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Why do I keep dating narcissists and how do I stop?

PHOTOGRAPHY BY NATASHA KILLEEN

WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

How to spot them and, more importantly, why you should avoid dating them.

It’s only after some introspection and an audit of recent (let’s say two years’ worth) fling things that I’ve realised I have a thing for narcissists. What I’m about to delve into comes with the disclaimer that I am probably very narcissistic (superficially speaking) at times, too, but rarely selfish or frivolous with the emotions of those closest to me. 

I seem to go for the same mirrored tropes in bachelors over and over again. Frustrated with this dating deja vu, I’ve recently asked myself the question of ‘Why?’ Why do I keep pursuing narcissists? 

A narcissist is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘a person who has an excessive interest in or admiration of themselves’. After sitting down to properly think this through, I’ve realised I’m not in active, lucid pursuit of narcissists.


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I’m not seeking out selfish people, but I romanticise arrogance and ego. I recognise the perils of this behaviour but I repeatedly turn a blind eye to them. It is the quiet making of excuses, the sick tummy feeling of waiting on someone and the deep disappointment of being let down.

I’ve had maybe two top-tier infatuations with narcissists in my 22 years. To rank here, I have to think of them at least once a week still, have pissed off my friends when getting over them (and going back to them), and occasionally avoid songs/fragrances/any other nostalgic icks because of them. We’ll call them John and James for simplicity’s sake. 

Narcissism (in the context of intimacy) can manifest in initially covert ways when you start to razz someone or enter a romantic liaison. For me, it’s been some of the very specific examples below:

  • Driving 50 plus minutes to John’s secondary, empty family abode every Friday or Saturday during lockdown
  • A caveat to the above is that it was always decided at a couple of hours notice, much to my tanning, hair washing and general sanity’s dismay 
  • Allowing John to question my lack of cooking sensibilities and question, “What will you do one day when you have a husband?”
  • Practising making a lasagne for John at home in the lead-up to cooking an impressive Italian banquet on his birthday weekend, only to be benched for an at-the-time illegal camping trip with The Boys 
  • Allowing my political beliefs to be criticised by John
  • Allowing my thoughts around gender equality to be criticised by John
  • Allowing my views around race equality to be criticised by John
  • Lying to my girlfriends about my whereabouts and activities and conversations with John and James (because the truth is very unpalatable)
  • Driving James to practically international worksites at ungodly hours midweek, pre-uni, after putting him to bed following Tuesday night ragers. (I will never forget one particular dropoff in which he paused before exiting the vehicle and said: “I really like you, you know”)
  • Letting James’ very serious issues eclipse my own
  • Paying for things for James and John that they definitely should have a) split or b) paid for themselves (insert: croissants, coffees, bottles of wine, antipasto goods)
  • Making James breakfast in bed at my mum’s house for consecutive weekends, because he wouldn’t wake up after very alcohol and substance infused nights
  • Realising that John, James and another fledgling fling all had an intense preoccupation with watching themselves in my mirrored wardrobes

The above incidents – especially the last one – are all seemingly harmless and pretty hilarious in hindsight. But the reality of grovelling for a narcissist to really commit to you and put you before themselves isn’t so funny.

I recently revisited this piece by Fashion Journal scribe Jonti Ridley on her experience with ‘love bombing’. Love bombing is the “practice of showering someone with attention and affection in order to influence or manipulate them”, and is a practice commonly linked to narcissistic personalities

Jonti explains that love bombing takes the following form in everyday relos: “You need regular texts? You got it. Daily phone calls? How about two. Feeling insecure? They’ll shower you in compliments. They’ll make you feel like the centre of the universe, using your own insecurities to build a sense of safety. Then, they’ll exploit you.”

A lot of us on the dating circuit probably experience this to a degree. You’ll be passing the banter hot potato back and forth with a new attraction, maybe going on some frequent dates over the course of a couple of weeks, getting into a bit of a routine and so on. But then, you’re hooked on a feeling before you knew the feeling was even there.

The feeling’s moved in and redecorated your waking (and sleeping) thoughts, so this person knows they can do high key whatever the fuck they want and keep you hanging on. Before you know it, you’re making lasagne and pining over them, knees deep in passata, while they’re out sinking tinnies, swiping the apps and shooting deer with their mates with “no reception, sorry”.

Here are a few things to consider if you, too, feel like you are a narcissist magnet. This can be an immortalised checklist we swear to run through when/if ever dating again. 

  • Am I making excuses for this person?
  • Are my values, beliefs and desires being met? 
  • Is equal effort being put in (and sustained) by both parties?
  • Have they been showering me with attention, affection and praise very early on in the relationship? (aka are they love bombing me?)
  • Are they unable to take criticism but are always criticising me and those around me?
  • Do I forgive them way too easily?
  • Am I feeling constantly disappointed by their actions?
  • Do I feel like I’m doing myself a disservice when I am with them?
  • Would I genuinely want to be friends with this person if there was no romantic interest involved? 
  • Has my belief system been undermined by this person? Is this person regularly gaslighting me?
  • Have I stayed silent about my innermost opinions at the risk of challenging theirs? 

To learn more about how to spot a narcissist, try this.

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