Tips Every Dater Must Know for Safety and Peace of Mind
By Nigel Richards
In February 2020, Brisbane grandparents Sue and Lloyd Clarke received the shattering news that their daughter and grandchildren had been doused in petrol by their daughter’s ex-husband and set alight. The murderer had controlled every detail of his wife’s life: what she wore, where she went, and who she saw.
Domestic Abuse and Narcissism
Although the incidence of domestic murder in Australia is relatively low, emotional and physical abuse are unfortunately quite common. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ “2016 Personal Safety Survey” found that 1 in 5 women had experienced physical or sexual abuse from a partner. That’s roughly two million Australians. The incidence of emotional abuse and controlling behaviour is no doubt much higher.
Emotional abuse is strongly correlated with narcissism, which according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM), is characterised by ‘exaggerated feelings of self-importance, an excessive need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.’ Their sense of grandiosity and lack of empathy mean that narcissists do not see others as individuals with their own rights and needs and so feel no remorse in being controlling and exploitative. As family therapist Margalis Fjelstad, Ph.D. writes, “Narcissists want and demand to be in control, and their sense of entitlement makes it seem logical to them that they should be in control of everything.”
Predators Are Skilled with Dating Sites
The DSM states that narcissism affects up to 6% of the population, so the likelihood of meeting one is quite high. But this is especially high on dating sites, which are rich picking fields for those who prey on the lonely, as the Netflix series Dirty John and the documentary The Tinder Swindler exemplify. Predators tend to target many women concurrently, which vastly increases the chances of young daters meeting one. And because narcissists are often witty and charming in the early stages of a relationships, it is all too easy to fall for them before their destructive behaviour comes to light.
The Abuse of Someone Close to Me
My personal interest in narcissism came about after a close relative of mine (let’s call her Jess) suffered through an emotionally abusive relationship. Her partner, who she’d met at work, belittled her, lied to her, and two-timed her, causing her great anxiety. Fortunately, Jess finally escaped the relationship, and we are very fortunate we did not end up with the appalling tragedy the Clarkes and too many other families have had to endure.
As a result of Jess’s recent experience and another bad relationship she’d had, I searched for a way to assess a person’s character and see any red flags, up front. I looked at the research and analysis by Donna Andersen (Red Flags of Love Fraud), George Simon (In Sheep’s Clothing), Ramani Durvasula (Should I Stay, or Should I Go?), and Stephanie Sarkis (Gaslighting). I learned of the horrifying behaviour of John Meehan (the Netflix series Dirty John and the podcast of the same name), Stephanie Wood’s ‘partner’ Joe (her book Fake), Harold Henthorn (The Accidents by Caleb Hannan) and Sarah Jane Parkinson, who had her husband jailed by falsely accusing him of rape. With the help of psychologists, I devised a series of practical steps to uncover lies and highlight other behaviour of narcissists/predators, such as grandiosity, lack of empathy, and love-bombing.
Looking for Red Flags While Dating
I am now convinced that analysing your date’s behaviour in the early stages can help you avoid what could be a destructive relationship. In the words of licensed marriage and family therapist Rossana Snee, “If ignored, red flags in a relationship can turn a romantic relationship into an ugly and painful alliance.” To find these red flags, it’s important to have a checklist – to approach the issue methodically and to resist the emotional pull – to be a kind of Sherlock Holmes, dispassionate and observant.
Here a mentor would be very helpful. But a mentor is not infallible as she will not think of all the questions that should be asked to draw out your memories. This is why a pre-formulated set of questions that probe your date’s behaviour is so useful.
How DateShield Helps You See the Red Flags
I created DateShield to help with this crucial detective work. The app has been recommended by psychologists and victims of narcissists and can be downloaded from the app stores.
DateShield guides you through a multi-step process including questions developed with psychologists, and easy-to-follow sequential tips on where to meet, what to discuss, and when. The questions assess traits such as deceitfulness/honesty, coldness/empathy, contempt/respect and controlling behaviour/healthy independence. Here are three of the 61 questions in the app:
‘If he made a mistake or did something wrong, did he try to blame you or others?’
‘Did she seem to expect special treatment?’
And ‘Do his plans or goals seem grandiose and unrealistic?’
Each question comes with an explanation of why it’s important.
As you answer the questions, the app creates a to-do list to help you find out more. For instance, if you’ve answered that there was something you didn’t like about his behaviour, it will create a to-do item for you to speak to him about it subtly so you can observe his reaction.
For each question the app also encourages you to journal your impressions. You can then review your notes later in the journal function by category: respect, integrity/honesty, maturity/self-esteem, background, and friends/family.
After each assessment, the app adjusts a safety dial and notifies you if any disturbing characteristics are identified. To obtain a safe rating of your prospective partner you must go on six dates, answer all the questions with no red flags raised, and complete the to-do items.
DateShield also includes emergency functions. You can tap a button to dial 000 or 911 and send an SMS containing the address, and the physical description of your date, to your friends or family. If it’s not an emergency but you’re feeling uncomfortable, you can tap another button to send a message asking a friend to call to give you an excuse to leave. This message also includes the address and physical description in case his or her behaviour does become threatening. And, to allow you to conceal from your date your use of the app, there’s a quick-switch button which takes you straight to your favourite app. Here’s more information on DateShield’s features.
Clinical psychologist Dr. Nicole El Marj wrote this about DateShield: “I’ve seen a lot of women in private practice seek therapy following toxic and abusive relationships. Words cannot describe the pain and suffering that these women have endured and coming out of such relationships takes a lot of courage and strength. The questions in the app are absolutely on-point. In addition, there are several useful features in the app such as ‘The Journal’, which encourages the user to write down their thoughts and ideas following a date. Journaling is a very helpful technique to monitor our thoughts and emotions and allows us to reflect on our experiences. I believe that this app can help individuals think twice before entering and fully investing in a potentially unhealthy relationship.” Here are more endorsements of this dating safety app.
Romantic love is a great personal value and dating sites are a wonderful shortcut to finding it. In DateShield, we now have a powerful tool to help us use them safely and to test if love is warranted. You can download the app for free from the App Store or Google Play.
Nigel Richards is a software developer working and living in Toowong, Brisbane.