How NOT to Date a Narcissist

Avoiding narcissistic men in Los Angeles is a bit like trying to avoid the rain in London. Even after interviewing a few experts and reading articles on the topic, it seems that when it comes to narcissists, there just isn’t a one-size-fits all model. That’s why they are so tricky to spot. If they all wore Armani suits, drove Ferraris and name-dropped, it would make life for single women in La La land (or anywhere!) much easier. But narcissists come in all shapes and sizes and really are easy to love—in the beginning. Surprisingly, they may be the men who, on the first dates, are amazingly supportive, good listeners and offer to help you in some way. They literally sweep you off your feet and make you feel incredibly special. This is why single moms, especially, are easy targets for the manipulative narcissist. So, as I venture out into the dating world, I desperately want to avoid falling for these men who, while charming and fun in the beginning, are users, spin-masters, chaos makers, and hurt those closest to them.

In Psychology Today’s cover article “How to Spot a Narcissist,” author Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., does a great job explaining the personality disorder. I like to dig deep and try to understand what lies beneath complex behavior, as it helps me become more compassionate. I didn’t realize, for instance, that most narcissists have a deep fear of not being good enough and are prone to episodes of depression or anxiety. I learned a lot from his article, but I kept thinking that it still didn’t help me, as a newly single woman, be able to spot a narcissist on the first date. I mean, I don’t want to find out that a man is really a jerk six months later when he cheats on me and wreaks havoc on my life. Right? So, how does a woman quickly discern whether the man she meets is the real deal or a narcissistic spin master?

For help, I interviewed Debra Cucci, MA, MFT, a therapist in Los Angeles who also runs support groups for women navigating the dating world in LA. Over the past 20 years, Cucci has become an expert on narcissists as she has counseled many women whose marriages and children have been drastically affected by the devastating fallout from living with one. While it may not always be possible to spot a narcissist on the first date, Cucci insists that there are quite a few characteristics that give away the disorder.

“Their presentation is a facade. They just may be too good to be true,” Cucci explained the other day in her office.

“One way to discern if they are who they portray themselves to be is to ask them (during a first date) ‘What’s the most embarrassing thing in your life?’ This is [a good question] because they tend to pretend that their lives are perfect,” she said.

Looking around her office, I saw many books written by experts on this personality disorder, that I want to read, such as The Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller. Cucci explained that a person diagnosed with clinical narcissism is not just a silly person who is vain and self-absorbed. (If that were the case than most of us would have to admit to being a narcissist at one time in our lives!) No, a person with this personality disorder can be extremely dangerous, or in the very least, assured to cause emotional damage to your life and those of your children. This is because they will often do whatever it takes to achieve their goals and feed their inflated sense of self. But when times are hard, a narcissist doesn’t handle it well. So in down times, such as times when there are issues at work, marriages often fall apart as a wife and children typically bear the brunt of the narcissist’s bruised ego. If things aren’t going a narcissist’s way, for instance, he may act out in a variety of ways, like having an affair, being hyper critical of family members, having extreme mood swings, abusing alcohol or drugs, etc.

So with that in mind, I asked Cucci to come up with some telltale signs of a narcissist, that women can look for on the first few dates:

