Are You Dating A Liar?

So, your sweetie’s often late and tells contradictory tales? Here’s what to do next, to protect yourself—and your heart.

By Bob Strauss

o it’s your third date, and you’re starting to suspect that the person you’ve been making googly eyes at all night may not be telling the entire truth. To start with, your date was an hour late, which was blamed on traffic coming into town. Next, whenever you ask about previous relationships, this person nervously checks the time and changes the subject. Finally, your date is wearing a striped prison uniform, and you just know this person has to have at least one other outfit to choose from.

OK, just kidding about that last point, but this is a serious (and surprisingly
“I’ll never do it again; can you please forgive me?”
common) situation that merits some hard-headed advice. We asked Martha Stout, author of the best-selling The Sociopath Next Door, about what to do when you suspect your date is lying. Here’s what she had to say:

Forget what you’ve seen on TV.
The plots of countless crime shows notwithstanding, Stout says, “even trained psychologists are very bad at discerning the moment when someone is telling a lie.” Rather than studying your date’s face for an unconscious twitch or a furtive sideways glance, “you’re better off trying to figure out this person’s character,” which is revealed more by his or her conversation than by body language or facial expressions. Which brings us to…

Ask the right questions.
Stout recommends asking (not grilling) your date about past romantic entanglements, then listening very carefully to what is said. “If he or she attributes everything that went wrong to the other person, then your date is not taking responsibility for his or her own life, and such people often turn out to be liars.” This doesn’t only apply to past partners: If, for instance, your date says he or she left a job because the boss was “a jerk,” that’s a red flag, too.

Stand your ground.
If you decide to challenge your sweetie about a half-truth (or outright whopper), be
“A sociopath feels that he or she is outside the law.”
prepared for a barrage of excuses. “Often times, such people will try to appeal to your honesty and empathy,” Stout says. Here are some lines you’re likely to hear: “I was turned on by you so much, I just couldn’t bear to tell you,” “Please don’t be angry, you’re the only one who understands me,” and “I’ll never do it again, can you please forgive me?”

Don’t fall for the “rebel” routine.
“A sociopath feels that he or she is outside the law, social or actual,” Stout says, “and not only does this person like to bend the rules, he or she also wants you to help.” So if your date casually says things like “Let’s have sex in the elevator” or “Let’s just sneak into the movie—no one will notice,” he or she has probably dropped a few lies to you during the course of the evening.

Know when to cut your losses.
Surprisingly, Stout takes a more lenient stance than the classic expression Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. “I have a list of rules for dealing with sociopaths, and one of them is the Rule of Threes. If this person has misled you once, it could be a mistake or misunderstanding. If he or she has done it twice, it can still be a mistake (though that’s less likely). But when it happens three times, that’s when you know you’re with someone who deals in falsehoods.”

Don’t blame yourself.
Per the first point on this list, Stout says, many people tend to beat themselves up after becoming involved with a pathological liar, because they cling to the “superstition” that they should have been able to figure things out right away. “Lying is difficult to detect,” she says, “so you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself.” Get away from the liar in question, and get on with your life without berating yourself.

Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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