In the beginning, they were charming as all hell. They swept you off your feet, said all the right things, and made your love story feel like a real-life fairytale. It was, in a word: intense. But these days, you have a hunch something is off. Why do they seem to only be interested in talking about themselves? Why do they seem to turn on you on a dime? And what’s with the nit-picking of everything you do? Dating a narcissist can be quite a rollercoaster ride. And it can be difficult to recognize the signs that you’re in this situation because narcissists by nature are so charismatic and manipulative. That’s why we’re going to reveal all the subtle but sure signs you’re dating a narcissist — so you can finally see the situation for what it is, and plot your escape from an undoubtedly toxic relationship.
Let’s get one thing straight first, though: just because someone is self-centered or vain doesn’t make them a narcissist. The definition of narcissism, according to the Mayo Clinic, is “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” But, as the Mayo Clinic points out, “behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.” While the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders lists nine specific criteria for this personality disorder, someone only needs to meet five of them to clinically qualify. Those criteria are:
Grandiose sense of self-importance
Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
A belief they’re special and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions
Need for excessive admiration
Sense of entitlement
Interpersonally exploitative behavior
Lack of empathy
Envy of others or a belief that others are envious of them
Demonstration of arrogant and haughty behaviors or attitudes
Still, without the diagnosis of an expert, it can be tough to spot a narcissist — especially when you’re romantically entangled with them. So, still wondering: Am I dating a narcissist? Here are some red flags to look out for.
They showered you with love — in the beginning.
After you first met your partner, they came on extremely strong — for example, telling you they loved you after just a couple weeks of dating, texting you around the clock, or whisking you away on elaborate romantic getaways and showering you with gifts. Experts call this “love bombing” and while it may have felt nice at the time, the reality is that it’s actually a manipulative tactic. Because once they’ve “won” you over, a switch flips. Suddenly, the honeymoon phase is over, and they become less attentive to you, more inconsistent with their affection, and may even start to devalue you. By the way, this Jekyll and Hyde act will continually be in play, and over time, they may become increasingly belittling and unpredictable.
They always have to have their way.
Narcissists simply can’t stand it when they don’t get their way. So, pay attention to how your partner reacts when you say “no” to them or otherwise let them down. Do they lose their temper and attack you? Shut down, give you the silent treatment and withhold love and affection? Guilt trip you to no end? All of that is classic narcissist behavior. They feel entitled to have their every need and desire met, and simply don’t know how to deal with disappointment or any perceived rejection.
Your conversations feel one-sided.
Think about the typical convo you have with your SO when they get home from work. Are they interested in how your day went? Emotionally invested in the things that are bothering you? Do they ask you questions to get your feedback and opinion on something they’re trying to work through? If the answer is typically “no” to these, then you may be dealing with a narcissist. Discussions often feel very one-sided with narcissists, because going on and on about their own achievements and accomplishments helps them to feel superior to everyone else and gain adoration from other people, which they crave. Not only will they dominate the conversation, but they may also exaggerate their own accomplishments. A big red flag is if whenever you do express something you’re feeling or tell a story about something that happened to you, your partner somehow manages to twist it so that the focus is back on them.
It seems like you never give them enough praise.
Narcissists are truly a bottomless pit of need when it comes to attention and validation. And in order to get more of it, they may fish for compliments or even exaggerate their accomplishments. When your partner gives you a gift, does it seem like your gratitude always falls short of their expectations? Do they remind you of amazing things they’ve done in an effort to pull more admiration out of you? These are signs that they’re continually looking for you to bolster their sense of self-worth — because they’re dealing with a pretty massive void that can never actually be filled.
You can’t give them any criticism.
Clearly, the narcissist’s ego is pretty fragile — and just as they constantly seek out praise from you, they’ll be quickly and intensely injured by even the slightest criticism. Oh, and even when you aren’t actually criticizing them, and merely expressing frustration or making a suggestion, they may feel slighted and lash out. This is because narcissists need to uphold a certain image of themselves, and any indication that they’re perceived as less than perfect can be earth-shattering. Unfortunately, as a result, this may leave you feeling like you’re constantly walking on eggshells around them, and sweeping certain issues under the rug in order to avoid their temper tantrums.
They don’t respect boundaries.
Whether it’s showing disregard for your emotional or physical boundaries, if your partner is constantly overstepping the line, that’s definitely a red flag — whether or not they meet the criteria for narcissism. Their needs will always trump yours, which is why they may find it difficult to respect your limits. And any time you try to set a boundary, that’ll probably inspire some serious backlash.
They don’t have many strong, lasting friendships.
Being in any kind of relationship with a narcissist is pretty tough to sustain. So, you may notice that your partner doesn’t have a lot of deep connections with other people — at least not that stand the test of time. Sure, they may have some friends, but pay attention to the nature of those relationships. Are they casual acquaintances with which they have a shallow and surface-level bond with? There are two reasons for this. One, narcissists’ behavior does often eventually catch up with them, meaning they sometimes drive people away. And two, narcissists are able to cut people out of their life remarkably fast as soon as someone calls them out, or refuses to put them on a pedestal. Since they don’t have a tight inner circle, you may also notice that they discourage you from hanging out with yours. Maybe they make you feel guilty for hanging out with your friends on a Friday night, or imply that the type of friends you have aren’t good enough. Very often, a need to exert power and control over you is at the root of these efforts.
They never say sorry.
Here’s something you’ll learn very quickly while dating a narcissist: it’s never, ever their fault. To take responsibility for something would crush their fragile ego, so they’ll either deflect blame or project it back onto you. A narcissist is always right, meaning that trying to get them to see the error of their ways will be a futile and exhausting effort. So, take note if during a conflict you always feel like your SO is incapable of hearing you out, refuses to validate your concerns, and never makes an attempt to compromise. Even when they’re obviously at fault, they’ll find some way to avoid apologizing.
Sometimes the best way to identify whether or not you’re in a relationship with a narcissist is to pay attention to how you feel. Do you feel like you’re constantly second-guessing yourself? Constantly having to be extra careful of your words and actions? Needing to continually defend your partner’s questionable behavior to others? These are all red flags that whether or not your SO qualified as a narcissist, that the relationship is toxic. Very often, narcissists refuse to seek treatment because doing so would mean acknowledging that they are not perfect and need help. Unfortunately, you cannot change a narcissistic person, and no matter how much love and care you give them, it’ll likely never be enough for them. So, in general, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to cut your losses and leave. Make it a clean break, and cut off contact on every possible channel in order to stick to your guns. Because if there’s one thing that’s sure about a narcissist, it’s that their manipulation knows no bounds.
Remember: the most important thing is to trust your instincts. If something feels off about the relationship, it probably is.