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

Normal

The sky is gentle this time of day. Her cool breeze tickles my skin, brushing loose, the strands of hair along the nape of my neck. I take my usual walk up the short flight of steps, noting my shadow; stretched out ladyfingers against the building. It’s my personal Funhouse mirror that I’ve grown accustomed to, but still smile at its lanky distortion.

When I reach the top, I find my key in the side pocket of my purse. Even though I’m on autopilot sliding the small metal grooves in the lock, I am ever-present with the sound. It greets me every afternoon, clear and uncompromised, not competing with children, or a partner on the other side. It barely lasts a second, but carries weight beyond measure – the click of the unlock, the forward movement of the door – it’s the resonance of my life. The sound of a single person, coming home.

The quiet space greets me like an old lover wanting attention, but at the same time, marinates in solitude.  After shuffling about, grabbing a bite over the kitchen sink, sifting through junk mail and stripping down from my work clothes, I pour a glass of Pinot, and settle on the couch. I curl up with alone; check my email, channel surf through recorded television programs, and downshift into the night. I take pleasure in my company.

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There’s nothing in the fabric of my childhood that would’ve sewn together a security blanket of traditional normalcy. Instead, my comforter was a patchwork quilt of father abandonment, stepfather indiscretions, alcoholism, neglect, abuse, and bullying. This was my Normal.

It made perfect sense that by my 19th birthday, I was a stripper.

In addition to working my mojo on stage, I managed to parlay my childhood dysfunction into a full-fledged drug addicted life, complete with abuse, and self-sabotage. Not only did it feel right, it was precisely in line with my master plan of having no real plan.

College was short-lived, and not conducive to my world of eight balls, ecstasy and VIP rooms. Boyfriends were mere fabrications; failed attempts of transforming one-night stands into relationships. I can’t tell you how many guys I’ve broken up with, who had no idea we were dating.

Even before I moved out on my own at 17, men were never to be trusted. Liars and abusers, yes. People you could count on, hardly.  So why the longing to morph short-lived liaisons into would-be picket fences and monogrammed robes? Because like every young woman, I still wanted the fairytale.

When Pretty Woman hit the movie screens in 1990, I was obsessed with the fantasy of it all. I was 22, and living in the fast lane with no seat belt or air bag. Connecting with the story of good girl gone bad, I allowed my mind to fantasize about my own modern-day Prince Charming. I wondered if he existed, and would be anything like Richard Gere’s character Edward.

During the final scene of the movie, Edward climbs up Vivian’s fire escape to whisk her away. Queue the music; zoom in on the embrace, and…scene.  As the credits roll, the camera pans wide, and we slowly float back to reality by way of a vagrant man wandering the street, shouting, “Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream?”

Dreams have a way of changing with time.

Fast-forward twenty years and my fairy tale has become tied up in a kaleidoscope of hard lessons and unhealthy choices.  But hope is not lost, as each past love in my relationship rear-view mirror is fading, and I’m pressing ahead, navigating the winding road toward my true self.

Between kicking drugs, walking away from the stripping life, and other personal milestones, I’ve many reasons to be proud. But my trust issues with men remain, serving as relationship cinderblocks, pulling me under, in a vast ocean of possibility. Each therapy session is a valiant effort in chipping away at its core, and I’m realizing – I have the ability to stop the pouring of cement.

When it’s all you know, being alone is normal; even when the world tells you otherwise. There’s a certain ease to flying solo. I never have issues with restaurant or movie theater seats, my belongings are exactly where I left them, and the only chores I do are for me – if and when I choose to do them.

Single perks aside, I still want to grow old with that special someone who makes you forget your name. Call it a fairy tale, wishful thinking, or a hopeless romantic pipe dream – I just know – I’m finally ready.

As a middle-aged gal with enough baggage to fill an airplane, I realize I’m a red flag in the dating scene. In recently completing an on-line profile, I seriously contemplated fudging my stats. I thought about saying I’m divorced, because, these days, who isn’t? I’ve even toyed with the idea of going the widow route, but decided that’s way too Melrose Place manipulative. So I went with the truth: 43, never married, no children.

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My body is warm, the hours whisper by, and my eyelids, they feel heavy. It’s late, but part of me still wrestles with the night. I eventually surrender to the realization – I can’t stay up the way I used to. I laugh inside, wondering why I still try. The unfocused turquoise numbers on the DVR tell me it’s time to sleep. I shut down my living room, and say goodnight to my space.

When slipping under the covers in my bedroom, I occupy the center of my bed. My legs stretch; I embrace my pillow, and release a sigh of content. My heart beats slowly, within the walls of comfort and ease. In the quiet moments just before I drift, the corners of my mouth turn slightly upward, and I satiate in solitude, feeling safe and free.

Here’s the part where you tell me: Did you feel “Normal” when you were single? Has society treated you differently as a single, or a spouse? Or, are you single now – and do you believe this is “ok”?

Christine Macdonald

Saying no, to say yes

There’s no easy way to break up with someone. Regardless of who comes to the point of realizing the relationship isn’t working – even if you both agree – someone always gets hurt.

While going through my first, [significant relationship] break up at the age of 28, I cried so hard my eyes were nearly swollen shut. I whaled in agony on the shoulder of one of my closest friends.

“I can literally feel my heart being ripped apart.”

Kimmy was all too familiar at the time, as she recently weathered a divorce, which often left her curled up in her walk-in closet, while her toddler was at day care. If anyone knew heartbreak, it was Kimmy.

“I know, honey. I know. What do you think all those songs are about? All those sappy movies? Everybody goes through this – and it sucks.”

I appreciated her trying to talk me off the ledge, and taking me in when I couldn’t bear sleeping alone.

The months following my newly found single status were a mixture of tears, alcohol, and sleeping way too much. Too depressed to eat, I dropped a few dress sizes, and lost an insane amount of energy. I don’t recommend the Heartbreak Diet to anyone.

Fast forward fifteen years, and it isn’t any easier. Sure, we’re wiser in our older age, but when it comes to matters of the heart – aren’t we all just as fragile?

I don’t have much experience playing offense in a relationship. I’ve always been the one on the receiving end of the news that I wasn’t the one. As I work on myself in therapy, I’m learning that my love patterns make perfect sense. I chose unavailable men to avoid getting hurt. It’s an emotional oxymoron, I know, but if you’re dealing with trust issues or come from a long line of unhealthy relationships, you’re probably nodding in agreement.

Self-esteem is something that happens when we take care of ourselves. We stand up for what we believe, protect our hearts from abuse, and surround ourselves with people who live their lives with dignity and respect.

As I write the chapters in my story, the low self-esteem is so apparent, it sometimes jumps off the page. I’m often frozen in my typing tracks, hovering between tears and head shakes, realizing, with every story, just how obvious my choices were.

Sometimes it takes looking back, to realize just how much you want to move forward.

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My relationship rear view mirror has never been clearer these days. I am learning that for me to say “yes” to myself – for my own personal growth and self-esteem, I sometimes need to say “no”. We don’t have to allow ourselves to be in unhealthy situations. We have the choice to walk away.

It’s far from easy, and the tears still fall, but the reward for knowing we are worth saying “yes” to, far outweighs the reasoning of why we’re in unhealthy relationships in the first place.

“Sometimes the hardest part of the journey is believing you’re worthy of the trip.”

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Here’s the part where you tell me – have you ever said “no” to someone, to say “yes” to yourself?

Christine Macdonald