This post is a continuation of [Part 1: Friendship], which covered what I noticed straightaway in the platonic friendship. Despite the presence of what I realize now were red flags, I didn’t know better then, so I proceeded with only minimal caution, allowing myself to tumble down the hill in love with this man.
Once the relationship developed, I lived for those 48 hours every few weeks that one of us would come to visit the other; they were my lifeline. But we texted daily–morning, afternoon, and evening, all the way up until bedtime.
His texting was a little odd, in a few ways. The primary observation was that between texting and spending time in person, he seemed like two different people. It surprised me how distant he could seem over text. It’s like he was this aloof person at times, even when texting romantically, and I had to remind myself how widely he’d grinned and how sparkly and shiny his eyes were when he gazed long and loving at me when we spent time together in person. I had to remind myself “he loves you; you’ll see when you meet up next”. Because the texting sometimes didn’t feel like it.
The texting intervals were interesting, too. I would message him, and he would read it immediately…but then take several minutes to start responding. Once he started, the message appeared quickly, because he was a fast texter. But I got the feeling he’d been messaging with several people at once and didn’t deem me important enough to focus on me like I had on him. When we were in person, he actually seemed to be even more into me than I was into him (if that’s even possible), so my expectation wasn’t necessarily an unreasonable one, but his texting behavior did not match that.
The reason he’s a fast texter is that he texts everybody. He has about 8 (all female, some strictly platonic and others exes) friends (most of whom are acquaintances of varying closeness, really) to whom he reaches out every few days or weeks to see how they’re doing. Sometimes they’ll reply, maybe that day or maybe a day or two later. I did notice that they never texted him to see how he was doing.
Between this and all the social media drama, you can now see how he hardly ever put down his phone. Right away, it interfered with our time together, which was quite limited in the beginning. Here he was, finally being able to spend time with me, the love of his life, for the first time in a few weeks, and he had to keep “flipping” (my term) back and forth between Facebook notifications, Facebook Messenger, WordPress notifications, email, regular text, and Hangouts, while ceasing to be present with me. I actually began to chide him – “dude–you just checked all that 3 minutes ago”. I started timing him. Yep, 5-6 times in 20 minutes.
His phone finally broke (he dropped it one too many times), and he got angry about that. I don’t believe anybody would start doing joyful jumping jacks, but his reaction was a little over the top. I was secretly glad, because it might mean that he might actually be able to untangle himself from the phone and focus on our present activities for once.
Presence…yeah, that was a sticking point. He was either ruminating endlessly on the past, or planning as far out as he could, right down to the minute. Yet, never enjoying the present, never noticing it for what it was, never taking it all in, never noticing the environment, the company he was with, the fun everyone was having, or, conversely, lessons he should probably be learning.
Another one of the earliest observations I made was his intense anger. He could overreact, flying off the handle at the slightest disappointment, delay, mistake, or hiccup. And it wasn’t a quick F-bomb and then it was over, back to regularly-scheduled programming – instead, it basically ruined the rest of his day. He ruminated; he held grudges forever; even his own mother had remarked to me during a holiday visit that “he hates being wrong.” (Which I was surprised by at the time, but I knew his mom had both feet on the ground, so I did file her comment in the back of my mind.) He simply could not or would not let it go.
Letting go is a real problem for narcissists. Mine hardly ever could. When deciding to move to where I live, he’d made out a budget, saw that he’d have to make a few cutbacks (since he’d be paying rent for the first time–outside of his parents’ house–in his 30s–oh yes, that’s right), and he started to panic (catastrophize, imagining–actually assuming–the worst case scenario), and even though I explained how he’d be just fine financially, he was still uneasy, still considered backing out of the move, still wasn’t convinced. And this guy has a Masters degree in math! I had to step in and solve his problem, because for some reason he couldn’t/wouldn’t, and that should have been the end of it, but no. It never is.
This segues into his black-and-white thinking. Asperger’s people are already known for this (see why it’s so easy to write off some Asperger’s people as narcissists? It’s not true, but if the two conditions coexist, it can be confusing, even for fellow Aspies like myself), but the narcissistic personality pattern only drives this up exponentially. Even as someone with Asperger’s, I’m quite capable of compartmentalizing – “Okay, this morning was rough, but the afternoon started to go more smoothly, and I had a lot of fun this evening.”
Narcissists don’t do that. They could be having the smoothest of days, having fun, everything going as planned, miracle of miracles, and boom!–a traffic jam causing a slight delay. They catastrophize, don’t they? “Now we’re going to be an hour late”, before even knowing how long the traffic jam is. And once you smooth them over, which is your job, of course, and they finally shelve the issue (they never let it go until they literally forget it happened, days or weeks later), then you might get lucky enough to have fun for the rest of the day/evening. But then? Tomorrow they’ll mention what a “shit day” yesterday was.
