Our dating world has changed rapidly in the last decade. No longer do people have to put in much effort to meet or court a romantic partner or mate – they simply have to swipe right. While these technological advancements have made it far more easy for people to connect, it’s also caused a lot of disconnection, instant gratification, and even a loss of true intimacy. Research shows that women who experienced online dating for example, encountered pervasive lying, financial scams, and unwanted sexual aggression, while other studies point to increasingly sexually risky behavior and grooming by predators (Choi et al., 2016; Vandeweerd, Myers, Coulter, Yalcin, & Corvin, 2016; Machimbarrena et al., 2018).
With the development of these new dating norms and hookup culture has also come a slew of dating coaches and advice catering to how (women, especially) can obtain a relationship in the midst of all the chaos. While many dating coaches do have helpful advice, there are also many who are misinformed, especially about narcissistic individuals in the dating world. Here are three major myths about narcissists and modern romance which need to be dismantled, pronto:
Myth #1: If you are meeting more than one narcissist in your dating life, you are the problem.
Truth: Meeting more than one narcissist is not just more likely, it’s quite common in today’s dating world, with narcissism and a lack of empathy apparently becoming more common, especially among the younger generation (Twenge and Campbell, 2009; Konrath, O’Brien, & Hsing, 2010). Narcissistic predators now have new tools such as dating apps to use as their hunting ground for victims all over the world. This gives them access to multiple sources of narcissistic supply (praise, admiration, resources, sex, and anything they can use for their benefit). This means they can terrorize multiple victims, all within the same week. No one should be blamed for encountering a manipulator or two on their dating journey. Some manipulators are easier to discern than others, but the more covertly they behave, the more difficult it can be to pinpoint their true character.
It is also worth mentioning that anyone can be the victim of a psychopathic predator. Even Dr. Robert Hare, author of Without Conscience and expert on psychopaths, admits to still being duped occasionally. This is because such manipulators are very charming and have a false mask which can con even the most skilled and knowledgeable of people. Some victims also meet many predators due to the trauma repetition cycle – a cycle where a person is abused in childhood and tends to become more heavily entangled with toxic people in adulthood due to their subconscious programming (Levy, 1988). Yet even then, that still doesn’t mean that it is their fault they were abused in childhood and then later in adulthood – the person who preys on vulnerable people is still the perpetrator, and all the more sick for doing so. You can heal your wounds and work on them without blaming yourself.
There are also people who had happy childhoods who were victims of manipulators. Now, you may be wondering, “But aren’t we responsible for heeding the red flags?” Much of what I write about is raising awareness of red flags and I encourage everyone to be on the lookout for them. Yes, boundaries, healing oneself and learning about red flags can certainly help protect us and we should be cutting ties with toxic people, but some victims are genuinely blindsided by how covert their particular manipulator was, which means none of us are truly immune to encountering someone exploitative, even if we do not enter into a relationship with them. Victims who do get tangled up with narcissists didn’t “choose” an abuser. They chose the false mask. There’s a difference between owning our agency and healing our wounds and blaming ourselves.
Myth #2: They’re not toxic, you just have to “behave” correctly to get a good response and “win them over.”
Truth: You cannot “win over” emotionally unavailable people, players, or toxic narcissists, nor should you want to. Not everyone has a conscience, empathy, or even just the capacity to have a relationship. Only trust dating coaches who encourage standards, heeding the red flags, and self-respect.
A lot of advice (especially the type of advice given to women) by some dating coaches fails to take into the actual dating pool. Tips and tricks to get people to want a relationship with you, or to respond to your messages, or to be interested will only put you in the line of fire with these types. They will see you as an especially juicy target because you’re doing the work of bending over backwards already and toxic people love empathic people who are willing to sacrifice their own needs for them.
Since narcissists do gravitate towards dating apps as a hunting ground and dating apps have become such a popular way to meet people for both the younger and older generation, it is more common than not to swipe right on someone out to take advantage.
Whether they be a garden-variety player or a malignant narcissist, the dating pool is not just filled with wonderful people – it’s also filled with plenty of predators. Be wary of who you’re trying this advice on, and be selective with who you choose to invest your energy in. If someone is not actively reciprocating for whatever reason, move forward to another prospect or take time to heal any self-esteem issues you may have. You never need to convince someone of your worth. If you find yourself twisting yourself into a pretzel, dismissing your boundaries and standards for someone who couldn’t care less, you are in danger.
