A Narcissist’s Harem: Are you in one?

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Let me start by saying that although my tag line states that I’m in recovery from narcissism, the term is a very tongue-in-cheek way of saying I’m a recovering addict.

Addicts are narcissists in our own delightful way – in that when we’re using – it’s all about us. Hopefully, after we pull our heads out of our ass, this darling trait dissipates and a much more level-headed, compassionate and thoughtful person emerges.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, the purpose of this post isn’t to gab about my addiction or recovery from drugs. I’d like to shed some light on something I’ve been working through after a recent personal heart-wrenching experience I really brought on myself. Again. Familiar heartache induced by my own denial that somehow, if I were enough – my prince charming would change.

As I alluded to in yesterday’s post, thoughts of:  I’m old enough to know better! creep in whenever  I trip myself up, having not learned the valuable lessons the universe keeps trying to teach me. I can’t seem to get a clue. Or worse, I know exactly what I’m getting into (when I relapse, date an emotionally unavailable man…), but my “fuck it” switch is on – and I don’t care how much pain I’m serving myself on the back end.

You don’t need to be an addict to date the wrong person. And by wrong – I mean to say – a person who is not in a place to open their hearts to you because they have work to do on themselves. We’ve all been there. Maybe the chemistry is too strong, they’re so much fun, or they live right up the street and it’s too convenient NOT to date them. Whatever the reason, we dive head first.

Fast forward to the moment we realize – somewhere between the snorting laughter and multiple orgasms, we’ve slipped. Our world is smaller. We become obsessed. Every thought, action and daydream is about how we can serve our love. Our friends tread lightly, showing us the obvious red flags, but they know we’re in too deep.

man-cheats-phone-teaserNot every person we’ve dated who was clearly wrong for us is a narcissist, but check out these basic characteristics and see if any ring true:

  1. Extremely confident.
  2. Charming beyond compare.
  3. Has many friends of the same sex (a “harem”) – most, if not all are previous lovers.
  4. Requires excessive admiration [regularly fishes for compliments, and is highly susceptible to flattery].
  5. Plays on sympathy.
  6. Is the life of the party. Always “on” – a “people person.”

This list sums up just about every man I’ve ever been involved with.

There’s a catch-22 with dating a narcissist – or even someone who isn’t diagnosed, but just has some narcissistic traits – they’re so much fun and charismatic, it’s hard to see underneath it all – that they are manipulating our hearts to serve their hungry ego.

To be fair – the last man I dated isn’t a monster. Far from it actually. If anything, we’re so much alike in terms of our personal history and struggles. He used to tell me I was the female version of him and I beamed with pride. The issue isn’t how much of an asshole a narcissist is (my guy was actually quite dear), it’s that they don’t realize what pain their behaviour causes because they are so wrapped up in their own turmoil.

These people aren’t evil. Like every human being, they have a story. They didn’t wake up one day and decide to manipulate, lie to and cheat on the people they are closest to. They’re protecting themselves against what they fear the most – intimacy, abandonment, heartache. Reasons aren’t excuses, though – so even when knowing our partner doesn’t mean to – it doesn’t make our staying with them (and putting up with disrespect) okay. At some point, we need to take personal responsibility.

I remember early in our relationship, I was invited to meet he and his friends for drinks. When I arrived, I met them – all female – and already knew he had a sexual history (and current status) with at least one of them. I held my cool, and at the end of the night as he walked me to my car, I hugged him and told him I wasn’t going to be part of his harem.

On the drive home, I felt proud. I finally held my ground and stood up for myself with a man I was dating.

Three days later he was in my bed.

As much as I knew deep down he wasn’t available for anything serious, I listened to his confessions of love and adoration over and over again, trying to ignore the constant texts from numerous women at all hours. I knew he was still meeting women via on-line dating sites, sleeping with others. I still stayed.

many-women-men

So why, after knowing all of this did I fall from my self-esteem soap box? It’s easy, when you’re co-dependent and struggle with feeling ‘not enough’. We think “If I’m pretty, skinny, sexy, funny, smart enough – more than any of the others – he will pick me.”

