Why Do You Want to Marry a Narcissist?
The counterintuitive seduction of selfishness
Posted Oct 18, 2020
Socially, narcissists can be flashy and fun. Entertaining, engaging, and often very attractive. But considering suitability for long-term relationships, you recognize that the primary focus of self-centered paramours will never be on you. Why is yours on them?
Want to Marry a Narcissist?
Carrie Haslam and V. Tamara Montrose in “Should Have Known Better” (2015) explored the surprising attractiveness of narcissistic men as marriage partners.[i] They adopt a definition of narcissism as including “an exaggerated sense of self-importance, authority, entitlement, self-sufficiency, exhibitionism, vanity and a willingness to manipulate others.” They note that narcissism is more common in men than women.
Acknowledging that narcissistic men are not good romantic partners because they are unfaithful, uncommitted, and engage in manipulative game-playing, Haslam and Montrose found that they were still viewed as desirable by women—especially women who want to get married. Why?
Haslam and Montrose recognize that women value different traits when considering short-term versus long-term partners. In their study of British females between the ages of 18–28, they found that the women who had greater mating experience, as well as those who wanted to get married, were more attracted to narcissistic men. Apparently, narcissistic personalities, although having many negative qualities, also possess qualities associated with status and the ability to provide resources—traits that are desirable within the context of both short and long-term mating.
In the short-term, Haslam and Montrose note that narcissists can be entertaining, popular, charming, and socially confident, and perhaps not surprisingly, frequently enjoy high social status. All of these positives traits are desirable when evaluating potential mate value. They note that other reasons women are attracted to narcissistic men include their physical attractiveness, often due to increased grooming, and their predisposition to show off potential resources.
Regarding their surprising finding that women who desired marriage were more attracted to narcissistic men than women who were not looking to get married, Haslam and Montrose acknowledge that at least superficially, the narcissistic male personality construct includes some traits which are desirable in a marriage partner. Women interested in marriage were more attracted to assertions that a man was authoritative and prepared to manipulate his way to professional success, which indicates the potential to gain status and resources, which are desirable qualities in a long-term partner. They also note that many of the disadvantages that make narcissistic men unsuitable long-term mates are not immediately apparent.
Prior Relationship Experience
Does prior mating experience lessen the likelihood of being attracted to a narcissist? Haslam and Montrose found that contrary to expectations, the answer was no. Women who had more than 21 previous partners were actually more attracted to the narcissistic male personality than women with less than 10 prior partners.
Haslam and Montrose found that women who had the most mating experience found statements indicating that a man was “egotistical, arrogant, attention-seeking, confident, influential and assertive” to be more attractive than did the women with fewer than 10 prior partners. They note that many of these statements implicate attractive qualities such as status, self-assuredness, and an ability to acquire resources. They conclude that narcissistic men can thereby appear to be suitable partners, which is apparently reinforced by having more experience in mate sampling.
Haslam and Montrose also note that narcissistic men may not only be desired for perceived positive attributes, but for negative ones as well. They cite the allure of “bad boys” in the literature and the media, observing that so-called “antiheroes” are often intentionally portrayed as narcissistic, exhibiting traits such as manipulation and infidelity, which apparently do not detract from their popularity.
Relational Long-Range Planning
Despite these findings, we all recognize the significant dangers of marrying a narcissist. Cultivating healthy relationships of trust and mutual respect is much more likely to produce stable, satisfying, partnerships in the long term. Understanding the superficial allure of selfishness, status, and success may help identify infatuation, and distinguish it from the authentic admiration of partners who are much more suitable marriage material.
[i] Haslam, Carrie, and V. Tamara Montrose. 2015. “Should Have Known Better: The Impact of Mating Experience and the Desire for Marriage upon Attraction to the Narcissistic Personality.” Personality and Individual Differences 82 (August): 188–92. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.03.032.