  • A narcissist will blame other people for things that aren’t working in their lives.
  • Does he diss his ex or put other people down often?
  • Narcissists like to play the victim role. Be wary if you hear things such as: “It’s my dad’s fault, he wouldn’t pay for college” or “I didn’t have a choice, I couldn’t get out of it.”
  • Name dropping is an obvious trait of a narcissist. They love to believe that they are special and will try to impress you with who they know.
  • Many narcissists have a love/hate relationship with their mother, as often they have narcissistic moms, who may likely have told them that they were extremely gifted, like her. (This can also be true about having a narcissistic father, but dads tend to be less available emotionally, so one is more affected by their primary care-giver.)
  • Is he predatory, but “in a good way?” Many narcissistic men can be sexy and athletic, giving them the confidence to approach women easily. They tend to have a lot of experience with women and therefore become good predators, “smooth operators” and can charm women—especially those with less dating experience.
  • Is he not able to show sympathy? This is a tricky quality to spot in the early stages of dating a narcissist, as often they pretend to be terribly sympathetic to your plight. But if, once they have you as a sex partner, they no longer seem sympathetic to your life issues, or they are no longer good friends unless their interests are being taken care of, then you know they are a narcissist.
  • Does he make grandiose offers, statements and promises in public, but rarely follows through in private? A narcissist may offer to help you move or babysit your children in front of friends or family, but then forget to follow through a week later.
  • “Narcissists attack you and devalue you if you don’t give them what they want,” warns Cucci. This trait isn’t easily seen in the beginning of a courtship, however. This is why Cucci says it’s important for woman not to have sex with a new man for two months. This seems mighty hard to do! … But she insists that narcissists won’t wait that long.
  • He has nearly 1,000 friends on Facebook, but not that many close, deep friendships with other men.

Did these tips help you? Do you think you’re dating or are in love with a narcissist? Chime in—I’d love to hear from you!

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40 responses to “How NOT to Date a Narcissist

  1. Great article Laura! Thank you for sharing! So so true! I think this fits quite a few characters I have dated lately…and us good single moms coming from broken marriages are perfect targets for these charmers…we know it too deep down,the hard decision is …do you keep hopeing it will change,do you stay for the great sex,can you keep it cool without falling for them? The trick is recognize it,take it for what it is…sex and fun…and move on,would we want this kind of guy for our daughters???? I don’t think so….I have to say the guy in the picture looks totally yummy…ha ha,looks like someone I dated! Oy!

    • Laura Roe Stevens

      Thanks Alina!! Los Angeles is especially tricky dating territory! Anyone would be so lucky to have you, that really, staying clear of these guys will make space for the better ones to come in! Don’t know the guy in the picture, just love the photographer :-). Hope to see you and your adorable daughter soon! x

  2. Oh I know a narcissist who actually had “The Drama of the Gifted Child” on his shelf! And then bought me a copy – which I should have read as a guide to his psyche!

  3. Laura Roe Stevens

    Wow, frightening!

  4. Wow…the therapist described my soon to be ex to perfection! He was pretty stealth because of his out of town job. When everything hit the fan, her description, (the very worst of it) was revealed! The internet and our mobility has made it worse in my opinion.

  5. I forgot to mention that the ex actually had already targeted a single mother to manipulate while we were married. That was how I found out about ALL the rest of the insanity! Good topics Laura!

  6. What about female narcissists? How do you spot them? I’m talking the lesbians.

    • Im not a lesbian but I know women that are narcissist. They fit the same profile but use different style tactics but the same intent…control. I have a friend whose sister is NPD and mother is a sociopath. They line up the same as men with a different cover.

  7. Amazing! Thanks so much for this great information. I can now side-step those land mines 🙂

  8. I was married to one and he fit almost every bullet point on the list. They are EXTREMELY charming in the beginning, but have a very difficult time maintaining the facade over time. This article serves as a great reminder of what to look out for.

  9. I agree about the extremely charming facade.

  10. When will both women and men learn that sex really does belong only in marriage? How long until we all catch on that the ‘sexual revolution’ has had countless victims? So–while the article is intriguing, it just seems silly to say ‘wait 2 months to have sex.’ Have we forgotten that the purpose of dating is getting to know the other person’s character, beliefs, etc.? It may sound outdated, but it’s so true–sex belongs in marriage. This would also prevent a lot of broken hearts and victimizing.

