’t go to sleep, and it’s filled with nonstop talking and finding out everything about each other?

Yep, that one.

He listened to me so intently, held eye contact, and asked me questions like he wanted to know EVERYTHING.

It makes a lot of sense now because narcissists need to profile you to understand how best to manipulate you. So they need to get to your core desires and figure out what makes you tick.

They’ll prey on your childhood memories and figure out your weak spots. Your answers give clues to your vulnerabilities that they can later weaponise against you. 

On top of that, any hopes and dreams you reveal will help narcissists to mimic your ideal partner. 

๐Ÿ‘€ Look out for:

– Mirrored responses

So notice how much they listen, pay attention, and compare it to who they appear to be. If anything you’ve opened up to them about comes to light quickly, it’s a sign that they’re mirroring your responses. 

– Contrasting behaviour

Another hint to look out for is any contrasting behaviour. So, for example, if they were previously empathetic and engaged. But now those qualities seem to have disappeared; it shows a real contradiction from their initial behaviour. 

Like why have those characteristics suddenly disappeared? 

This shows they were only ever acting out those qualities and not genuine with you.

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3. The pace of the relationship โฉ๐Ÿ’

How fast the relationship moves indicates a red flag, you mustn’t ignore.

Think about it logically, if the relationship’s healthy, why the rush? 

Save some excitement for the future, especially if you’re going to be with this person long-term. Ticking off every life event in a short time โ€” with someone you barely know โ€” is a pretty intense way to begin a relationship. 

You can’t lay down roots when everything passes you by so quickly. It’s all superficial and distracts you from what’s actually going on. 

Watch carefully when you express any hesitation that suggests things are moving too fast. If they meet you with an unfavourable reaction, that’s a sign of them not accepting your boundaries (I expand on this below).

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4. Setting boundaries ๐Ÿšซ

Establishing boundaries early on is a tactical way to test whether you’re dealing with a narcissist. It can be anything, such as ‘I’m having an early night tonight, please don’t call me’. 

Monitor their reaction to your demands. If they push back and question your motives, they’re uncomfortable with your boundary setting. Therefore, they’ll attempt to see if they can get you to succumb to their ways instead.

With narcissists, you’ll notice that any boundary you try to set, they’ll gently be pushing back. This is because they test you to see how far they can get. 

On the other hand, they’re also trying to see how much you’ll put up with. For example, how many times can they apologise and you’ll take them back, or whether you’ll keep forgiving their bad behaviour? 

Every time you give them another shot, it shows your capabilities of forgiveness, and they’ll prey on that. If their apologies are sincere, they won’t keep repeating the same upsetting behaviour.

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5. Arrogance and charm ๐Ÿ˜ˆ

As the incredible and wise Dr Ramani says:

if they’ve got the goods, why do they need to flaunt it?”

Arrogance and charm tend to go hand in hand with narcissists. Those traits are like personality warning signals that you’re dealing with a potential predator.

That’s not to say that every arrogant and charming person you meet is a narcissist, but there’s a high chance they are.

Confidence is an attractive quality, but pay attention to how they exude it. There’s a difference between being confident and being arrogant:

“Confidence comes from a high intrinsic value, understanding that self-worth isn’t measured by achievements, failures, or the opinions of others. Arrogance comes from a sense of superiority over others.” 

Narcissists have a high sense of self and feel like they’re better than everyone else. They also rely on others to inflate their ego rather than self-improvement.

So look at the person’s overall package. Do they exhibit more than five of the nine criteria for NPD? Because if they’re a narcissist, they won’t just be arrogant and charming; they’ll also have a combination of other traits.

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6. Interactions with other people ๐Ÿ—ฃ

How the person you’re dating speaks about others can be an early clue you’re with a narcissist. Unfortunately, it may also be the way they talk about you someday.

Listen to the way they describe their ex-partners. They’ll either:

  1. Talk negatively about them, calling them crazy, for example, or
  2. Feed you a pity story about how awful their last relationship was, that their ex betrayed them somehow.

And, like with everything they do, there is a motive behind their spiel:

They either want sympathy from you or to indirectly tell you how not to behave in a relationship with them. 

Are they different in private?

It’s also worth observing how they behave with you compared to when you’re around others. Look out for their mask-dropping in private; they can’t keep a likeable persona all the time.

Listen out for signs that they may influence your surrounding network with their opinion of you, especially after a disagreement. Be cautious around friends who say:

“they’re not like that around us”.

Friends invalidating your feelings when you first begin doubting your mistreatment by a narcissist are not the company you want to keep. As a result, they won’t have the empathy and support you need when thinking of leaving a toxic partner

It’s true what they say: you’ll learn who your true friends are when you go through something like narcissistic abuse.

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7. Deceit ๐Ÿคฅ

Narcissists love bullshitting you. They lie profusely, and you might not even recognise it. I, for one, never knew about my ex’s infidelities.

So how do you even begin to tell if they’re deceiving you?

Honestly, I can’t give you any tips because my ex fooled me throughout my relationship. 

But that’s probably how most feel after being with a narcissist and realising their true colours. The discovery of narcissistic abuse is shocking in itself, let alone hearing about their infidelities as well.

All I can say on this, is if you feel a pang of doubt about what they’re saying to you, don’t ignore it. Figure out what’s causing that feeling. I’m not telling you to invade their privacy and go through their phone.

But be more inquisitive. Try to trip up their lies. They lie so much that they may forget their lies or confuse their backstory. That might help you shine a light on their deceit.

If I had investigated my concerns or dug a little deeper instead of turning a blind eye, I would have gotten closer to the truth. I don’t wish my mistakes to happen to you as well.

Keep a journal ๐Ÿ““

So keep a journal and diary your daily interactions – note anything odd they might have said. You’ll therefore have a record of their accounts. 

By journalling, you have a reference to refer to, which is particularly useful if they gaslight you.

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8. Insecurity ๐ŸŽญ

Every narcissist’s insecure at their core, especially covert narcissists. 

Covert narcissists are discrete with their abuse. They often play the victim, need a lot of reassurance and are highly sensitive to criticism. 

They fear being reminded of their insecurities. So, they uphold an imitation of who they want to be seen as instead. 

Their facade is only there to hide who they really are; they dislike looking vulnerable to others. Because they lack the capacity to solve their emotional wounds, they seek control over others to feel better about themselves.

So if critiquing your partner sparks rage, chances are it’s a sign of narcissism. You need to be able to have a safe and open dialogue with your partner without the anticipation of an argument. Be wary of what ignites their anger because it’s an early preview of things to come.


My breakup was a blessing, and thankfully, it didn’t go further than three years of my precious time. But I really wish I’d known about the potential early signs of dating a narcissist; it would’ve saved me a lot of emotional damage and therapy!

I always bang on about it, but education’s key to your recovery. It’s so important that you learn about narcissism to arm you with the best possible defence against narcissists.

So study the signs and make sure you know them. Then, look out for them in anyone you meet, celebrities (*cough* Kanye West), on TV and in movies.

Because once you know about it, narcissists are everywhere!

It’s like red car syndrome; once you’re aware of it, you see more of it!

So tune into it, share the information with your girlfriends and empower one another. If we know better, we can do better.


Click here for your own copy of the 50 Red Flags in a Relationship.

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