Write what you know. The phrase came to me while having a little bit of writer’s block. That sentence makes me laugh. A little bit of writer’s block is like being a lit bit pregnant. So I decided to write about a topic I am all too familiar with and that is loving a narcissist.
If you have ever loved, or currently love a narcissist then you love alone. It is almost exclusively a one sided relationship where your heart and soul are poured into another human being; giving and giving until every last bit of self is stripped away and you are left wondering what the hell just happened?
The allure, in my case, of a man like this was the charm, wit and attentiveness that he possessed. He said all the things I longed to hear. He presented himself as the type of man I was looking for. His dreams meshed seamlessly with mine. There were only mild differences in things like movies and music tastes. There were no red flags so to speak, except for all of the red flags I was unaware of and even some I chose to ignore.
I fell hard and fast for this man, which I later learned is a signature move of a narcissist. It had little to do with our seeming commonality and more to do with his need to feel needed, loved and coveted. And boy did I covet this man.
Before long he was using phrases like “our future” and “our life together”. I had been dating for five years before meeting him and although I had had some pretty promising relationships the subject of futures together always seemed distant.
I fell for all of it hook, line and sinker. It was not long before he wanted us to be exclusive, for me to cut ties with other potential partners and focus my sole attention on him and us. I gladly accepted since this man didn’t seem to shy away from talks of more serious, long-term subjects.
When I began asking questions of our future, a topic that any savvy, single woman knows is generally off-topic for quite a while he began back-peddling or being very vague. He went from discussing the specific breed of dog we would adopt together to being unsure that there was even a “together”. He went from talking about our future to talking about his plans, which never seemed to have the words we, us, or our anymore. Did I imagine all of that? I began to feel completely excluded from his life.
When I would press and bring up previous conversations, he would say things like “I didn’t think it was serious” or “you can’t plan that far in advance, you never know what’s going to happen”. I was blindsided by his sudden retreat. I later learned that this too is a classic narcissist tactic. The idea is to lure you in with no intent of ever keeping you. They are incapable of meaningful, honest conversations because they are always “on”, always looking for ways to suck you into their world. You are merely a pawn in their life to be manipulated to serve whatever they are lacking emotionally.
The thing about most narcissists is that they are very clever. They have perfected their craft. They know exactly how much to give in order to continue to take. I would get glimmers of the man I met originally and my innate nature was to believe and trust that that was the “real” version of him lurking behind all his strife and tribulations. I kept hoping to see the man I fell in love with. So I stayed…and I paid for it.
Narcissists have a way of making you think you are crazy, over-reacting, being paranoid, over-thinking, or reading too much into things and so you began that steady decent into self-doubt. The signs that are glaringly obvious become things you dismiss for fear of being labeled. I was so aware of my gut’s visceral reaction to things that I quelled it and silenced it with alcohol or other distractions. And I hated myself a little more each time.
And just when I would think I had mustered up the courage and strength to walk away from the edge of that cliff and save myself from the loneliness of loving a man who was never present in our relationship he would suck me back in. And I would believe, because I wanted to, because I didn’t want to accept or admit that a smart, funny, college educated, successful woman like myself could be so wrong. My own pride worked to my detriment. I broke my own heart a thousand times over to love this man.
I tried every tactic. I cried, I yelled, I communicated, I took blame, I empathized. I did all I could. I broke out my bag of tricks to love this man. I became the one that was constantly ON. I was constantly juggling my need for love and my need to love. I was performing for an audience that wasn’t even there. It was exhausting.
I would love to say that this grand epiphany came before it was too late. I would love to tell you that I saved myself from that cliff. But I didn’t. I stayed and I paid. My mind was in a constant state of war. I can’t even tell you that my heart was committed to it anymore. I knew logically I could and would survive without this man, but for whatever my own vices I couldn’t let go.
I held so tight to the idea of this man that my reality blurred and finally faded until there was nothing left. Loving this man stripped away the last bit of optimism I had. I couldn’t even trust the world around me. I became so convinced that I had failed somehow, that my love just wasn’t enough, that I wasn’t what he really wanted, I failed to see that NO ONE was what he wanted.
I loved this man until I was utterly and completely alone in my own mind. He masterfully stripped away the confidence I had in myself. And he never looked back. Not once. Not ever.
It took a long time to recover. I had to learn to accept an apology from a man who was never going to give me one. He didn’t feel he owed me one. I had to accept that it was okay to love someone wholly, that the shame didn’t lie with me but with him. I had to accept that giving someone a chance, or two, or twelve was going to have to be okay because MY intent was good. MY intent was not in question. He taught me a valuable lesson. He taught me the warning signs I never knew and he taught me not to ignore or silence the ones I did.
To love a narcissist is to love alone.