    • I’m with you 100% on this.
      I’ve had lots of sex in previous relationships and now Ive been celibate for 4 years, and I can tell you that the benefits of celibacy are vastly different and far superior to the benefits of having sex with whatever smoking hot guy youre currently dating.
      Sex acted upon me like a class A narcotic, it clouded my thinking and made me unwilling/unable to face unpleasant facts about the men I was with. That is the kind of buffer you need in a marriage- AFTER all of your good judgment, perception and character analysis skills have been brought front and center to decide whether or not to spend the rest of your life with this guy.
      I can honestly say that celibacy has given me back my sanity. There is a real peace that comes with keeping your body just your own. Another bonus: celibacy makes saying “see ya” to bad guys much much easier, because excellent sex will keep you tethered to bad relationships.

      • Thanks Racheal! You are certainly wise. That’s exactly what Pat Allen says. Did you read my interview with her about abstaining from sex right away when you’re first dating so you can recognize red flags? It’s so simple, yet such great advice. You clearly came to her research-based opinion on your own, but if you’re interested, the interview can be found here: https://navigatingvita.com/2011/10/14/161/.

        Thanks again for stopping by ~

        Laura

  11. I think if all the gorgeous women who can usually entice the narcissistic male would just simply ignore them in favour of shorter, slightly overweight, older men (like myself) the world would be a lot happier place.

    (just a thought)

  12. This is an EXTREMELY helpful list! Would you mind if I share my experience?

    I recently sought out counseling after a very brief (three-month) relationship with someone who I met online, which was mainly long distance. Even though I spent less time with him than anyone I’d ever dated, when he broke up with me it was after a tirade about all of my “red flags” (things that certainly didn’t sound like red flags, such as my solo travels; or things that mirrored traits I’d seen in him) that left me feeling worthless–that after three months of ups and downs, many of which I just couldn’t put my finger on (he had an explanation for everything, even if it was, “I’m only human” or “you do it too”).

    He isn’t the first NPD I’ve dated (I’m unfortunately drawn to them); he was just the MOST difficult to identify and the hardest to leave, with the most long-term damage (because I didn’t realize he was NPD for so long). Other NPDs I’d dated were “textbook” versions: dressed in expensive clothes (the ‘metrosexual’ male); flaunted their Ivy League education; bought me roses and chocolate. They were easy to walk away from because their game was so blatant.

    What I’m getting at is the DSM IV did not pin him down because he is a “new age” spiritual type whose narcissism is tied up in mysticism, religious banter and seemingly altruistic motives. He has traveled the world to visit ashrams and live monastically at various times, but these coincide with getting out of responsibilities (school, relationships) after he loses interest in them.

    Even these experiences are punctuated by a restless period until he either leaves or is kicked out (he is unapologetically late to everything). He would persistently talk about the “goddess” or “divine feminine” archetype, or call me, certain exes, and even his mother a “beautiful woman” or “pure”; of course, this was in contrast to other moments when he would make demeaning or derogatory remarks; referring to them as having “off energy” or being “lost”.

    I think all of us desire a certain level of spiritual fulfillment just like we desire romantic fulfillment, and this dude appealed to both–he told me he felt a “spiritual connection” with me before we met in person and “something akin to love” for me just after; he later said he thought I could “heal” him but realized I couldn’t.

    This was long after I became enmeshed, and he gave an elaborate explanation for why he kept going back to OkC to “harmlessly” browse other women’s profiles: he told me he had a “dark entity” which was only calmed by a woman’s affection (of course, he also told me that I was one of a select few who he could share this information with).

    All this is easy to overlook when the NPD is so intelligent and seemingly pious that you feel he must know something you don’t (about spirituality, etc.) and you become so caught up in trying to meet his ever loftier ideals that you will take anything he says as truth. It also appeals to the nurturing partner.

    On the surface, his family life seemed spotless. Later, he revealed that he “practically dated” his mother and his father left for some time during his early childhood–this information was only shared to redirect blame when I started to get suspicious.

