Do You Fall in Love Easily? You Might Fall for a Narcissist

New research shows emophilia may make you attracted to those with dark traits.

Posted Sep 15, 2020

Roman Kraft/Unsplash
Source: Roman Kraft/Unsplash

Falling in love quickly, easily, and often seems like a rom-com dream with butterflies in the stomach, dizzying emotions, and dopamine-fueled days. However, those who “fall fast and fall hard” are more likely to find themselves in love with partners who have “dark” personality traits associated with narcissism and psychopathy. When you don rose-colored relationship glasses, it’s easier to look past the red flags and dive head-first into relationships. Although it feels like a rush at first, it could end in a crash-and-burn downfall.

“Emophilia,” in particular, is the relationship orientation that psychologists use to describe the tendency to fall in love quickly and easily. Researchers have known for some time that people are drawn to the attractive yet sometimes antisocial partners who have high levels of narcissistic and other “dark” personality traits, but researchers are still determining why that’s the case. As it turns out, emophilia may make people particularly attracted to those with dark traits, according to a new study in Personality and Individual Differences.

Across two studies, Jacqueline Lechuga of the University of Texas at El Paso and Daniel Jones of the University of Nevada at Reno investigated how 450 participants reacted to “ideal romantic partner” traits and the attractiveness of various dating profiles. Lechuga and Jones paid particular attention to ratings of the Dark Triad traits that underlie narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism: risk-taking, callousness, and manipulation.

Not surprisingly, people who had high levels of emophilia were most likely to be attracted to anyone in the assessments. But even more interesting was that emophilia had a strong and unique association with being attracted to people with dark traits. This makes sense, to some extent — emophilia may make you more likely to enjoy charming people and revel in the rush of excitement. Based on previous studies by Jones, it also helps you to overlook the downsides of dark personality traits, get married at a younger age, and engage in riskier behaviors like unprotected sex.

To be sure, Dark Triad traits aren’t necessarily “bad,” but they could lead to negative behaviors in some relationships, particularly ones that may be built on coercion, enabling, and bullying. Even still, certain dark traits associated with narcissism — such as extraversion — can be helpful in starting relationships and meeting new people. The trick is playing to those strengths (and negating the weaknesses) if partners decide to turn a short-term fling into a long-term romance.

With narcissism, the initial appeal is understandable. People with narcissistic traits tend to be extraverted and energetic. They're open to new experiences, which is exciting and useful for first dates, and they often feel comfortable talking about a wide range of topics, which helps them to engage with new acquaintances easily. Plus, their grandiose view of themselves often looks like confidence, and they tend to be physically attractive because they spend more time on their appearance — all attractive qualities in a potential partner at the outset.

People who rank highly in emophilia likely see this polished veneer and appreciate it at face value. They’re ready to fall in love, and they’ll run with the giddy emotions they feel in the presence of narcissistic traits such as charm and coercion, ignoring the potential consequences. If you tend to agree with the ideas that “I fall in love easily” and “I tend to jump into relationships,” then you may rank highly in emophilia.

Of course, ranking highly in emophilia doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll fall for someone with dark personality traits, but it may happen to you more often than others. In fact, if you’re looking for short-term partners, it may not be much of an issue since those with Dark Triad traits tend to struggle with keeping long-term partners. But if you’re looking for that once-in-a-lifetime partner, it may be beneficial to step back after the initial glee to notice any red flags that you first overlooked.

Once the “true-love-at-first-sight” feeling begins to fade, look for hints that may cause you concern, whether that be manipulation or coercion. Don’t look at what your potentially narcissistic partner tells you, but instead, their actions and history. Do you see a string of broken relationships and a wounded past? Narcissists tend to act like a tornado that moves through life and leaves a trail behind them. Not every hurtful past will reveal a person with narcissistic motives, but it’s a place to start.

Beyond that, don’t berate yourself if you do find yourself in a relationship with someone who may have narcissistic or dark personality traits. In reality, we all have them to some extent — narcissistic traits tend to fall on a spectrum, with some people having more attention-seeking or grandiose behaviors than others. The key is to know what’s right for you and whether your partner’s traits line up with the vision that you have for your ideal relationship at that time. One suggestion, especially if you are looking for a long-term, committed relationship, is to slow down. Fall in love a little more slowly and spend the time to get to know the person, including their past and desired future.

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Lechuga, Jacqueline & Jones, Daniel. (2021). Emophilia and other predictors of attraction to individuals with Dark Triad traits. Personality and Individual Differences. 168. 110318. 10.1016/j.paid.2020.110318.