Mr. Charming Will Wreck Your World

By Robin Mullins Senger

The singles ad read:

Single white female seeking charming single white male. You must be able to sweep me off my feet, be smooth, confident, funny, entertaining, flattering, and ready to jump into doing favors for me. In return, after I’ve fallen madly in love with you, and you start controlling me, I will gradually give up my personal identity, freedom, and dreams so that you can rule our world. Prefer non-smoker.

I made that up, but that might as well be what I said in my own singles ad that I met Brian through. No one goes looking for painful relationships, and one may think that warning signs appear gradually, after one is emotionally invested in the relationship. That isn’t true though. If you know what to look for, you will see the red flags before you have gotten too involved.

More useful than a list of obvious red flags is knowledge of one warning sign visible before any attachment bond is formed: Excessive Charm.

As a society, we place a high value on charm. But recognizing charm for what it really is can save you from an abusive relationship. The reality is, abusers tend to be charming. Along with sociopaths, people with personality disorders, con artists, and users.

Why is charm a warning sign?

Developing and maintaining a charming exterior takes a lot of work all the time. People who choose to put that much exaggerated effort into how they present themselves are often doing so because they have something to hide, and they need to offer an attractive package or everyone would run away from them. Time is also of the essence for them – they need to rush the relationship before you can think things through and discover the real them.

Lundy Bancroft, an expert on exploitative personalities puts it this way:

“Our current thinking is ‘Because you are so charming, I will need a mountain of bad experience to convince me that you are actually not a trustworthy person.’ We need to switch this to its opposite: ‘Because you are so charming, I will need a mountain of good experience to conclude that you are okay.’ In other words, charm should count against people in deciding whether to trust them.”

So what’s the solution? Here are a few things we can do:

  • Be wary of charmers. Listen carefully to your own inner voices and warnings, and get to know the person gradually, watching their behavior. Stop respecting and admiring charm.

  • Look for a different set of qualities in people, instead of charm.

  • Look for sincerity, dependability, good listening, flexibility, and an ability to share the spotlight. Look for an ability to take feedback and realize when they have made mistakes.

  • Look for deep kindness over time (not just big generosity right now, which is part of charm). Look for a person who has successful relationships with (healthy) friends and relatives that have held up for many years.

  • Look for substance.

If we would practice this, we would often save ourselves from abusive relationships. There are so many great people in the world. But to find them, we sometimes have to change where we’re looking. Keep your eyes open and look for people who have something deeper and more genuine to offer.

Because possessiveness and control are major red flags, Cindy Southworth, a VP at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, suggests this little test:

“Break a date at the beginning when he’s all hot and heavy, and tell him your girlfriend needs you. If he says, ‘I’m disappointed but I understand,’ great. But if it’s, ‘I can’t bear to be apart,’ or he makes you feel guilty, puts your friend down, or gets angry, these are not good signs!”