They may be compulsive liars without empathy or full human emotions, but they have seductive powers on their side.
"Over time, you may sometimes just feel it in your gut," says
Dr. Stephan Snyder, a New York City sex and relationship expert, of dating sociopaths—that is, individuals diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder (ASPD). "A creepy, cold feeling," he continues. "Sometimes you'll sense it in how they react to others. Sometimes you'll catch them behaving heartlessly to someone, when they don't know you're watching."
They're charming, manipulative, and quite frequently, absolutely fantastic in bed. Sociopaths exist—and if you're anything like me, you may have banged one in the past. Men and women with ASPD may not always come out swinging an axe while dressed in a raincoat to avoid dirtying their well-tailored suits with your blood, but you may have found yourself neck deep in a web of lies and risky behavior that, once on the other side, left you seriously wondering what the fuck you were thinking in the first place. Like other personality disorders, the diagnosis criteria covers a spectrum and ranges from Patrick Bateman to quite possibly, you. According to psychologist Martha Stout's 2005 book, The Sociopath Next Door, four percent of Americans are sociopaths. Men are, unsurprisingly, three times as likely as women to have diagnosed antisocial personality disorder. (Or maybe women are just better actors.)
To learn more about dating sociopaths, I spoke with Dr. Anne Brown, therapist and author of Backbone Power: The Science of Saying No, about denial, seduction, and why to stay clear of Wall Street. Dr. Brown treats sociopaths—some in prison—as well as patients who have been doing the dirty with them.
VICE: What are some warning signs you could be dating a sociopath?
Dr. Anne Brown: Probably the number one sign is that they don't keep agreements. And there'll be stories that don't always add up—like, they tell you they have a Corvette [and you never see it.] Then there are stories to explain the stories, when they don't come true.
How do these people maintain such a web of lies?
Well, they don't really see it as lying. They don't have a consciousness that says, You're lying now. They actually believe at the time that they're telling the story that it will be true. If you and I lie to each other, odds are we'll go, Well, I just lied. I wonder if I'll get away with it. But if I'm saying to you, "Oh yeah, my uncle has a big condo in Miami and we can go there," then that's what he thinks is going to happen. And then he'll be like, "Oh, I couldn't get ahold of my uncle." Now we don't know if there's a condo, or if there's a person he might have met that has a condo. Everything is not what it seems.
"Take a look at Wall Street. We've got a bunch of them there." —Dr. Anne Brown
There has to be some point when you can start to see through the facts.
They're so charming. You like being with them. If you really want to be with that person, you're going to make up stories and start to defend them. Sociopaths say what they need to get what they want. I worked in a jail once and the stories they would tell me—they would rent out apartments that they didn't own. Now, I couldn't even think that up.
Are sociopaths capable of more genuine, human thoughts and emotions?
I don't think there's awareness. That's not where they live. They say whatever they want to get what they want. You've got to remember that part. They are opportunistic. They are going to win until they get caught.
Can ASPD help someone seduce you?
Yes. There's absolutely no question. We used to say, "If you as therapists find yourself reaching in your pocket and giving your client money, it's probably a sociopath." They're very seductive, very charismatic, can be very likable. So that's the talk part, but notice the walk part: Do they keep their agreements? Can you count on them? Do they honor you? The answer to that is probably going to be no.
What do you put yourself at risk for dating a sociopath?
If you care about monogamy, I wouldn't trust that you're going to get that. The person's an opportunist. Agreements don't mean anything—you're at risk for being betrayed if you have agreements about sexual fidelity, and there's your health. If you trust them and pick up and leave your career and relocate for them, they could abandon you and be off with the next person.
Is there a risk for real physical abuse?
There can be. If you don't have regard for the rights of someone else, if you don't have regard for my rights, you can hit me if I upset you. There was a wonderful example of a man who had to get home in a hurry, and he didn't have a car, and the next bus was an hour long. So he had a gun and held up a woman and took her car.
"The person's an opportunist. Agreements don't mean anything." —Dr. Anne Brown
What would you say to a patient who you believe is in a relationship with a sociopath?
I can smell the bullshit. I can taste it. I can see it. So if you're telling me, "He's so great, I paid for dinner, he's moving into my place, and I loaned him my car..." I'm going to be like, "Wait a minute. What about him taking care of you?" And then you're going to say, "We had a date Wednesday night and he didn't show up because he told me somebody had a flat tire..." and it's going to be an outrageous story. And I'm going to say, "You can keep going, because he's really got you. He's charismatic, he's telling you what you want to hear. You're putting up with bad behavior, but you like him, he's funny. The sex might be great, but I don't think you can hang your hat on this."
Yes! So sex with sociopaths can be really good?
It can be, but I've got to say, sex can be more about him and he'll fake what you want. It's always going to be about the sociopath.
Can sociopaths ever go on to have a functional relationship?
I'm not going to say the prognosis is good. I would say this: Dating a sociopath, that's an oxymoron. If you have any standards for your boyfriend or girlfriend, you don't want to pick a sociopath. It's not your job to get them all in shape. Most women and some men think, Oh, they'll change for me. No, no. That's not who you want to pick. That being said, take a look at Wall Street. We've got a bunch of them there.
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Photo via Flickr user Paul Terefenko