And it can be anything that sets them off. For example, maybe somebody had the audacity to ask him to complete a task at work. I’ll make a separate post about what I observed in my situation.
He could actually become cranky, detached, impatient, and cold toward me when he was getting tired in the evening, even if it had been a pleasant one. He’d hug me goodnight before I left, but then he’d cut the hug short and actually push me away.
Likewise, we’d taken a nap together when we were coming down with head colds, and I tried to be quiet and stifle my sniffling, sneezing, nose-blowing, etc, remaining as unobtrusive as I could, and he actually got annoyed and said “will you cut it out??” as though I was doing it to annoy him on purpose. So much for caring.
The vanity showed through pretty early on as well, depending on his body image. He had actually had body image issues (many guys do, and not all are narcissist, but let that be an orange flag, gorgeous ones!), back when he was more insecure about his appearance. However, once he felt pretty good about himself, it became a Topic.
He was much more subtle than the stereotypical socialites who walk around with selfie sticks, take several per day, and instantly upload them all to social media. Well, of course he’s not that obvious; he’s the more Covert subtype, after all.
Instead, he gushed about his legs periodically, but then picked on himself for the lack of shape of his arms. He had me take a picture of him at an event we attended, and he “modeled” his pose, claiming to “ham it up” (being funny), but you could totally tell it went further than that–he was half-serious. The better he felt about his body, the more grandiose he got.
I noticed that he wouldn’t engage in the therapies I recommended for his autoimmune disorders (plural), unless I could relate them to the musculoskeletal system and convince him they could improve his workout and body composition. He did, of course, engage in regular resistance training workouts; they were a top priority, even over me–we planned those days around that. No matter what, he never skipped a workout, and he agonized over muscle atrophy if he went more than 2-3 days between workouts.
One glaring observation I made is that he was still in touch with an extremely dysfunctional ex; he didn’t have to tell me she was this way, he just described what happened between them and I knew. He’d blogged a few years ago about “toxic relationships” and I knew it pertained to her. She’d been extremely immature and prone to drama. I remember wondering why someone as great as he was needed/wanted to keep someone like her in his life. A healthy person would’ve severed a tie to someone like her a long time ago.
I explained (aren’t we always?) to him that she isn’t healthy for him; she’s always complaining about how crappy her life is and how she’s with This Guy or That, and she’s either hopelessly in love, or the relationship is complete shit – there was no in-between. She had also pretended to be someone she wasn’t, swearing up and down she didn’t want kids, until she had pulled my ex into a debate about abortion and let it slip that she wanted kids after all–very badly, and it didn’t matter with whom.
That’s the kind of ex we’re talking about. Yet, my ex didn’t sever the ties. I was baffled then as to why. Now I know.
There were times I knew he wasn’t listening. We’d be talking about something and then he’d branch off and start talking about something else, simply because it popped into his head. Meanwhile, trying to hold my ground and get him back on track, I’d keep going on about what we’d been talking about, because I had more to say. And I would’ve laughed if it hadn’t been so weird, when everything he said pertained to his new topic. My husband actually witnessed this; he said “it was almost funny; you two were having two entirely different conversations.”
The not-listening was definitely a pervasive issue. There were times I’d be talking and either he’d interrupt me mid-sentence to talk about something else, and there were others where he’d get this bored, empty look in his eyes. His voice reflected it; sure, he’d say “yeah” at random intervals while I told some story or something, but his voice was just as flat. I could tell he was only going through the motions of listening, trying to hurry me up, so that we could do or talk about what he wanted to.
Eventually, he confessed to “zoning out” and that he did it “about half the time”. I had sensed this months before, and had actually employed a tactic that served as a listening test; I would actually ask or tell him something that I had before, days, weeks, or months before. I realized that I could tell him something for a fifth time over the course of, say 3-6 months, and he’d respond to it–every single time–as though he were hearing it for the first time!
The thinking certainly is circular, anyway. Matters resolved in discussions don’t stay that way, either. This tactic appeared in every argument we had, during which I’d ask him what’s wrong, he’d stare unflinching into space, and after asking a few times, I’d finally worm something out of him, and then try to come up with solutions.
And then later he’d stare at me as he got more hostile, while I continued with solutions and analogies that morphed into Teaching Moments. Still silent was he, I’d ask him what he thought of the solutions I’d presented, and finally he’d say something like “makes sense” and then we’d hammer out another issue that had surfaced in the argument, only for a prior issue to grow another Medusa head!
Listening comprehension error? Maybe he flashy-things himself with the Men In Black wand sometimes?
My bestie childhood friend noticed–and thankfully pointed out to me–that he would often talk over me. I’m a health nut, and when the three of us would get together, she’d ask me a health question, and I’d answer it, and then my ex would immediately start talking over me, saying the exact same thing I was saying. That’s a blatant example of how narcissists need to steal the spotlight from you and make themselves feel superior.