    After our relationship ended, I kept denying he could be an NPD because he seems to have a very close relationship with his dad and older half-brothers. After delving further, I saw the same, overtly spiritualized characteristics in his dad (he has a book coming out called “reconnecting with the divine feminine”). He is the only biological offspring of his parents (his mother passed in 2010), so I think his [recent] bond with his father stems from being their only true progeny. I also think he seeks affirmation of his manliness by “keeping up” with his brothers (this is speculation on my part!).

    He boasts A LOT of friends–mostly women–who compliment him constantly on his art, his travels, etc.; but it is important to underline that for the past ten years (he’s thirty), he has moved extensively, never staying in one place more than six months. His last relationship lasted over a year, so I initially had the impression it was stable and loving until he revealed that it was mostly long-distance (while she was in a stage production) and at times “open” (according to him). If it was stable, I imagine it was only because it was easy to conceal his flaws.

    He is also a sculptor, and created his “life’s work” which is a huge, burning angel cast in bronze. He describes the sculpture on his website as being a reflection of Eastern/Western religion, human struggle, and enlightenment (quoting Victor Frankl’s, “what is to give light must endure burning”; which all sounds beautiful and romantic until you realize it’s actually a monument to himself! In getting to know him for three months, it became obvious that he has a vision of himself as the “wounded healer” (which he, of course, also called me) and what’s more…his namesake *is* that of an angel–one of the Archangels.

    Anyway, I guess I’ve written a very long (mostly cathartic) explanation, but I hope it helps to demonstrate that not every NPD looks like an underwear model–this guy was 5’5″ and drove a broken-down pickup. There’s so much more I could write–I had a gut feeling about this guy, but didn’t walk away because I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong. Remember that anyone who you find convincing you that you are doing things wrong or that they are superior to you (and others) is likely an NPD. This guy had me groveling at his feet, even after he discarded me for the next Big Thing. He’s now leaving his “call” to nursing halfway through school to go to Tibet for a year and “focus” on himself (thank goodness). Thank you for letting me share!

  13. WOW Stephanie! Thanks for sharing and thank God you only spent 3 months with this guy. I think men who ARE so much: an artist, a mystic, a nurse, an intuit etc. leave little room for you. People like that demand that you worship them. Thankfully, he left and your eyes are open. I could write quite a bit more, but am on a dial-up in Italy. I will soon. Thanks Stephanie! Lots of love, Laura

  14. To Stephanie:
    The description of your experience with a narcissist sounds exactly like mine although I didn’t know what the heck was going on until it was too late and I had already fallen for him. Mine was a monk, a business man in corporate america, a writer and then a chef. He couldn’t seem to settle down or commit to anything. Eventually he would lose interest and move on to his next thing or victim. I thought his creativity, passion and extreme emotional response to minor things were just an expression of his artsy, intriguing personality. Nope, he was just suffering with NPD. I’m not a doctor but he exhibited all the classic signs. He never took ownership of anything. He blamed everything and everyone else for his problems. His last relationship lasted for a year but it was long distance so I believe he was able to mask his true character. Of course even after much time had passed since they broke up (more than a year) he still would go on and on about how awful she treated him and how she wronged him. He would talk about it as though it just ended yesterday. He would say all the right things but his actions did not represent love. I can’t believe I stayed with someone that would point out how many good looking women he had around him, walk ahead of me and ignore me when we were out in public together, tell me my feelings are stupid and ridiculous, completely withdraw and offer no support when I needed a shoulder to lean on. While this experience caused me so much emotional anguish I take full responsibility for allowing someone to treat me so poorly. This is my first and last experience I’ll have with a narcissist. To others reading this post I’ll provide some early warning signs that you’re dating one and examples of what I mean.

