News of the exit of President Trump's White House staff secretary Rob Porter has dominated the headlines over the last few days, as he resigned in the wake of domestic abuse allegations from two ex-wives.
Thus far, much of the conversation has been focused on security clearances, and who in the administration knew what when. Yet another significant issue raised by the allegations against Porter is the prevalence of domestic violence within all echelons of society.
As a career prosecutor, having handled scores of domestic violence cases, my experience is consistent with research indicating that domestic violence is an invisible epidemic, fueled by underreporting as well as the complicated relational dynamics present within intimate relationships.
We spend much time discussing how political administrations should vet potential employees. We should also discuss how prospective partners should vet potential mates.
Rose Colored Glasses Mute Red Flags [i]
Many people pride themselves on being excellent judges of character. And when it comes to selecting friends or hiring help, sure enough, they usually make excellent decisions. Yet some of those same people are incapable of exercising the same judgment personally that they do professionally. Romantically, they end up falling for inappropriate, sometimes even dangerous suitors. How do intelligent, educated people make such disastrous choices when it comes to romance?
Consider how aggressive tendencies can be misperceived as assertiveness on a first date. Consider an example (altered to protect the identity of the parties involved) from my years of work prosecuting domestic violence crimes.
Beware: On a First Date, Red Flags Can Look Red Hot [ii]
Kyle makes a strong impression on his first date with Maria at an expensive restaurant where he has reserved the best table. As a veteran business executive, he entertains her throughout dinner with war stories and vivid descriptions of his brilliant deal making ability and prowess in the boardroom.
Maria is not only impressed by his job, she is also impressed by his assertiveness. Not only does he order for both of them and select the wine, but also he demands that the waiter send back Maria's steak when it is cooked incorrectly. Maria perceives Kyle's taking charge of the situation as comforting because it demonstrates that he can take care of her needs.
What it also demonstrates, as Maria will no doubt understand over time, is his need for power and control. If this relationship continues, not only will the perception of care turn into control, perceived protection will turn into possessiveness. Maria will wonder in retrospect, were those negative traits there all along?
As I state in my book "Red Flags," within abusive relationships:
- Possessive looks protective.
- Controlling looks comforting.
- Aggressive looks assertive.
- Violent looks passionate.
- Rude looks direct.
- Condescending looks confident.
The Dark Side of Dating: The Desirability of Dark Traits
As Maria found out the hard way, upon first impression, dangerous character traits can be perceived as desirable. In a study aptly entitled “How Alluring Are Dark Personalities?” (2016), researchers Jauk et al. studied the appeal of the three Dark Triad traits: psychopathy, narcissism, and Machiavellianism, on speed dating. [iii] They define narcissism as including self-admiration and grandiosity, Machiavellianism as cynical thinking and detached affect and coldness, and psychopathy as callousness, manipulativeness, and anti-social behavior.
Jauk et al. began by noting that three Dark Triad personality traits are linked to short term mating strategies. In their study, they discovered that narcissism was linked to both short and long term mate appeal for both men and women. This was due to the link between narcissism and other traits in men and women, respectively: extraversion and physical beauty.
Regarding psychopathy, Jauk et al. found that for women, psychopathy was linked with short-term relationship mate appeal, although this may have been also due to physical attractiveness.
Getting to Know Before Getting Involved
The fact that dark and dangerous traits can appear desirable upon first impression is one of many reasons to get to know potential paramours before getting involved romantically. First dates are about first impressions. Yet they are also the time you are at your most objective. So become informed before becoming infatuated, to ensure that seemingly desirable qualities are as good as they look.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 2,500 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
[ii] This is an altered vignette from my book Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Ruthless People (St. Martin´s Press, 2015).
[iii] Emanuel Jauk, Aljoscha C. Neubauer, Thomas Mairunteregger, Stephanie Pemp, Katharina P. Sieber, and John F. Rauthmann, “How Alluring Are Dark Personalities? The Dark Triad and Attractiveness in Speed Dating,” European Journal of Personality 30, no. 2 (2016): 125–138.
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