The man of her dreams turned out to be an emotionally abusive con artist, and she doesn't want that to happen to you.

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This isn’t the kind of article that you write every day. But I do have some firsthand experience dating, and almost marrying, a sociopath. We met on Tinder. It wasn’t love at first swipe for me, but it definitely seemed to be for him. In our whirlwind romance, I was pregnant within a year, engaged, and house shopping, yet my life was far from a fairytale. It took me almost two years to stop buying into the lies, and to realize that pretty much my entire relationship was built on falsehoods. I am here to warn you, as best as I can, because I wouldn’t wish the heartache and terror I experienced on my worst enemy.

If you believe the statistics, 3.8% of humans meet the diagnostic criteria for sociopathy, or antisocial personality disorder, which is a mental health diagnosis characterized by deception as well as a lack of empathy and a conscience. Sociopathy may exist on a spectrum, but that doesn’t necessarily make a sociopath any less dangerous. Here are the signs to look out for that I wish I had paid more attention to.

They have extreme charisma

Sociopaths are usually extremely self-assured and charismatic. They truly believe that they are better looking and more talented, and thus entitled to anything and everything life has to offer.

With my ex, there was no reflective surface he didn’t like, and no person he couldn’t charm. I would watch him interact with perfect strangers, and within minutes they would want to exchange numbers, or sit and bask in his presence. That kind of extreme confidence is seductive.

They move fast in a relationship

On your second date with a sociopath, they could be already talking marriage. In a few weeks, they might be suggesting you move in together. Within a month, they could be professing their undying love and dreams for your shared future. They paint the perfect, movie-quality picture of what life could be with them, and you soak up every delicious fantasy.

My man treated our relationship like a puzzle, and he changed the pieces of himself until they fit what I was looking for. In retrospect, I think he just needed a place to stay, and three meals a day—but he also needed me to drop my guard and open my wallet.

They tell lies upon lies

Sociopaths lie as easily as they breathe. My ex was a master wordsmith and actor. I would need a thousand pages to go into every falsehood he uttered, but here is a perfect example. When we had been dating for seven months, a woman contacted me via email with a short note and screenshots of text messages of their conversations and photos of them together and of his dog. Guess who I believed? Him. He already had the perfect excuses that explained and negated her claims. Deep down, I knew that she was telling the truth...but he was that good.

They don't want to share you

The deeper I fell into love and into our relationship, the farther I was pulled from other close relationships. He would pout when I went to lunch with a girlfriend, couldn’t stand any of my guy friends whether they were gay or straight, and eventually tried to sever my close family ties as well. Sociopaths are paranoid. They don’t want anyone catching on to them or their games, and they often express possessive traits. It's almost as if you are the toy that they don’t want anyone else playing with. You belong to them.

They use guilt trips

Whenever my ex wanted something from me, he would use some sob story to get what he desired. He was sick of teaching tennis lessons, so he kept complaining to me that he didn’t have any free time to study for his medical board exams. That’s right, my ex was a “maybe” doctor. He played my heartstrings with expertise, and before I knew it, I was paying all the bills so he had time to study...but really he was sunbathing, working out, and playing tennis. Any time I would question his lack of motivation, he would verbally abuse me, which brings me to my next warning sign.

They're verbally or physically abusive

The one emotion sociopaths do feel is anger—or more often than not, rage. And from my experience, they enjoy the release. Let me tell you, it wasn’t fun to be a human punching bag. One fight at a time, my ex manipulated and broke me until he had remolded me into the docile “yes” female that he wanted. Yes, I will have sex anytime you want. Yes, I will stay up all night talking to you when I am exhausted. Yes, I will eat at that restaurant even though nothing on the menu looks appealing. I was taught to watch his facial expressions and moods and stay in line unless I wanted to be screamed at for hours, even though I was paying all the bills.

They take pleasure in others' misfortune

You know how you watch a video on YouTube of someone falling off a bike and getting hurt, and you cringe? Ouch, they broke their arm! Poor thing! You see, a sociopath probably thought that very same video was funny. Nothing scared my ex, no matter how dark or twisted the horror movie, or how convoluted the contents. I remember clearly a video he showed me on a foreign website that bordered on child abuse, and he thought it was hilarious. The look of bafflement on his face when I burst into tears still leaves a stain on my conscience.

They court danger

Sociopaths are reckless; they are not one to turn down a dare or play by the rules. They think that nothing will ever happen to them, so they risk big. I can’t tell you how many times my heart pounded from his latest stunt. On New Year's Eve last year, we were in San Diego driving to a dinner reservation. It didn’t matter that the speed limit was 65; he was going 90 because, “we were going to be late!” My knuckles were white, grasping the seat as he darted in and out of traffic. That was one of the many times he had no regard for rules or safety.

If my experience with a sociopath scared you, good. It is a beautiful but dangerous world out there, and we have to guard our hearts with a calculated ferocity. I have no regrets about my experience because of the beautiful child playing beside me. My relationship with my son's father started off incredible, and then turned into some of the darkest moment of my life. But I found the light, and my voice. I have chosen to use my pain to spread awareness.

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