    1. Trust your gut. This is most important. Something always felt off or unhealthy from the very beginning yet I chose to ignore it bc he was so attractive an charming.
    2. Observe how often he asks about you. Mine never once asked how I was doing in the first couple months of our relationship until I pointed it out.
    3. Does he take your wants into consideration and genuinely give you an opportunity to express yourself and be heard. Even something little like agreeing on what to do and where to go are important. I remember on our third date he recommended a place and when I told him I had a bad experience there he said he still wanted to go. Someone that isn’t only consumed with their needs would offer a different suggestion.
    4. If he moves around a lot, switches careers, criticizes people yet can’t accept constructive criticism and has a negative attitude about life in general…RUN

  15. Very good, reading. I have experienced this more than once- and I think I am becoming an expert on this subject as well. I’m in some pain today, on a one year anniversary of “no contact” to a sociopath narcissist. Last night I had a dream and I texted him. Nothing really happened, but it felt like a relapse. There are many kinds, and I like the reference to the 1000 friends on Facebook. One of them I know is like this, another one controls the Facebook, so intensely, that there were only, like 85 friends- and he’d often block or not share information, i.e. would leave on a trip to the Maldives secretly and then block the photos. They have strange behavior on the internet and I think it’s another warning sign.

    • Chris! Somehow, I didn’t see this notice…I am writing back so late…how are you? I’ve had so many dreams about my ex lately and they feel like relapses, but in the end, I think they are lessons-telling me something about myself. You know the hidden behavior is always a red flag. Hiding pictures for only some to see, etc. That’s what my ex did when he was cheating, basically, not wanting her to see when the two of us were celebrating our 10 year anniversary. It’s sick and sad and I wonder how someone goes down that road to living a double life. But I’d say, while not an expert entirely, if anyone isn’t completely open online-shares vacation pics with only ‘some’ friends, etc. they are revealing something negative about themselves. They are hiding something, or are paranoid, or are secretive to a fault. Whatever it is, it’s something to avoid. Take care Chris!!

  16. Pingback: Avoiding Narcissists: Top NV Post | Navigating Vita

  17. I dated a Narc for almost a year. He was extremely charming and sweet. I so enjoyed his intellect. I caught on to his lies. He was cheating with more than one woman. I was suspicious and looked into a few things and found out he was lying to me.bbwhen I confronted him, his mask came off and I saw a very cruel man. I was in such shock. I confronted him about his sickness and he called my office and tried to ruin me professionally. Another shock. I told him that if he didn’t stay away, I would expose him to friends and family. Haven’t heard from him in months. Horrible experience. I’m glad that the HR rep at work is a good friend and believed me when I told him what this man was all about. Quite a few people have not been that lucky and have had their careers destroyed.

    • Wow, I’m sorry to hear about that experience June! Having a career destroyed is not something that I even imagined. I’m so glad that it all worked out for you-due to your quick thinking. I hope your dating life is more peaceful now, especially during the holidays.
      Take care and thanks for sharing ~

      Laura

  18. Hi Laura, thank you. Character assassinations are part of a Narc’s M.O. They know what’s important to you and then try to get their revenge … in my case it was my job. It didn’t work and I made sure he knew it. In fact, it worked against him because the HR rep could not believe that he would stoop to that level. The Narc told him that I was calling him and emailing him on company time. So childish. Maybe I should call his clients and let them know what he is really all about. I wonder how he would feel about that. I would never stoop to that level, plus, I want that creep out of my life. Huge awakening for me. I never knew these sick people existed,

  19. Wow. Definitely glad you didn’t stoop to his level! Rising above is the only way. Glad it worked out for you!

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  24. OMG! This is the perfect article for me. I tend to fall for narcissistic men and my life has been devastated as a result of this. I love the idea of simply not having sex for two months. If he sticks around that long I should have a better idea about if he’s able to be caring and selfless or not. Golden information. Cause I wasn’t sure if a narcissistic man would simply wait until he got what he wanted, and get sex from other women while “waiting” for me to give him sex. But it sounds like Cucci has studied this quite a lot, so that’s reassuring.

    • Thanks Lisa! I learned a lot from her too. 🙂 Narcissists are clearly very charming, so don’t beat yourself up for dating a few! That’s what this article is about: trying to find out early!

      Thanks for writing in and good luck!!

      Laura xo

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