He’d always been concerned with status. He judged himself and me by metrics I’d never judged anybody by. He’d made a big deal out of my occupational status (it’s highish) – a much bigger deal than I ever did. He’d made a big deal out of the stats on my main blog (the one he found me on), feeling inferior, triggering a desire within him to give up on blogging and delete his own blog.
I told him that a bigger blog can come with a dark side – much more public scrutiny, haters, trolls, and so on – but even though he’s not the kind of person to be able to shoulder those demands (and thus should have been pretty content with his smaller blog), he still refused to Let It Go.
Nobody I’d met before had been intimidated by any of my statuses, nor had I been intimidated by that of any of my friends; in fact, I was happy for them – why wouldn’t I be? I like them as people and want the best for them, and I’m happy when they do well…right? That’s how Healthy People function.
Speaking of status and blogging, he was always concerned about his own blog’s traffic (“stats”) – i.e., how many “Likes” and comments he received. He got mildly bummed out when one of his posts (on his blog or on Facebook) didn’t get much traffic or feedback (translation: attention).
However, I noticed that he never Liked anyone else’s posts, not even mine (and I’m the love of his life, remember?). Hell, he barely read anybody else’s posts, unless they were written by someone he was collecting information on (me). He began to comment frequently on mine, while we were building our platonic friendship, but that slacked off completely once that bond deepened.
It’s almost like to give attention to someone else’s blog would take away from his own. I would call him out half-jokingly, telling him that Liking or commenting on someone else’s post isn’t going to start siphoning stats away from his. I just thought it was weird that someone so concerned with stats refused to give any to others. Thus, he remained off most peoples’ radar, because he’s not showing up in their WordPress notifications, so others don’t know he exists, and they’re not introduced to–or reminded of–his blog. And then he lamented that his blog stayed small, assuming it was because he’d turned people off with controversial viewpoints.
Well, maybe there’s some truth to that last part.
And for those who did find and give love to his blog, praise was never enough. His attitude was something of “meh”; he read the comment quick and then kept scrolling. Always scrolling. Scrolling social media, scrolling the WordPress Reader, scrolling through notifications, scrolling through email. Flipping through everything, scrolling through everything, registering nothing. (Except for his one internet troll – he did register that one. And he got so obsessed with this troll that he hunted down their current information and posted it all over his blog before the WordPress team themselves gave him a warning!).
Flipping and scrolling, flipping and scrolling. “Aw man, I never flipped and scrolled enough!”, or “I should’ve gotten more screen time!”, said no one on their deathbed, ever.
Another obsession was one with Time, and keeping to a schedule. This is understandable on workdays, which are more regimented, or certain events that begin/end at a certain time, especially when your commitment to being somewhere at a certain time involves other people, and they’re counting on you. I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about weekends in which we have no other place to be and no one else depending on us.
I’m talking about meeting with each other and going for coffee at 9a, grocery shopping at 10a, having lunch at 12p, watching a movie from 1-3p, doing art from 3-5p, and then starting dinner at 5p, eating from 6-7p, and then watching exactly 6 Frasier episodes until it’s time to part ways at the end of the night, as opposed to “I’m in the mood for this movie, let’s watch it, and then we can do some art for a while and then watch some Frasier after dinner”.
I’ve realized that this Time Obsession probably has something to do with the Emptiness that consumes narcissists. They’re empty inside, which is internally noisy, and the only way to drown out the racket is to distract, distract, distract. The worse the emptiness, the more anal-retentive they are about making sure they’ve got many, many activities lined up. They’re the ones planning what’s supposed to be an entire leisurely, restful weekend down to the letter, on Friday morning. It’s almost as though they fear having any downtime. Meanwhile, you never get any real rest, because as long as you’re with them, your weekend is go, go, go.
Later on in the relationship, he could see that he hurt me, and he just sat there, staring. I think one time he might’ve sighed and rolled his eyes; I’m not sure; the brain tends to block out the most painful events, after all. And he was good at causing pain, but shitty at helping to heal it; it didn’t seem to matter to him. He was actually more angry at himself and more apologetic when my vehicle battery died and it was because he hadn’t shut the door all the way the night before, and the dome light remained on all night.
Gorgeous ones, I could go on forever and ever with traits like these, and examples thereof, but this blog post has gotten more than long enough. They occurred at all stages of the relationship, albeit in different ways, and multiple times weekly at the beginning. They were subtle at first, and I was partially blinded by the “love mist” that had settled over me at the time. I’m only connecting dots and putting pieces together now.
I do not, however, blame myself for missing these signs. Obviously (for me), this was meant to happen to me. Obviously there was a lesson (or several) that I needed to learn, brought about by the pain from the experiences I had. I don’t kick myself for it; I have no regrets. I don’t even regret meeting him. It simply happened. It’s nobody’s fault; he was an ass to me many times, but he’s merely a symptom of a problematic pattern within me that I need to heal.
And heal we will, my lovelies!