One of the most fascinating dynamics on CBS’s The Big Bang Theory is the relationship between Dr. Sheldon Cooper, BS, MS, MA, PhD, and ScD and his long-suffering roommate, Leonard Hofstadter, Ph.D. Sweet, caring Leonard who is indeed the heart of TBBT and holds it all together.
On the surface, it’s such an unlikely relationship. The sweet, giving, insecure Leonard with the narcissistic “callous egomaniac” Sheldon.
Or is it?
On second thought, there’s nothing unlikely about it at all. It was fated. Supremely logical. It makes sense.
Narcissists seeks out codependents. It’s a “marriage” made in…well, somewhere.
As it turns out, Leonard’s mom, Dr. Beverly Hofstadter, looks an awful lot like a narcissist herself. Or as Leonard puts it, “My name is Dr Leonard Hofstadter, and I could never please my parents so I need to get all my self-esteem from strangers.” Strangely, enough, Leonard is no stranger to the concept of codependence. As he says, “My mother’s a highly regarded psychiatrist and I’ve been in therapy ever since she accused me of breastfeeding codependently.”
Could it be that having a narcissistic parent predestines you to tolerate, even have a comfort level, with narcissists? If my friends on Facebook are anything to go by, the answer is a shriek of “yes!” I’d guess that 98% of them have married at least one narcissist. Sometimes two or three.
Leonard knows how to handle Sheldon. He may not like the dynamic, but it works. He goes along to get along. He’s accustomed to swallowing insults, without showing pain. He tries to establish boundaries, but he can’t enforce them. Sheldon has matters well in hand. His control knows no bounds thanks to the iron-plated, signed, dated and notarized Roommate Agreement.
When Leonard threatens to move out, Sheldon bewails finding a new roommate. “I suppose I’ll have to find and cultivate a new roommate. What a task that will be. Do you know how uncivilized Leonard was when I took him in?…Oh, it took me forever to get him on a bathroom schedule. He would just go whenever the mood struck him.”
And speaking of mind control, it’s not just Leonard who Sheldon tries to turn into his own personal manchurian candidate. His other victim is Penny, their smokin’-hot blonde neighbor and Leonard’s on-and-off girlfriend. In the episode entitled The Gothowitz Deviation, Sheldon rewards Penny with a chocolate each time she pleases him. When she leaves the room, Leonard says…
Leonard: Okay, I know what you’re doing.
Leonard: Yes, you’re using chocolates as positive reinforcement for what you consider correct behaviour.
Sheldon: Very good. Chocolate?
Leonard: No, I don’t want any chocolate! Sheldon, you can’t train my girlfriend like a lab rat.
Sheldon: Actually, it turns out I can.
Leonard: Well, you shouldn’t.
Sheldon: There’s just no pleasing you, is there, Leonard? You weren’t happy with my previous approach to dealing with her, so I decided to employ operant conditioning techniques, building on the work of Thorndike and B.F. Skinner. By this time next week, I believe I can have her jumping out of a pool, balancing a beach ball on her nose….
Sheldon (Squirting him with a water spray): Bad Leonard.
Okay. I admit it. When Sheldon squirted him like a bad cat, I laughed hysterically. But it’s really not funny. Oh that dang narcissism! It’s like that annoying pink bunny. It just keeps going and going and going.
Like all codependents, it’s easier for Leonard to just play along versus fighting for some semblance of normalcy. Getting along hurts. Fighting for normalcy hurts even more.
So Leonard took the compromise I took for three decades. He plays along. But the damage to himself has yet to be tallied. In the moment you take that compromise, it seems like the right choice. In retrospect, not so much.
I know. I was there.