After a few months, my insides began to turn. I finally realized I was manipulating myself as much as anyone.

After meeting a lovely women he invited to join us for drinks, I got the wake up call I needed. When he left for the mens room, his new lady friend asked if he and I were dating and she was floored to learn we were still lovers. She shared with me how he was texting her daily and flirting with her – and that she was thinking they were on the threshold of dating. She was me, six months ago.

It’s been a few weeks since having any contact with my ex. I don’t harbor any resentment or blame with him, and I hope we can circle back and reconnect one day. I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t miss him – but what I don’t miss is the feeling of being in a competition with his other harem members. I don’t miss the needy, insecure person I was turning into, who I’ve fought so hard – for so many years to change.

For some, standing up for ourselves and never settling for disrespect is natural. Then there are people like me, who are still learning to believe we are worth so much more than what we’ve ever allowed ourselves to feel.

Sometimes holding on give us strength. But when it comes to dating a narcissist or someone with narcissistic traits, we only get stronger when finally get real with ourselves. We need to let go of the belief they can be serious dating partners.

*Because of the overwhelming response I’ve had to this article, I continued with a piece about my dating a Sociopath. Sociopaths and narcissists have much in common. To learn more, please read: The Sociopath and Me: A Love Story.

Thoughts?

Christine Macdonald

Breakups: 5 ways to keep your sanity (and help heal your heart)

It’s been nine years since the shittiest break-up in the universe was aired on Sex and The City. You remember. In season 6, episode 7, when the dude (Jack Burger) Carrie was just talking to her BFFs about ending it with (unbeknownst to him) beat her to the punch by splitting in the middle of the night, leaving a seven word break-up post-it in the dust. Yea, that break-up.

“I’m sorry. I can’t. Don’t hate me.”

Sure, its fiction, but being a die-hard SATC fan, I felt a little something when Carrie whacked that vase of carnations to the floor after her discovery. A wave of sorrow, anger, frustration, and empathy crept through my bones and I was once again impressed with how the writers of the show were able to hit a nerve.

Most of us have been there. Whether on a post-it (or these days, text message – both are equally gross), email, phone call or gasp in person, being told our love-partner wants out is one of the scariest and heart-breaking moments in our lives (surpassed only by the feeling you get when a nurse calls to schedule a timely in-person appointment – because your test results can’t be discussed over the phone – but that’s another level of scary).

Some would say the pain of a break-up is (in some ways) even harder to survive than losing a loved one to death. With loss of life, you have the brutal fact that the person is physically gone from this world – and however painful the process of accepting this fact – it’s that much harder to have the knowledge that your lost love is still walking around. Happy. Without you.

I remember my first heart-wrenching break-up. I was in my late 20s and we had been living

Christine Macdonald

Love (and the Internet) is blind

Everyone knows love is blind. And thanks to the media frenzy surrounding things like the Manti Te’o debacle, it’s safe to say, sometimes it ‘aint that bright. The jury is still out about just what exactly went down with Manti’s story, but it’s safe to say, the bullshit’s hitting the fan.

But is this really “love” we’re talking about – that God-like intangible force that has the power to connect two people through space and time – beyond the firewalls of cyberspace, without so much as a video chat to validate the others’ existence? Dare we question our soul mate’s word?

Surprisingly, many of us don’t.

Thanks to the 2010 documentary Catfish (and subsequent MTV docu-series of the same name) these Internet love hoaxes are becoming more and more public.

In Catfish, a handsome, young photographer Yaniv “Nev” Schulman falls for “Megan”, the hot relative of “Abbey”, whom he met through Facebook. Nev quickly falls for Megan (complete with sexting, sharing photos, etc.), and before he allows his heart to get completely lost in his on-line love haze, he starts to connect the dots. Long story short – the whole thing was bullshit.

But Nev forgives his “love” (whose real name is Angela), and they become friends. Sucker, or compassionate dude who sees the desperation in someone who’ll go to any lengths to find a connection?

As explained in the film, the term Catfish comes from Angela’s husband (yup, she was married), Vince, talking with Nev. He says that when live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, the fish’s inactivity in their tanks resulted in mushy flesh, but fishermen found that putting catfish in the tanks with the cod kept them active. Vince feels that people like Angela are “catfish”, who keep other people active in life.

