Interest in true crime stories is at an all-time high. It seems like every week there’s a new docuseries, book, or podcast unearthing a harrowing story of a man or a group of men who hurt women. We might see these stories and wonder, How could this happen? How can people miss such obvious relationship red flags? But it’s not as simple as that.
When the trailer for the Ted Bundy biopic Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile dropped in January 2019, people unfamiliar with Bundy’s case were shocked to learn he’d tricked so many women into trusting him before he killed them. It’s not all true crime, either. After You landed on Netflix in December 2018, many wondered how Beck, the object of Joe’s affection, didn’t realize he was stalking her, hacking into her phone, and kidnapping and murdering people close to her.
This is nothing new. Dangerous men have hurt women while blending into society for decades. But how does it happen? How do women fall for dangerous men? I spoke with Patrice N. Douglas, a marriage and family therapist, for a better understanding of how easy it is to miss the warning signs.
HelloGiggles: How do women fall in love with dangerous men?
Patrice N. Douglas: A dangerous man can be categorized in so many ways. I think what a lot of women get attracted to is that they can be charismatic, romantic, and very attentive. And because they are, they mask the other qualities of what we would call potentially antisocial personality disorder, where they don’t care about people’s feelings or emotions, and they violate their [partner’s] personal rights. I think for a lot of people, women in particular, they see the romantic side of a man. Sometimes, when men are like, Well, if you talk to this man, I’m never going to talk to you again, they might take it as, He really likes me a lot. He really loves me. He cares about me. He doesn’t want to see me with anybody else. They don’t see that that is the hugest red flag and that they’re about to walk into some dangerous stuff.
Any time a man says, If I catch you talking to him again, or if you do that again, I’ll hit you, that’s not an empty threat. You should take that very seriously. And that’s what a lot of women fail to do—they don’t take that first initial threat very seriously, until they mess up, unintentionally, and then they do get the consequence.
HG: Do you think people can be blinded by love?
PND: Absolutely. I think when women fall for that type of man, it’s because their partner before wasn’t really attentive to them. They see red flags as love, not control. When they go from somebody who doesn’t really show them that attention or doesn’t care what they do, to someone that cares about everything about their day, they [don’t worry], Why does he always quiz me about everything I do? Or, Why does he have comments about everything that I do? Instead, they see it as affection. Also, especially if they’re intimate sexually with them early on, and they have really great sexual chemistry, a lot of that trumps the warning signs that this is not the relationship they need to be in. Sex confuses a lot of things.
HG: Are women more susceptible than men to falling for a dangerous person? Or is that just the perception in the media?
PND: Absolutely not. Women can be just as volatile as men. There are a lot of men that do suffer at the hands of domestic violence from their partner, but they don’t speak out because of the shame, embarrassment, and judgment. Women can be just as dangerous as men. I think women can be a little more premeditated in what they’re doing, versus men, who act out initially on the first emotion.
HG: Are there any less obvious signs we should look for in a partner that signal they’re potentially dangerous?
PND: They always get you by being the most romantic person possible. That’s their trap. By the time they’re acting like themselves, you’re already sucked in, and you don’t know how to get out because you’re so invested. Also, if you feel like they’re always playing mind games or gaslighting you. Oh, that never happened. You never saw that text message. That was someone else that you saw. When they make you start believing that what you are thinking or seeing is wrong, that’s a big sign that they’re manipulating you. Normal people don’t gaslight people.
If you feel unsafe in your relationship, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or go to TheHotline.org.