Hello, my name is Amy, and I date narcissists.
You’d think I’d have figured this out before now.
I mean, I’ve been dating narcissists since my mid-twenties…
And I NEVER knew until recently.
Why would I?
It’s not like they teach this stuff in school.
My dating education as a teen involved learning how to spot guys who were after sex. If a guy wanted to get in your pants, you stayed away. But if he was a polite and decent young man—especially if he was polite and decent to your parents—then of course he was safe.
That’s no longer true. (If it ever was.)
One in three American teens has experienced an abusive relationship. Even if they’re not being hit or coerced sexually, they’re being verbally and emotionally intimidated. Girls and young women are particularly at risk.
Teens aren’t taught to spot red flags. To make matters worse, controlling behavior is glamorized in movies and media. (Like the popular “Twilight” series.)
As grown women, our education isn’t always much better.
We confuse love with control. We find jealousy flattering. A man who takes charge is masculine.
We may even give up our power in an attempt to be more feminine, trusting, and open-hearted.
Luckily, we have friends, books, and mentors who can help us sift through our relationship experiences and understand what’s going on.
That’s what happened to me.
Years ago, I was talking with a fellow relationship coach about some stuff that was going on in my personal life. The coach suggested I research the term “gaslighting.”
I went online and did a search. As I read article after article, I learned about narcissists, people with no sense of empathy and an exaggerated sense of their own self-importance.
As I read further, it was as if the puzzle pieces of my life began to rearrange themselves.
I’d always thought I’d chosen my past partners because they were cool, interesting, and motivated. Now, I began to see that many of them had other traits in common. They were self-absorbed. They were critical of other people. They thought they deserved better.
Had I been deliberately choosing narcissistic men, without even realizing it?
There are two types of narcissists:
Those with full-blown narcissistic personality disorder, which can ONLY be diagnosed by a mental health professional…
And what I call “garden-variety narcissists.” These are folks you meet in your everyday life who fit the description but will never get diagnosed.
Like the guy who’s so enamored of his own appearance that he expects the best treatment wherever he goes and refuses to play by the rules that other people have to play by.
Or the man who turns every conversation into a conversation about himself. He admires people who love him and turns on anyone who dares criticize him.
Or the man who can only tell two stories about his life: one in which he’s the hero and one in which he’s the victim. If he senses that you’re not buying the hero story, he’ll switch to the victim story to win your sympathy.
Before you say, “But I’d never date anyone like THAT,” I have to confess I thought the same.
I’d NEVER date a bad guy. And I’d certainly NEVER date anyone cruel, callous, or manipulating.
But narcissists don’t come across as bad guys. They come across as one of the GOOD guys.
They’re popular. Charming. Accomplished. The life of the party. The most eligible bachelor. Aloof enough to be mysterious, confident enough to sweep you off your feet.
If you like men who stand apart, and you hold out for the best, then you’re at risk.
Because these men will convince you that they’re holding out for the best, too. And that one special woman they’re thinking of choosing is YOU.
Who can resist that kind of flattery and attention?
Being with a narcissist feels good. More than good.
It feels GREAT.
You don’t realize anything is wrong. You just think you’re dating a confident—well, kind of arrogant—but ultimately sympathetic guy.
I LIKED these guys. They were ambitious, entertaining, talkative, and adventurous. They had lots to say and lots to share.
Plus, they were impressive.
Here was everyone else, and here was THIS guy. Aloof, content in his own skin, and looking for someone equally special to spend his life with.
Imagine how I felt when he thought I was special enough to invite into his inner circle!
We became confidants. We spent more and more time one-on-one. I felt honored he’d taken me into his world. He trusted me. He said he knew things about me that even I didn’t know. Like how other people envied me, and I was going to go far in life, and I wasn’t like other women.
I lapped it up.
And when the relationship turned sour and he turned on me, I believed it was MY fault. I deserved the harsh words he leveled at me. I tried even harder. After all, with my skills, I should be able to make it work.
Today, there are three things I wish I knew decades ago. They would have saved me a world of heartbreak.
1. It’s not about what he wants. It’s about what YOU want.
The world is full of self-centered people, but most women won’t end up in a relationship with them. They’ll see the red flags, and they’ll break it off.
You don’t have to stop attracting narcissists. You simply have to stop dating them.
That means saying no.
No to prioritizing his needs over your own. No to putting his happiness first. No to pleasing him. No to his control.
You don’t have to make a relationship work when it makes you feel bad. Even if you love him. Even if it used to be amazing.
If saving your relationship requires changing him, then it’s a lost cause.
Your job isn’t to change him. It’s to stand in your own strength.
2. Empathy and kindness are non-negotiable.
If he criticizes his own friends or puts down other people, then treat it as a warning. He’ll treat you that way someday.
I’ve dated men who were misanthropes—they despised humanity in general—and men who made fun of my friends.
Instead of seeing these qualities as red flags, I thought these men needed love. I felt sorry for them and wanted to help. I thought that my loving support could change them.
Now I know it’s easier to choose a kind man than reform an unkind man.
3. Boundaries are the fastest way to reveal a narcissist.
There’s an easy way to flush out a narcissist.
Just set a boundary.
Tell him you’re not available on Thursdays, or you don’t want him to criticize your friends anymore, or you’d like him to put his dirty dishes in the sink when he’s done.
Then see how he responds.
Maybe he’ll be furious. Or maybe he’ll agree, and you’ll think everything is fine—only to discover he keeps “forgetting” your rules. Your rule is unreasonable. If you really loved him, you wouldn’t put limits on him.
A narcissist won’t tolerate you having any boundaries. Once he’s in a relationship with you, you’re his. You may not realize it yet, but he’s willing to be patient.
He’ll also become increasingly intolerant of criticism. You’re not allowed to take issue with his behavior. If you do, you’re treating him like all those other women treated him. You’re not special anymore. Then you’ll spend untold amounts of time and energy convincing him you’re not his ex—which is just how he likes it.
I’d love to say that I don’t date narcissists anymore, but I still find myself attracted to the “exceptional” men.
The ones with the charisma, confidence, and determination to sweep me off my feet.
But now I know it’s my job to set boundaries. To say no. To end things with an unkind man, even if he doesn’t treat me that way.
For more information on how to spot and heal from a relationship with a narcissist, watch these interviews:
- How to Deal with Toxic People with Dr. Rhoberta Shaler
- Healing from a Bad Relationship with Susan Ball