I have my own “Catfish” story, and not only did I forgive my imposter, I actually dated the guy.

As bloggers, Kevin and I found each other commenting on pages we both followed. We shared the same witty humor and sarcasm, and I was excited by the fact he was a would-be writer like me. We both began searching for each other’s comments just to read what clever things we would say to one another. Commenting quickly morphed into personal emails, which became flirtatious almost immediately.

But Kevin wasn’t Kevin when we met. He portrayed himself as Josh, a handsome, well-respected divorced man from Tennessee with three kids and his own veterinarian practice. Josh and I emailed back and forth for weeks and I quickly fell in love. My friends were concerned because we hadn’t so much as talked on the phone yet. But the romantic in me was on auto-pilot and there was nothing anyone could say or do to stop my heart from soaring. I was mentally picking out china patterns, checking flights to Tennessee and putting myself in the passenger seat of his pick-up truck. I actually saw myself a wife of a veterinarian, rubbing elbows with southern belles at medical conferences, passing out Halloween candy on the front porch of our farmhouse.

Our flirting progressed and my hopes shot through the roof.

Then Josh vanished. Talk about heartbroken. So many questions flooded my brain. Was he married? Did he get kicked in the head by one of his four-legged patients and have amnesia? What was going on?

My friends kept me grounded and reminded me that by being a person who’s always been in love with love, it was easy to fall victim to a daydream, wrapping my heart around the world of a man I had never even met. I was mourning the loss of a fantasy.

Little did I know, my perfect fantasy man was lost in his own cloud of daydreams.

Kevin was born a biological female who, like thousands of transgender people, grew up feeling trapped in their own body – a person whose physical body is not in alignment with their gender identity. In other words, Kevin’s body was female by societal (and medical) standards, but his mind (or gender identity), believed he was a man.

When Kevin was first coming to terms with his transition, he hid behind Josh. He felt more comfortable getting to know people as a man through a fantasy life he created. I learned all of this through an apology email when Josh finally resurfaced (as Kevin) months after he fell off the face of the Internet.

Are you confused yet?

After I read Kevin’s letter for the hundredth time, I started to feel less pissed off and more compassionate. I felt his anguish when reading about his transition story. I forgave him for pretending to be Josh, just as I had forgiven myself for allowing the fantasy of an Internet crush to evolve. I put myself in his position and asked: what would you do if you were born in the wrong body? Could you have the courage to transition? Eventually compassion trumped contempt and I forgave him completely. Besides, I could relate – sort of.

As a recovering addict and former stripper, I am familiar with feelings of wanting to hide behind someone or something to mask my true self. On stage I was Stephanie, the stripper who loved you. I chatted it up with customers who were lonely and looking for a little company. I gave them a show and they gave me the validation I needed at the time to feel beautiful. Another personal fantasy contract written with our hearts; customers looking for attention, and me, for beauty.

Nights were spent snorting lines of blow and rolling on ecstasy. The first time I slept with a woman I was high. She made me feel beautiful and wanted in a way that just felt – safe. I felt protected and loved in the arms of a friend and was open to exploring the sexual possibilities. While I was venturing to new territory, the rest of my professional world was a catch 22: I stripped because I wanted to feel beautiful, but what I thought was the answer ended up peeling the layers of my beauty away. My fellow dancers were there for me when men were the enemy. Men were the assholes , I was just doing my job.

Kevin and I ended up dating, even moving in together for a couple of years, and although we didn’t make it as a couple, I consider him to be one of my dearest friends.

We’ve both come a long way since feeling the need to hide behind “Stephanie” and “Josh”, but I totally get why some people do. There’s safety behind our  lap tops. The freedom to become whoever we want to be is just too tempting for some.

I don’t condone living a lie – as it will eventually catch up with you (hi’ya Lance Armstrong), but instead of pointing the finger in judgment and anger, maybe it’s better to chalk the bullshit up to the fact that everyone’s got a story.  Some of them are just really, really fictional.

Christine Macdonald