This is the first post in an ongoing series. At the moment I have no idea how things will pan out, but I’ll try to document my progress as honestly as possible, whatever the outcome might be.
Three or four years ago I fell in love. I still am. And it’s probably been the most disturbing, distressing experience in my life. Let me tell you more.
I’ve been in love before, of course. More often than I’d care to admit – in many ways, you could cite me as the poster boy for the ‘Romantic Narcissist’. I touched on the subject before:
Again and again. I meet someone, I think “This time, this is it. My soulmate. The love that will never fade, never change, an endless idyllic succession of first days”. And for a while – a month, three months, perhaps a little more, it seems that it is. My partner is caught up in a starry-eyed honeymoon of lovebombing – and we’re generally very good at creating the impression of the One True Love – until reality reasserts itself.
I don’t usually approve of what The Internet says about us, but this writer has got me more or less bang to rights. OK, she’s not writing about self-aware narcissists, and she’s definitely not writing from the narcissist’s PoV (who does? Me, that’s about it. Tudor and Vaknin are self-promoting dicks), but she seems to have a basic idea of what’s going on.
Greenberg is writing for the “Why did he love me and leave me?” crowd, but some of us stay. It shouldn’t be that surprising – however oddly we function, people with Cluster B personality disorders are still people, and we have both the need for love and the capacity to love. Our capacity to love is probably not at all what most – neurotypical – people would either understand or sympathise with, but we can and we do. We want our relationships to work out, and we’re generally nonplussed when they don’t (I’m speaking for the emotive PDs here. Others are more likely to shrug it off. But there’s still a sense of “Now I wonder where that went wrong?”).
Greenberg gives two kinds of rationalisation Romantic Narcissists use to justify why their relationships don’t follow the narrative script:
You aren’t who they thought you were: This explanation allows them to relieve themselves of any blame. It is your fault that things did not work out, not their inability to stay committed. Now that the Narcissist knows you well enough to see your flaws (and in a Narcissist’s mind, to be flawed is to be worthless) there is no point staying with you. The truth is that they were never actually in love with you; what they were in love with was the idea of being part of a perfect couple that everyone envied. The emphasis here is on “perfect.”
Yours is a doomed and tragic love: The relationship did not work out because tragically it was doomed from the start by forces beyond the two lovers’ control. This version of why they are leaving is based on all the romantic and doomed lovers of literature and cinema. Think of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, or Allie and Noah in The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. This appeals to a Romantic Narcissist because he gets to be as romantic and sentimental about the two of you as he likes, but does not ever have to subject this love to the real tests of everyday life. The lovers in his fantasy are always tragically parted before anyone has to buy the toilet paper.
Of course, in long-term relationships things aren’t so cut-and-dried. In my experience, both rationalisations work in parallel: the relationship was doomed by forces beyond our control, and we never overcame the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune because you didn’t cut the mustard. So, in my case, the result was usually a six month honeymoon period followed by N years of bitterly regretting the ‘foundational myth’ and obsessively brooding on why my partner refused to return to the conditions of our glorious early days. A permanent low-level dissatisfaction I palliated with the liberal application of various psychotropes (women come and go, talking – or not – of Michelangelo, but mescalin is forever). With hindsight, I realise that what was actually going on was that my partner was merely asserting her individuality as a person rather than happily accepting her role as a cardboard cutout in my (admittedly perfect) romance.
So, this pattern repeated itself for more decades, and through more broken relationships, than I care to admit to in a public forum. And then I met Anastasia;
Anastasia is devastatingly intelligent, charming, witty, self-confident, sexy etc. etc. She’s also not-at-all neurotypical, and therefore entirely unwilling to play along with my bullshit. She fell for me because – well, if you know me, you’ll know why: at first glance, I too am devastatingly intelligent, charming, witty and so forth. So, she fell for me, decided she wanted me for herself, and set out to get me. And when she did, she found that what she’d got wasn’t what it said on the box. I do have qualities as a person, and even as a narc (I can be intoxicating when I’m on a roll), but as soon as I believe myself to be in a relationship the Romantic Narc takes over and I lose sight of the actual person.
