Zac Efron Plays Ted Bundy: What Is It Like to Date a Psychopath?

Documentaries about serial killers have been everywhere these days. One of the most talked about films is Zac Efron’s Ted Bundy biopic, Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. One thing that surprises many people is that Bundy had a wife (he was married to Carol Anne Boone from 1980 to 1986). This leads us to wonder, what is it really like to be in a romantic relationship with a psychopath? The Cheat Sheet reached out to Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist, professor of psychology, author, and expert on narcissism. Here’s what she had to say about what it’s like to date a psychopath.

The Cheat Sheet: Generally, what is it like to date a psychopath?

RD: Initially they can be quite charming, charismatic, engaging, articulate, smart, visionary. And little do you know, because they are so manipulative, they are doing a fantastic job of learning about you so they can play to your every want, whim, and vulnerability. It can be almost unsettling. In addition, it can sometimes seem too good to be true, and at others too chilling to be true.

Over time, after they have gotten their needs met (psychopaths are largely motivated by power and pleasure and profit), they will lose interest, and the coldness and callousness will replace the superficial charm and charisma. Their lies and deceit may start bubbling up to the surface, but this can take a little while. By the time the dark stuff emerges in earnest, you are still trying to make sense of where the interesting and compelling person you initially met has gone.

CS: What are some warning signs you might be dating a psychopath?

RD: Inconsistencies in their stories and “too good to be true” stuff that doesn’t check out (credentials, job, wealth). Somehow their wealth is mysteriously “unavailable” at the present time. There may be gaps in their histories that don’t seem to be accounted for or even in their lives. Their stories may not add up (they say they were on a business trip and their answers to a question suggest otherwise). 

They can shift moods from interested and engaged to cold and disconnected quite quickly. They will get quite irritable if you try to get clarity on facts or stories that do not add up. They will lack empathy, walk around with a haughty arrogance, be cold and lack empathy, and be prone to bouts of irritability.

They may ask you for financial favors–and make promises about how it will be returned quickly–their money is just hard to get out of that foreign bank account kind of thing. Financial manipulation is often a feature of these relationships. They might try to intensify things quickly, in a way that often conveniences them (move into your house), claiming that they want to spend time with you, but it could be to get them in position for financial or psychological abuse.

CS: What else should people know about dating a psychopath?

Zac Efron| Steven Ferdman/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Zac Efron| Steven Ferdman/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

RD: This is the hot topic these days–and my practice is full of people coping with the aftermath of these situations. We place so much currency on charm and charisma, that we often forget that these traits are often a heavy perfume that distract us from coldness, callousness, superficiality, and malevolent intentions. The world’s obsession with the charismatic fairy tale can create a dangerous blind spot. In addition, psychopaths are great at playing upon loneliness. They are expert at sniffing out vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and exploit them for financial, sexual, or other gain.

Read more: 12 Signs You’re Dating a Psychopath (and What to Do About It)

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