As I sit to write some short stories about a disastrous relationship with a covert narcissistic woman, the sound of someone practicing violin drifts in through my open window, just audible enough that it can’t be ignored. And I began to cry, uncontrollably. It was 4 years ago to the day that we met, on a hot lazy afternoon in June. She was… is… a symphony violinist. We were together less than 2 years, but the raw emotions are still as present as the caramel rosin melody that has shaken me to my core.
I was just 10 months out of radiation therapy for cancer. Still somewhat hollow, grateful for a second chance at life, but certainly not expecting to fall in love. Goaded by friends to try online dating, I had joined reluctantly. Many terrible 1st dates later, there she was. Dark wavy hair, blue-green eyes, a South African accent and a smile that could melt an iceberg.
But what caught me off guard was her apparent lack of arrogance, her down-to-earthness, her quiet but fully attentive demeanor, and her easy laugh. She wasn’t interested in flings, and wanted a real relationship, she said. She asked me for a 2nd date right away, and it could not have felt better.
The days and weeks that followed were like a dream. I even dared to feel optimistic about the future. By the end of the summer, I was completely in love. But even in the beginning, there had been some serious red flags that I ignored, rationalized away, or chalked up to “nobody is perfect” — because my own ego was clouding my judgement.
The first red flag was a big one. As many classical musicians do, she had gigs lined up for summer holidays, one of which was 2 weeks in a small town in Italy, playing with a group that goes every year – it was her 2nd year going. They covered the costs of her flight and lodging, but otherwise she went unpaid, for her love of Italy and travel. We talked by Skype, and after about a week she was depressed. She let slip that the organizer and conductor of the orchestra was her ex-boyfriend, and that he was “abusive towards her.” She was having “catharsis” about it, she said, seeking my sympathy.
I was in complete shock but I tried to be empathetic, to give her benefit of the doubt, and then carefully asked, “Why would you go to Italy unpaid with an abusive ex? Why would you travel to romantic places with him if you were looking for a new relationship?”… She said that there was nothing going, they had remained friends, he had a new girlfriend, she went because she loved Italy and the trip was planned before she had met me. Her tone was neutral, defensive. She said dismissively, “that’s what I get for being honest.”
I rationalized all of this as plausible. I didn’t want to be “that jealous guy”. I decided to just go along with it all and see if this was just a one-time anomaly. All I saw was the potential of the relationship, and I thought well, she could have kept it all secret, so maybe there IS nothing to worry about. We ended up having a wonderful summer together, but something was missing from her responses, and I couldn’t articulate it at the time. It stayed with me like a bad taste in the mouth.
The next winter, she stood me up on Valentines and on my birthday, because this same guy had invited her out. I learned only too late, that she was in fact a serial cheater with married men, a kleptomaniac who stole money from her colleagues and friends, and a liar who quietly told everyone how “abusive” I was. Every holiday plan we’d had — thanksgiving, Christmas, etc — had been changed at last minute because something came up for her…
Now, 4 years later, I have a long list of red flags of things I had rationalized away, boundaries I had allowed to erode, and a whole new vocabulary to describe the dynamics between us: She minimized and denied. She asked for and expected full validation for her own feelings, which I gave. But she minimized my experiences and refused any validation in return. I would point out a boundary, and she would ignore it and say it encroached on HER. She was cold and silent at best, and annoyed if I wanted her to address a concern. She made the mountain of my concern into a mole hill and squashed it.
But the real issue was this — I denied it myself. The “love and validation” I had felt and chased wasn’t real, it was mirroring to inflate my ego. I listened to her words not her actions because I wanted to believe — she was beautiful and I wanted the mirage to be real. What I didn’t understand then, but do now, was that her telling me was not “honesty”, it was a need for unconditional validation and attention from me, and at the same time creating doubt and leading me along. It was the first “Shit Test” of many, which is, what can I get this guy to go along with, how far can I get him to lower boundaries until there are none.
Of course, when you describe this to other people you sound crazy. But you can TELL when someone enjoys letting you down, thrives off of your confusion, expects you to just roll over, and demands “unconditional love”. You just can’t explain it to other people. But I can explain it now – the need for unconditional validation is narcissistic, the need to watch others writhe around is sociopathic.
So beware your own ego, ask yourself if validation is working both ways in a relationship. If it isn’t, back away. It could save your sanity.
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My goal is to educate, empower, and inspire other abuse victims in understanding more about what happened to them (and how to prevent it from happening again), as well as how to go on and rebuild an amazing life.
Even though I have had a lot of "in the trenches" experience with highly manipulative people of all kinds, I consider myself to be a student of Narcissism, mindset, motivation, healing, and life in general, and am by no means an expert on any of these topics.
It's for these reasons, that when you are reading my information that I encourage you to hold to what helps, and let the rest go.