I’ve dated more people than can be counted on one hand, approaching two hands. I have been through many breakups, makeups, rebounds and long lost reunions, likely much more-so than folks my age usually have. This is generally attributed to my constant craving for emotional connection, and the number of breakups attributed to bad luck. I’ve been through some nice, soft ones, and some that are objectively scary. I did a fair amount of research for this article. Let’s begin.
I have for you three contrasting anecdotes.
Example one. I go off to my favorite place in the world, Nature Camp. There I meet a sweet and earnest boy who I knew had liked me from the year prior, but who had since grown taller, more toned, and most importantly, more sure of himself. We kissed by the river and spent our days holding hands and leaning on each other. Come departure from camp, we talked for a few weeks and met up in his town, but we just petered out. Today, I follow him on Instagram and delight in being privy to his adventures. I cared a lot about him but it couldn’t have worked out long term.
Example two. I meet a guy over Christmas break that I was going to school with, but I hadn’t really known before we caught a movie and went to a Knicks game. It all happened fast, and before long we were hooking up in his car and texting late into the night. He became distant and regretful very suddenly. I thought I’d done something wrong, and he led me on thinking that I had, but wouldn’t disclose to me what I’d done. I came to find out that the reason he went haywire was because the whole time, he’d been hiding a girlfriend from me. Now, that’s a real dick. He was a jerk. But it’s within the jerk-ey realm of normality, right? This stuff happens.
Example three. We were together for six months. He isolated me from my friends and family. Gaslighted me into oblivion. Compulsively lied to me, as often as he breathed. I’ve talked about him loads before, you know the deal.
The first two were natural, normal conclusions to relationships. There is a difference between the breakups of two folks who simply weren’t destined and a relationship that involves someone with a serious, predatory personality disorder.
Sociopathy isn’t curable. It’s best diagnosed early so it can be managed (in the case of the one I know, it was diagnosed early but his parents spurned the doctor who told them). It’s characterized by excessive dominance, lack of empathy, lack of executive functioning, manipulation, and more. All of this was present in the last example. Most notably, the theme of dominance abounds. He always had to know more than me, have a leg up on me, had to be stronger, faster, more in the know. Everything was according to his schedule and desires. If I asked for anything more, I was asking for too much.
I remember crying at a soccer themed summer camp right after a breakup that I cared a lot about. He was my first love and I was devastated. What did I do? I took the breakup in stride, cried a lot over the summer, and came back to school and had an academically and interpersonally solid year of school. I felt very sad that summer, of course. I mourned the loss of who I’d told my mother would be my prom date someday. But I bounced back, because nothing abnormal, traumatic, or scary had happened. It was another teenage heartbreak. Everyone reading this has had one, at least. I’ve had a few!
What isn’t normal is encountering a sociopath, psychopath, or anyone with similar disorders. What isn’t normal is trauma. What isn’t normal is terror, fear, and manipulation. If present in relationships, they will create lasting wounds that scar over messily, slowly if at all, and painfully.
My perspective on this is just like that Jason Mraz song that my dear therapist plays for me. What I wish for you is that you never have to go through a traumatic breakup. Sure, you’ll endure heartbreak, sadness, perhaps some hopelessness. Those things are natural and normal and a part of being alive. But there’s a difference between that and abuse, that and trauma, and I’d never wish that upon my worst enemy. Not even the sociopath I know.
I want you to dive forth and meet all kinds of people, build messy and complicated memories with people you love, maybe hate later, are perhaps indifferent to eventually. I want you to recognize sociopathy and abuse before it happens to you, and steer as clear as you can. In conclusion, here are the main characteristics of sociopathy, in list form.
They’re also all of the symptoms present in the one I know, so I can say this from experience.
- Pathological lying
- Lack of genuine remorse
- Superficial charm
- Lack of empathy
- Early behavioral problems
- Irresponsibility/unreliability (poor executive functioning skills)
- Lack of a realistic life plan