Are Narcissists Really Capable of Enduring Love?
What narcissists really mean when they say "I love you."
Posted May 17, 2019
If you are in a relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality disorder, you may be wondering whether your partner is really capable of loving you the way that you love him or her. You know that your heart leaps when you see your lover. You think of your partner constantly. You want to spend the rest of your life with this person. And, you would sacrifice almost anything to make your lover happy.
Is it likely that your narcissistic mate feels the same way?
The short answer is a simple “no.” It is actually highly unlikely that your narcissistic partner is even capable of real love, let alone feels it towards you past the beginning of your relationship. People with narcissistic personality disorder are not equipped to experience and show love in the sense that most of us mean it. The narcissists that I know lack the capacity to deeply appreciate the authentic self of another human being. They do not really care about their mate’s happiness or welfare except as it affects their own. And, they are rarely willing to sacrifice anything in order to make their mate happy. The only happiness that they are really concerned about is their own.
(Note: In this article I am using the term “narcissist” as shorthand for someone who has made an adaptation to life that fits the pattern that we call by the diagnosis “narcissistic personality disorder”).
So what do narcissists mean when they say: ‘I love you’?
I speak “narcissist,” so I will translate the various things that this simple phrase might mean when it is said by someone with a narcissistic personality disorder:
- I love the way you are making me feel about me right now.
- This sex is amazing!
- I want to have sex with you right now.
- I love that you love me and will do whatever I like.
- I have to say ‘I love you’ to get what I want from you now.
- It is fun to say ‘I love you’ and watch you look at me with adoration.
- I love how easy it is to manipulate you by saying ‘I love you’.
- At this second, I have some positive feelings for you.
Love and Narcissism
When they are being honest about the “L” word, most of my clients with narcissistic personality disorder express some doubt that they actually understand or are capable of what other people mean by “love.”
As Jeff said during his session: “I don’t think I really know what it means to love someone. There are people that I like being with more than others, there are women who I lust after, and there are people whose acceptance and admiration I crave. But love like in the movies, that’s not something I ever feel.”
So how do they feel about the people who love them?
This is a complicated question. Many of my married narcissistic clients care about their mates and want the relationship to work. But…their lack of emotional empathy and their lack of object constancy limit the ways that they can experience and express positive feelings. You might compare these narcissistic clients to people who lack musical talent, but are trying to sing anyway.
Practicality vs. Love
Many of my narcissistic clients have substituted practicality for love. Instead of asking themselves “Do I love this person who loves me?”, they ask themselves something much less romantic and more self-serving:
- Do I need this person for anything?
- Am I lonely or bored?
- Would I like to have sex with this person?
- What is their status relative to mine?
- Are they a “catch”?
- Can they help me to rise in the hierarchy that I care about?
- Do they admire me?
- Will other people admire me more if I am with them?
- Are they wealthy and generous?
- Is it time to get married and start a family of my own?
- Should I get married so that I have someone to take care of me when I am old?
Example—Ben and “It’s time to get married”
Most of Ben’s friends have paired off and are getting married. Some have children already. Suddenly Ben is finding it hard to get any of his friends to go out at night to bars and be his wingmen. Ben has narcissistic personality disorder and has never cared deeply about anyone besides himself. He has no expectations that he ever will have the type of deep romantic feelings that led to his friends getting married. But, he is also very practical. He realizes that if he does not want to have to find a new set of younger, unmarried friends, he will have to find someone that he wants to marry.
Ben’s idea of marriage is a practical arrangement. He will work. His wife will work. Maybe someday they will decide to have kids. He likes the idea of having a family and imagines all of them sitting down to a perfect Sunday dinner. Later, they will post some lovely pictures on Instagram. Meanwhile, he and his new wife will socialize with his friends and their wives and, as an added plus, his mother will finally stop nagging him about finding a nice woman and settling down.
Hunting the Unicorn
Then there are some people with narcissistic personality disorder who refuse to believe that it is their problem that they cannot deeply and consistently love someone who loves them. They convince themselves that if they do not love someone, it is because it is the other person’s fault. They believe that there is a perfect person out there that they will find it easy to love. Each time they become infatuated with someone new, they idealize this person. Then as they inevitably discover the person’s flaws, they become disillusioned, and devalue, and discard them.
Example—Elena’s Revolving Door Romances
Elena is a very attractive narcissistic woman in her late 20’s. Every few months, Elena falls in love with a new man. She says very similar things about each new guy: “This time it is for real. I feel differently about him than all the others. He is so amazing! He is so hot! I want to marry him and have his babies.” After a few very passionate weeks, Elena’s feelings start to cool.
Now her friends hear: “Why is he suddenly so difficult? He is letting himself go. He eats like a frat boy. He will be fat before he is thirty. I can’t be with a loser like him!” Elena’s parents tease her about her how many men she goes through in a year: “You should put a revolving door on your house so that you can get them in and out faster!”
Elena falls in love easily, but because she is chasing perfection, she falls out of love as soon as she begins to find flaws. She is after the perfect man, the proverbial unicorn—but we all know unicorns do not exist and Elena is unlikely to end up with one.
Punchline: If you love a narcissist, you can save yourself some grief and disappointment by accepting that they are unlikely to be able to love you in the way you have always dreamed of being loved. You need to think a bit more practically and try and see this person accurately.
If they are hunting unicorns, you are likely to get hurt when they discover you are a real person, not some mythical perfect beast. If they are simply seeing a relationship with you as the practical answer to some life issue, can you accept that? The one thing that you do need to understand is that just because you love them, this does not alter their limited capacity to love you back.
Adapted from a Quora post.