Have you ever wondered why some people always seem to attract the wrong kind of partner? Maybe that person has even been you.
Yet no one willingly and knowingly picks a bad partner. Figuring out who’s responsible for a bad mating match is a bit like how an insurance adjuster assigns blame after an automobile accident: Everyone involved bears a least a little of the responsibility for the crash.
That suggests that you may be part of the problem, even if it seems like you’re doing everything right. Take, for example, how you approach love. Falling in love undeniably feels good, so it's no surprise that we seek out that sensation.
But though that sounds romantic, what if you have emophilia—the tendency to fall in love too quickly, too easily, and too often? (Jones, 2015) Taking an overenthusiastic approach to forming love connections can encourage someone to make bad choices.
When picking a relationship partner, one of the worst choices you could make is someone who exhibits the Dark Triad (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Though that clearly sounds bad, when you first meet someone who has these traits, they often don’t seem so negative. Actually, many "dark" individuals are, at first, quite appealing because of their charisma, charm, confidence, sociability, and downright captivating presence (Jonason et al., 2015).
Sounds good—but what’s lurking underneath is narcissism (i.e., they’re entitled and superior), psychopathy (i.e., they’re antagonistic and hostile), and/or Machiavellianism (i.e., they’re manipulative and seek power over others). These three characteristics aren’t on anyone’s list of desirable partner traits, and for good reason. Research shows that male and female partners who had more Dark Triad traits were more likely to have cheated on their significant others in the past (Jones & Weiser, 2014). Clearly, these are partners that most of us want to avoid, especially if we’re looking for a long-term partner (Jonason et al., 2015).
However, the researchers Jacqueline Lechuga from The University of Texas at El Paso and Daniel Jones from the University of Nevada, Reno suspected that when it came to the Dark Triad, some people just couldn’t help themselves—in particular, those with emophilia.
In the first study, researchers had 267 men and women complete measures of emophilia (e.g., “I tend to jump into relationships,” “I fall in love easily,” etc.) and a measure of how much they desired Dark Triad traits in a potential partner. Consistent with their hypotheses, those higher in emophilia were more likely to be attracted to potential partners high in narcissism and psychopathy. The more Dark Triad traits a partner possessed, the more ideal they seemed to those who love to fall in love.
In Study 2, because previous research has found that men tend to be higher in Dark Triad traits (Jonason et al., 2009), the researchers recruited 185 straight women to review online dating profiles. To create profiles, researchers took some that men had created and merged together those with similar traits, resulting in four types: High Narcissism, High Psychopathy, High Machiavellianism, and Low Dark Triad. Participants read all four profiles and indicated how attractive they found each potential partner. Once again, as predicted, those with greater emophilia found the profiles with high levels of narcissism and psychopathy more attractive.
If you want to set yourself up for long-term relationship success, a partner high in the Dark Triad isn’t the best choice. Yet those who pursue love too aggressively seem to be more likely to find these partners attractive.
Clearly, wanting to fall in love isn’t a bad thing. But wanting love too badly can lead you to prioritize the act of falling in love over picking the right person. Worse, other research shows that greater emophilia can also encourage other negative behaviors like engaging in unprotected sex (Jones & Paulhus, 2012). Ultimately, if you don’t want to fall in love with the wrong person, it may be best to not fall in love so easily.
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Jonason, P. K., Li, N. P., Webster, G. D., & Schmitt, D. P. (2009). The dark triad: Facilitating a short-term mating strategy in men. European Journal of Personality, 23(1), 5–18. https://doi.org/10.1002/per.698.
Jonason, P. K., Lyons, M., & Blanchard, A. (2015). Birds of a bad feather flock together: The dark triad and mate choice. Personality and Individual Differences, 78, 34–38.
Jones, D. N. (2015). Life outcomes and relationship dispositions: The unique role of Emophilia. Personality and Individual Differences, 82, 153–157. https://doi.org/10. 1016/j.paid.2015.03.024.
Jones, D. N., & Paulhus, D. L. (2012). The role of emotional promiscuity in unprotected sex. Psychology & Health, 27(9), 1021–1035. https://doi.org/10.1080/08870446. 2011.647819.
Jones, D. N., & Weiser, D. A. (2014). Differential infidelity patterns among the Dark Triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 57, 20–24.
Lechuga, J. & Jones, D. N. (2021). Emophilia and other predictors of attraction to individuals with Dark Triad traits. Personality and Individual Differences, 168. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2020.110318
Paulhus, D. L., & Williams, K. M. (2002). The Dark Triad of personality: Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. Journal of Research in Personality, 36(6), 556–563. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00505-6