One of the first pieces I wrote on Medium was an essay about a relationship I had in college.
I depicted a recurring scene of me crying in my car to escape my boyfriend. And ended it from a place of years of therapy, self-reflection, and a realization. That boyfriend was a classic case of a narcissist.
You know those tire spikes some exits have? Once you drive over them, you can’t reverse because you’ll destroy your tires? Dating a narcissist is just like that. Once they’re in your life, they’re near impossible to remove.
What’s scary about dating a narcissist is how well they hide their true selves at the beginning. They overcompensate to weasel their way and have no intention of leaving once they are.
But if it gives you any hope, narcissists also follow a similar pattern. And once you’re out of their grips, it’s easy to spot all the red flags you ignored.
If this article helps even one person avoid the pain, torment, and nights crying on my bathroom floor as I did, it’ll be worth it. Because no one deserves this sort of emotional abuse. So if you spot several or more of these, run:
He showered me with compliments on the first date.
I met my ex through a mutual friend. I remember the first time I saw him; his perfect jawline and beautiful green eyes. Some of the first things he said to me were compliments about my clothes.
But it was on our first date that he laid it on thick. Anything and everything my ex could compliment, he did. I felt special. I felt worthy. I felt wanted by someone I considered a lot better looking than me.
And while compliments here and there is usually a sweet gesture, too many can be a sign of manipulation. When narcissists want to get on your good side, they do and say whatever they can to get there. It’s worth questioning whether they all seem genuine.
After a week of knowing one another, he said he loved me.
I remember the moment clearly: it was a beautiful day at Hungtington Beach. I sat on top of a surfboard while my ex swam alongside, teaching me to surf. He swam up to the board, wiped the water from his eyes, and looked into my eyes.
“I love you,” he stated.
I laughed and told him he didn’t know what love was. But I wish I’d thought about that moment a bit harder.
Narcissists use a tactic called love-bombing to manipulate the people they date. It’s when someone gives you excessive admiration, attention, and love to make you feel indebted to them. Or, at the very least, special.
At the time, I thought everything seemed too perfect. Little did I know, it was.
He asked to move in with me two weeks in.
By the time my ex asked to move in with me, I was swept up in the whirlwind he created for me to believe we were passionately in love. Without hesitation, I told him that he could live with me—a decision I very much regret.
Not only was it too soon, but I barely knew the guy. The fact that he jumped on the opportunity to move in with a 20-year-old woman he’d just met said a lot about his 25-year-old self, too.
I wish I’d stepped back and let the relationship progress more slowly. We didn’t need to rush into anything, nor should I have let someone convince me we should. If the person you date seems too eager to cross off relationship milestones, it’s worth considering their intentions.
His personality did a 180 about five months in.
I’ve described to you the compliments, adoration, “I love you”s, and how my ex essentially worshipped the ground I walked on. Well, that all came to a crashing halt after about five months of living together.
His loving words turned into criticisms of me, from everything like how I looked to my intelligence to my ability to do menial household tasks. And it wasn’t just little jabs here and there; they were insults that would make me feel horrible about myself.
It’s terrifying, looking back, that his personality could change so quickly. It shows that someone who has an ulterior motive and inflated sense of self-esteem will do anything to keep both intact.
He isolated me from my friends and family.
I have to say, the sneakiest tactic my boyfriend used was isolating me from my friends. No one knew how bad things had gotten in my relationship. I didn’t confide in anyone until almost two years after we started dating.
My ex convinced me that my friends were bad influences or would try to break us up. If I disagreed with him, he’d make my life hell until I did. So slowly, I lost contact with the people closest to me.
Since narcissists act in self-interested ways, they’ll do everything they can to ensure their needs are met first. If you’re not seeing your friends, that means more time for them to be with you. Plus, it means no one will pose a threat for helping you see how bad the relationship is.
He never took responsibility and blamed everything on me.
I dated my ex in college, so there were nights I stayed up studying for exams. One night, he kindly offered to help me go over flashcards. The following day, he woke up in a fit of rage.
“I overslept for my audition!” he yelled, “I wouldn’t have been so tired if I didn’t stay up all night helping you study!”
He wouldn’t accept that he forgot to set the alarm or could’ve not offered to help me. Instead, my ex bushed all of the blame onto me. This happened more often than I’d like to admit.
Since a narcissist has a high sense of self, it’s uncommon that they’ll ever apologize or take responsibility. They believe they can do no wrong, even when it comes to your relationship. Blaming you keeps their sense of self preserved.
His traumas came up a lot.
Now, I don’t want to write off anyone vulnerable as a narcissist. But if they do the following and other things that I’ve mentioned, it’s worth looking at things objectively.
Not that long into the relationship, my boyfriend told me how his stepdad treated him horribly and that his real dad left him and his mom at four. I felt awful for him but also closer to him at the same time.
This move is what Dr. Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Nextdoor, calls a “pity play.” A narcissist will make you feel bad for them to then use that against you later down the road.
I felt like I was slowly going crazy.
Everything my ex did wrong somehow turned into my fault. He made me question things I clearly remember experiencing. He denied saying things to me when I brought them up. Reality felt hazy, and I honestly thought that, at times, I was going crazy.
If you’ve experienced this, then you, unfortunately, know what it’s like to be gaslit. It’s when a person tries to control a situation and gain power over someone else (something narcissists love).
Unless you realize someone is gaslighting you, it’s a traumatizing experience to go through. You can’t make sense of what’s right, wrong, reality, and untrue. And it doesn’t help that a narcissist will insist that you are crazy.
I wouldn’t wish dating a narcissist on my worst enemy. I’m lucky enough that mine eventually left me, but it wasn’t before he made me feel like a shell of the person I was before (a tactic called “devalue and discard”).
If reading any of these caused some concern for you, reach out to a friend or family member you trust. But if you know you’re deep into dating a narcissist, see a therapist or call the domestic violence support line.
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