I've just finished watching the first two seasons. Dexter's character seems very inconsistent -

On one hand, he's supposed to be the classic psychopath, completely devoid of feelings/emotions himself and incapable of understanding other people's feelings (as is evident from his conversations with everyone). This leads to him having to pretend all the time to look normal and even start a fake relationship with Rita just so that he looks to be leading a normal mundane life to others.

But then, on the other hand, he cares way too much for Rita and the kids. Goes to great lengths to not having to breakup, impulsively picks fight with Paul to protect Rita (against his code and common sense), makes big efforts to keep Rita/kids out of harms way. He stays with her or keeps trying to get her back in his life even when it would be more logical to go with the flow and find another normal (unlike Lila) girlfriend to keep up the appearance of a normal life. And its worth noting that Rita brings absolutely no real value to his life other than the happiness derived from his emotional attachment to her family.

Why this dichotomous behavior? Is he a psychopath or not? Why so obsessed over Rita?

  • @Paulie_D Thanks. I'm wondering if this is one of the things in the story (and perhaps in the book that the show is based on) that are put in there to show Dexter's true nature (that he's more than just a purely murderous psychopath or something) but just done poorly.
    – Achilles
    Jan 28, 2017 at 13:49
  • I think there might be an answer here to your title question though....without making any judgments on his actual "diagnosis".
    – Paulie_D
    Jan 28, 2017 at 13:52
  • 1
    At least at first he sticks with Rita because she is 'broken' and he enjoys the lack of emotional baggage that necessarily comes with sexual relations. Once she has recovered enough to become amorous again, it would have looked suspicious to dump her - "You & Rita seemed such a nice couple. Why'd you break up? Dexter Because she had sex with me (oops!)". That does not completely explain it, but could be a factor. Also, as far as 'cares for' I think it can be perhaps explained as as a combination of 'possessive of' & 'keeping Rita content/happy' to maintain the relationship. Jan 28, 2017 at 14:20
  • 2
    @AndrewThompson Good points. Perhaps some of that struggle later partly to preserve Harry's code (the facade of a stable relationship with someone normal).
    – Achilles
    Jan 28, 2017 at 14:44
  • 1
    @Achilles: Be very careful with ANY form of regular emotion you may feel Dexter has. It may be just your own projection of your emotions. For the first season at least I personally didn't read any emotion on Dexter's part apart from his relationship with Harry. Also, maybe Dexter is not 100% psychopathic (almost nobody is). A pure psychopath is unlikely to turn into a serial killer because killing will not bring any pleasure or happiness or relief. To be able to derive pleasure from killing means one can experience emotions...
    – slebetman
    Jan 28, 2017 at 17:37

3 Answers 3


He wants a girlfriend in order to maintain his "disguise" as a normal person. So that the people in his life aren't constantly trying to set him up on dates, or asking him why he doesn't want to find a girl.

Rita is ideal because her "damaged goods" background means she doesn't ask too many questions, and she doesn't want to have sex (as mentioned.) If he goes to any great lengths to preserve that relationship, it's only because he knows he's unlikely to find anything so "good" (for his purposes) with another woman.

In the books, there's also another reason why he sticks with Rita.

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT. The first book is fairly similar to the first season of the show - not 100% but maybe 85% - 90%. However, the second and subsequent seasons are nothing at all like the second and subsequent books (and that's a good thing in some ways.)

In the books, Rita's children are much more traumatized than they are portrayed in the TV show. Cody isn't just a quiet kid - he literally never talks to anyone but his sister. In the third book (or thereabouts,) Dexter begins to realize that Cody has a Dark Passenger (ie: killer instinct) of his own. His sister is aware of this, because they do everything together. And so Dexter begins to toy with the idea of teaching them the Code, the way Harry taught him. This, of course, gives him a reason to keep the relationship with Rita intact which has nothing at all to do with Rita herself.

  • I think you have the good basis of an answer here but it doesn't cover the emotional element that is, I think, the core of the question.
    – Paulie_D
    Jan 28, 2017 at 15:29
  • 3
    @Paulie_D: The core of the answer is that there is not emotional element. His investment in the relationship is the same investment you'd make to keep your shirt stain free on the day of an important interview. You don't do it because you love your shirt but because it may affect your interview.
    – slebetman
    Jan 28, 2017 at 17:31
  • As a side note, the books have the "Dark Passenger" as a possibly occult force, which may further impact things. Jun 17, 2022 at 20:43

I believe the reason why Dexter seems to "care" about Rita is because he thinks of himself as an overall good person, a kind of necessary evil.

Although he lacks the emotions to be guided by in his life, he tries really hard to seem like a good person and empathise with the people around him. Dexter isn't a stupid guy, it is a well known fact that psychopaths, although unable to empathise with another person emotionally, are able to view situations from other people's perspectives and are often able to guess the emotional responses of "normal humans" under said situations.

Therefore even though he may seem to empathise with people, he really is just guessing their emotional response while feeling nothing himself.

Secondly, we know that psychopaths do not feel emotions, but that isn't always true. While there are some outright crazy and suicidal psychopaths, most of them are selfish and also have a strong sense of self preservation.

This means they may show an emotional response if they feel threatened. We have seen Dexter's expressions every time he perceives danger. We have seen him panic and make almost emotional decisions under such situations. Hannibal Lecter also shows a similar response (although not as obvious as Dexter) to a negative situation.

All in all, I do not believe Dexter's almost emotional responses when it comes to Rita have anything to do with him just wanting to appear a family guy. I believe that he seems to care about Rita not because he really does, but because he thinks of himself to be a good person and feels the need to act as one, guided in life not by an emotional sense of right or wrong, but rather the will to consciously act like and to be accepted as a good person. Here's why:

  1. Dexter does not understand Rita's emotions naturally, but can often be seen trying to guess what she expects of him and then acting accordingly.
  2. When faced with no choice but to kill an innocent fellow cop in order to save himself, he had no idea what to do. As we all know, the number 1 rule of his code is to never get caught. According to this, the choice should have been easy. But it wasn't, because more than anything, Dexter tries to be a good person.


Rita never knew dexter. If she had seen him over his table she would have been horrified. She would have taken the kids and vanished from his life for good. Rita and the kids were merely a cover for dexter..their purpose was to make him appear human.

  • 1
    How it answers the question ? Kindly use this section for answer only.
    – Panther
    Jan 30, 2017 at 3:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .