Falling in (and out) of love with a narcissist helped me understand what healthy relationships should look like
If you are one of the blessed few who has never known one, let me provide you with a short primer on how to spot a narcissist: A narcissist is a master of charisma who possesses the kind of social magnetism that easily draws anyone and everyone in. Conversations are somehow always about them and their ego knows no bounds. This is by no means an exhaustive list of their behaviors; narcissists exist on a nuanced spectrum that ranges from people who are mildly irritating to individuals who are toxic for your mental and emotional health.
My experience with a narcissist fell more into the latter as I steadily, but quickly, developed one-sided feelings for a man who reaped the benefits of my emotional labor for months while I turned into a destructive version of myself. I became okay with accepting whatever scraps of intimacy I could get from him and fell into questioning my self-worth. I battled persistent paranoia that I was just one of the many women he was entertaining. I had to completely purge this person from my life in order to realize that I was unrecognizable to myself and the people who cared about me. The situation I found myself tangled in was really just toxic time-wasting— masquerading as a man’s potential “interest” in me.
Yet, now that I’ve removed this person from my life and gained perspective, I consider falling in love (or, rather, infatuation) with this person to be one of the best things to have ever happened to me. It pushed me to learn some valuable lessons.
My feelings are valid.
I met The Narcissist a few months after his ex passed away suddenly, and given the unpredictability of his emotional state, that should have been red flag number one. But my attraction to emotionally-damaged human beings went into overdrive and I made myself available to play “therapist” (funny enough, he was an actual therapist). He would frequently drop his traumatic life experiences at my literal doorstep, and then leave, and I could never verbalize that I didn’t have the emotional space to carry his shit and my own. I now know that I am never obligated to bear the weight of other people’s traumas. Being an empath doesn’t mean that I deserve to be treated as an emotional sponge to sop up someone else’s mess.
Unethical non-monogamy is not polyamory.
During our emotionally draining situationship, The Narcissist had a tendency to share unprompted stories of sexual trysts, nudes he’d received, and reasons why he was the self-proclaimed king of sexual liberation. He justified these actions by claiming them to be a progressive dismissal of monogamy. And while I’ve never been fond of the way society has told us to perform monogamy, casual dating and casual sex without communicated intentions is not polyamory. Polyamory involves consent, open communication, and trust. Should I ever decide to enter into a throuple, there will be clear and ethical boundaries. Deciding whether or not I want to hear about a partner’s emotional or sexual intimacy with other people is one of those boundaries.
Being “exceptionalized” is not flattery.
Ever have someone tell you that “you’re the exception?” The Narcissist was fond of telling me how exceptional I was in comparison to other women he dated, that I made him feel seen, that I was “chill,” and that I wasn’t “like other Black women.” I now know that any propping up of one type of woman over another is usually BS that is used to explain problematic perspectives. I was not that different from any other woman this man had dated. His pseudo-praise of me as a woman who “went with the flow” was a way to remove himself from accountability for my confused feelings—and probably other women’s feelings too. When I do find my romantic partner, they won’t need to put other women down in order to appreciate who I am.
I never have to tolerate love that doesn’t bring me peace.
Before this experience, I never really believed that you may be more likely to excuse someone’s trash behavior if you have a powerful physical attraction to them. But now I understand how that can happen. The Narcissist became the trigger for a lot of my self-hate about my body and looks. During sex or going out in public, I felt like an impostor next to him. I was initially in awe of his holistic lifestyle, which included an unwavering devotion to the gym, but he was prone to fat-shaming women. He even once fat-shamed mothers who don’t achieve the unrealistic post-pregnancy “snapback.” I got tired of feeling like my self-esteem was tethered to his approval, and no amount of physical attraction or orgasms is worth clinging to someone who does not make me feel at peace with myself.
Empathy and accountability are my love languages.
Technically there are five main love languages, and my foremost love language is quality time. But after one too many attempts to convince a man to love me when he did not have the emotional or mental capacity to do so, I’ve realized how important it is to have empathy and accountability present in all of my relationships. The absence of those two things in previous relationships has resulted in me being more suspicious of potential suitors. I’m slowly learning how and when to be vulnerable with someone again.
In many ways, I’m reclaiming my time, my ability to love, and my ability to accept love that is authentic and nurturing, someday.