But, as I said, Anastasia is Different. From the first moment of my Badger-is-In-Love she was WTF with a vengeance. She was immune to lovebombing, she didn’t buy the trappings of starry-eyed soulmates, she treated my impassioned declarations with a kind of bemused amazement and, all in all, refused to play her role in the romantic comedy I had so painstakingly written for her. The tried-and-tested techniques just didn’t work.
I was, not to put too fine a point on it, gobsmacked. I, the Great Badger, the Most Glorious Being she had ever encountered, was not having the expected effect. She was supposed to be entirely hypnotised by the realisation that the thirty-odd years of her sad, grey, pre-Badger existence had been merely a matter of hanging around in the wings, awaiting her cue and the moment of her Apotheosis. She, on the other hand, saw me as human being – unique, perhaps, but unique-as-a-person, not unique as the Fountainhead Of All Cosmic Glory. She was glad enough to find me – as I say, I do have some pretty awesome qualities – but she certainly hadn’t been sitting at the window, sadly and forlornly awaiting me. She wanted me for what I was – or rather, for what I seemed to be.
Now, asking a narcissist to be what he seems to be is a bit like asking a mirror to reflect itself. Anastasia is the kind of person who gets those she’s in contact with to open up. And so, in all innocence, she did it with me:
For my part, I’d never even tried to open up before. Being a narcissist is largely a matter of keeping the howling void of selfconscious self-loathing firmly hidden. And the deeper she dug, the louder the howling. At the same time, she was immune to the various tools of narcissistic self-preservation – gaslighting, projection, emotional manipulation, reality-bending. So, not only was I unable to top up my leaky self-esteem with the adoration I read in her eyes – I also found myself in the previously-unknown situation of being unable to dictate the image of me she was supposed to have. In other words, I was powerless.
And then something strange happened. I was unable to cast her in the role of being-loved-by-Badger, and I was incapable of twisting her needs and requirements into blasphemous acts of Badger-denial. I began to see her for what she is (or rather, to see what she wasn’t, and apprehend the general contours of the phase-space of what she is capable of being, as the particular form of her neurodiversity tends towards illimitable versatility). For the first time in my life, I was trapped into caring for someone who was a person in their own right, and not merely a projection of Badger. And I did – and do – care. For her, not for what she should be. In every other long-term relationship I’d had, it had been a matter of holding onto being-in-love with a Badger-loving-variable as a palliative for having to put up with a real person (helped with liberal applications of various pharmaceuticals). Now I was slowly and painfully learning to love that real person, with all her strengths and…um…different strengths. I still am. Changing a narcissist is a long, slow process.
The results are, as far as pre-Anastasia Badger is concerned, devastating. If this post has any value at all to anyone other than myself, it lies in laying out as honestly as possible what loving someone means to a narcissist. It’s painful for the narcissist himself, it’s no picnic for the loved one, and – if you’re not already in it – I honestly can’t say that I’d recommend it. If things don’t go as expected, I have to question my expectations, not her behaviour. Being-in-love is a heady drug; loving someone is a constant requirement to strive towards being better than myself. And I’m not at all good at it. By not-being-Badger, she frequently challenges the shrivelled core of my being, which leads inexorably to the various nasty little tricks of narcissistic ego-defence. I still have a depressingly recurrent tendency of melting down whenever I feel challenged – it’s getting better, the three-hour crazies aren’t quite so commonplace, but there are still sudden explosions. And at the moment the most difficult thing of all, the thing that keeps me awake at night, is the requirement for honesty. I have decided just to stop lying. Big lies, little lies – from now on, the watchword is zero lies.
So, I’m setting myself a challenge. Not so much to become ‘a better person’, though being a better person will be an immediate result. The challenge is rather forcing myself to behave in accordance with loving someone, and recording my progress here, for all to see. It’ll give me something to live up to, a promise made not to another, but to myself.
Let’s get this show on the road…