Remember: you never have to tolerate someone’s mistreatment to be “chosen.” If you find yourself doing that, you are with the wrong person.
Myth #3: You’re not meeting narcissists or toxic people, you’re just “imagining it,” “generalizing,” “calling everyone a narcissist,” being too hard on people or vindictive about people who aren’t meeting your needs.
Truth: Over the course of this work, I’ve corresponded with thousands of survivors of narcissistic people and have heard some of the most horrific abuse accounts. These survivors have undergone chronic emotional, psychological, financial, and sometimes even physical and sexual abuse at the hands of their partners. And even they wrestled with much self-doubt and self-blame before they even awakened to the fact that their abusers were narcissists. I can assure you that very few people use the word “narcissist” liberally. In fact, many women especially tend to rationalize abusive behavior, red flags, and mistreatment before ever even calling someone they’re dating toxic.
There are some dating coaches and victim-blamers who will spout the myth that people are simply “exaggerating” the toxicity of an individual because those individuals did not fulfill some need – like take them out again or text them back. They will even claim that the “dating culture has not changed” and that you are the problem. This is, of course, very invalidating to those people who have been horrified by stalking online as retaliation from a match gone wrong, unsolicited nude photos, or the acceleration of hookup culture – all of which have been made possible by the huge changes in dating culture.
Many survivors know the difference between someone who is simply not available or interested and a malignant narcissist – they have experienced that difference firsthand. Usually the survivor has already experienced the entire abuse cycle with these individuals so the last thing they would be doing is basing their narcissism on a missed text alone or a similar behavior. If a narcissist does not text back, it’s usually part of a calculated silent treatment that has been occurring as a pattern for months or years – it’s not the missed text itself that matters but why they are doing it and the fact that it’s part of a pattern for them to disappear.
Their conclusion that someone may be narcissistic or even psychopathic is based on an abuse cycle which contains the whole gamut of manipulation tactics like gaslighting, projection, stonewalling, slander, sabotage, verbal or even physical abuse. Remember this the next time you hear someone saying, “Everyone thinks their partner is a narcissist nowadays!” Actually, that person may just be waking up to what they experienced. Don’t interrupt their healing.
The Big Picture
You can encourage people to lead better lives, pursue healthy relationships, and confront their wounds – all without ever blaming, shaming, or doubting them for being abused, invalidating their experiences, or making them responsible for the abusive actions of others. Narcissism is increasing exponentially in our dating culture, and while we must keep our eyes open to red flags, we can encourage people to do tremendous healing and inner work without ever engaging in victim-blaming. In this new dating era, it is very likely you will encounter a predator – no one is immune to being manipulated. The earlier you get out, the sooner. We should encourage people to learn about the warning signs, cut ties with toxic people sooner than later, all while granting support and empathy to those who’ve been terrorized.
Garcia, J. R., Reiber, C., Massey, S. G., & Merriwether, A. M. (2012). Sexual hookup culture: A review. Review of General Psychology, 16(2), 161-176. doi:10.1037/a0027911
Hare, R. (2011). Without conscience: The disturbing world of the psychopaths among us. Place of publication not identified: Tantor Media.
Levy M. S. (1998). A helpful way to conceptualize and understand reenactments. The Journal of psychotherapy practice and research, 7(3), 227–235.
Machimbarrena, J. M., Calvete, E., Fernández-González, L., Álvarez-Bardón, A., Álvarez-Fernández, L., & González-Cabrera, J. (2018). Internet Risks: An Overview of Victimization in Cyberbullying, Cyber Dating Abuse, Sexting, Online Grooming and Problematic Internet Use. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health,15(11), 2471. doi:10.3390/ijerph15112471
Twenge, J. M., & Campbell, W. K. (2009). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. New York: Atria Paperback.
Vandeweerd, C., Myers, J., Coulter, M., Yalcin, A., & Corvin, J. (2016). Positives and negatives of online dating according to women 50+. Journal of Women & Aging,28(3), 259-270. doi:10.1080/08952841.2015.1137435