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Romantic relationships must start with attraction. The question about what women seem to like in their male partners has continued to generate interest over the years. Relationship experts and psychologists advance different theories on attraction and relationship development in trying to respond to this question. Some researchers report that women value qualities such as intelligence, physique (height), education, stability, and social skills among others (Jones & Paulhus, 2011). Also, traits such as narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopaths (the Dark Triad) seem to correlate with “opportunistic short-term mating strategy for men” (Jonason, Li & Buss, 2010, p. 63). Typically, sociologists and psychologists regard these qualities to be maladaptive and socially repulsive (Regoli, Hewitt & DeLisi, 2011). This then begs the question: why do women seem to be attracted to men who are so egocentric, extroverted and manipulative? Men with the dark triad traits cannot sustain a long-term relationship; instead, the dark triad traits make them socially exploitative.
Jonson, Li, and Buss (2010) suggest that attributes such as extraversion and power represent particular qualities that may give a man an advantage in the dating arena, at least in the short-term. This paper uses the sexual strategies and human evolutionary mating theories to explore the dark triad attributes and how they modulate short-term relationships.
The Dark Triad and Relationships
Narcissism, psychopathy (subclinical) and Machiavellianism (the Dark Triad) represent an exploitative strategy that works well in the short-term. Machiavellians show manipulative behaviors while psychopaths tend to be adventure-seeking and have little empathy for others (Jones & Paulhus, 2011). On the other hand, narcissistic people seek status, recognition, prestige, and attention. According to O’Boyle et al. (2012), these three traits correlate in terms of the level of aggression and self-aggrandizement and as such, can be viewed as a distinguishable social orientation. Specifically, researchers have shown that the Dark Triad facilitates a social strategy that is exploitative in the short-term (Jones & Paulhus, 2010). For example, Machiavellian people are charming but show exploitative behavior (Chamorro-Premuzic, Stumm & Furnham, 2011). Narcissists show a strong desire for fame and power and have low levels of shame or remorse while psychopaths demonstrate their exploitative nature through irresponsibility and impulsive behaviors.
It should be noted that the Dark Triad qualities demonstrate a high degree of self-centeredness and little empathy for others, attributes that make them exploitative in most social contexts. In light of this, people who have any of the three Dark Triad qualities lack the ability to develop long-term relationships, which requires commitment and constant reciprocity among the partners (Campbell & Miller, 2011).). A study by Jakobwitz and Egan (2006) established that people tend to avoid self-serving and self-centered people, as these qualities make them undesirable for stable and long-term relationships. Thus, potential partners interested in long-term relationships will tend to avoid people with the Dark Triad traits (Jonason, Li & Buss, 2010). Conversely, exploitative and self-centered behavior tends to be suited for short-term relationships.
In the dating context, people with any of the Dark Triad traits do well with regard to getting mates; however, their behaviors are sexually exploitative and thus, cannot sustain long-term relationships. For instance, the three Dark Triad traits have low levels of agreeableness, which tends to lead to interpersonal conflict and marital problems (Horowitz & Strack, 2010). Machiavellians show coercive sexual behavior and tend to be unfaithful (Leary & Hoyle, 2009). On the other hand, narcissists tend to be sexually unrestrained and show a high level of promiscuity. Narcissists find it easy to begin relationships but have difficulty remaining committed and as such, narcissists may resort to short-term relationships to satisfy their sexual desires while hurting their partners (Lacey, 2009). Thus, the Dark Triad correlates with behaviors associated with short-term relationships.
Gender differences are apparent in dark triad traits. From a human evolutionary standpoint, short-term relationships tend to provide higher mating benefits to men than women as women have pregnancy and nursing issues to worry about (Chabrol & Van Leeuwen, 2009). As such, women (even those with the Dark Triad traits) are less open to short-term sexual relationships compared to men. Also, men, on average, score highly on the three Dark Triad qualities, which make them to prefer short-term relationships to long-term relationships (Vernon et al., 2008). Thus, men with one or more of the Dark Triad qualities (e.g., narcissistic men) are more likely to pursue short-term relationships than narcissistic women.
Besides self-esteem, the dark triad traits show a positive correlation with extraversion and openness and a negative correlation with conscientiousness and agreeableness (Jonason & Harbeson, 2011). Extraversion, self-esteem, and openness are associated with extroverts. Extraverted men show no interest in long-term relationships; instead, they prefer exploitative short-term relationships. In contrast, the low levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness enables dark triad men to persist even in the face of rejection from potential mates (Jonason & Li, 2009). Cheating behaviors are also associated with the dark triad personality. A study by Hodson, Hogg, and MacInnis (2009) established that psychopathic trait is a predictor of lying behaviors in both men and women. Cheating behaviors are also consistent with dark triad traits of individualism and lack of empathy for others.
The dark triad traits are more common in men than women. Men score highly on traits associated with the preference for short-term relationships than women (Paulhus & Williams, 2002). Moreover, the high scores on dark triad qualities are related to antisocial behaviors, promiscuity, and preference for short-term relationships. Thus, sex differences determine the relationship behavior of men and women with dark triad traits. This shows that the dark triad mediates the nature of relationships that men and women engage in as well as the adaptive mechanisms of individuals in various social contexts.
This paper focused on the specific dark triad attributes and their influence on short-term relationships. The aim of the research was to show how short-term sexual mating strategies correlate with the dark triad. In so doing, the research only focused on the major traits that influence men towards short-term relationships. It is possible, therefore, that the analysis of dark triad attributes is incomplete. Other subtle dark triad qualities may also influence predisposition towards short-term relationships, especially among men. It is also possible that short-term strategies in women have different indicators compare to men. This was not investigated in this study.
Conclusion and Implications of the Study
The three personality traits (i.e., narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy) that make up the Dark Triad have traditionally been associated with maladaptive behaviors. However, research has shown that, although people with these traits hurt others, traits such as self-interest and extraversion makes them desirable as partners in romantic relationships. For men with dark triad traits, the low levels of agreeableness and empathy makes them to pursue short-term relationships at the expense of women who find some dark triad traits (self-interest and assertiveness) attractive (Pincus & Ansell, 2009). Therefore, the dark triad traits influence a wide array of differences between men and women, which in turn impact on romantic relationships.
The findings of this analysis have many implications in practice. The appealing nature of men with dark triad traits can be applied in media studies where media products are packaged to appeal to female audiences. Also, understanding the dark triad traits is useful in choosing a partner and predicting the success of a marriage.
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