If you have ever signed up for dating apps, you will know this: so many things can be disappointing — even before meeting in real life. The boring conversation starter, the meh response time, the lack of pushing for a date or a too quick pushing for nudes. And don’t get me started on spelling, wah! It can go wrong on so many levels that when you bump into someone who actually seems to be okay, it is hard to make yourself looking for red flags.
After all, you deserve someone who knows the right answers and who wants to get to know you, who doesn’t leave you on ‘read’ and who actually wants to meet you, not just text you endlessly.
When we matched on a dating app and in no time, we were chatting, he was charming and funny; he knew the right answers to everything. It was obvious that he’s not a dummy dater. He used finely crafted pickup lines, spiced with morsels of information he had taken from my profile and from what he learnt from our short conversation. He was paying attention. Big time. And I was bathing in it.
It was refreshing to chat with someone who controlled the situation, who knew what he wanted. He was straightforward and subtle at once. An expert. I should have taken it as a red flag, but hey, this was a dating app — there is no shame in having your way with words.
He was quick to fix a date, he complimented me all the time and made me feel special. We matched on Monday and met on Wednesday afternoon, for a coffee, because he wanted to get to know me better. We spent long hours talking and walking, and he was just as charming and fun to be with as it appeared from the chats. It was going so well.
Things escalated quickly. He promised he would call, and he did. We agreed to meet again, and we did. He showered me with his attention, bombarded me with text messages, we stole moments of our workdays just to spend some minutes together.
It was all great and I was falling fast. He told me the same, he confessed he loved me on our second date, I was holding back so it took me a month to tell him I loved him. I wanted to savour it, taking it slow, but he was jumping in it, with full force and such enthusiasm that left no room for taking it slow. We were “meant to be together”. We had fireworks, great sex, we were falling in love, he was becoming a part of my life in no time.
At the time I had no idea that I met a narcissist, and him “falling in love” was his normal modus operandi.
He reeled me in, he made me believe that I was special, that he has never felt this way. He told me and gave me everything I have ever wanted in a relationship. He was always around, always there, always texting, always talking and listening, always paying attention, always touching me and holding me close. He never stopped showering me with his love, affection, attention.
This should have been another red flag. I was his 24/7 occupation — he ignored everyone and everything that wasn’t related to me.
One of the best phases of a relationship is the start of it… when you meet, and you find that spark that ignites both of you; when you jump into getting to know each other. When you feel that finally someone gets you, wants to be with you and is not afraid to express it.
When getting involved with someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder this immense love that is showered on you is quite normal.
I fell for someone who — looking back on it with a clear head — was clearly showing the traits of the dark triad, as psychologists call it. The dark triad in psychology refers to the personality traits of Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy. They are called “dark” for a good reason, as they are showing malevolent traits. The traits are considered to be distinct, yet more often than not they are overlapping, creating a dangerously manipulative and malignant personality.
- Narcissism is characterized by grandiosity, pride, egotism, and a lack of empathy.
- Machiavellianism is characterized by manipulation and exploitation of others, an absence of morality, and a focus on self-interest and deception.
- Psychopathy is characterized by continuous antisocial behaviour, impulsivity, selfishness, callousness, and remorselessness.
The love of my life had a severe Narcissistic Personality Disorder with psychopathic traits, practising the full-scale toolbox of manipulation and lack of morality of Machiavellism.
Narcissists are believed to have an empty personality with no fixed traits, so they become experts at mimicking the traits of their partner. They like the same music, the same films, they start to use the same expressions, even the same gestures. They go to extreme lengths to fill the void inside them and to get intimate with their partner quite early on. Not just physical intimacy, but also emotionally they are creating a special bond, by the attention, listening and mirroring.
Mirroring is a very good technique to gain the trust of your partner. Taken out of romantic context it is a negotiation and sales technique that is widely used by experts, and it involves body language, meta-communication and use of words too. It is used by therapists, as an ice breaker, when they start to use your words and your expressions to make you feel more understood and at ease.
I thought I met the love of my life, my soul mate, the one I have been waiting for all my life.
It wasn’t that. It was love bombing.
The first people to use the term “love bombing” weren’t psychiatrists and it wasn’t used in relation to romantic relationships: they were members of the Unification Church of the United States. In the 1970s, their founder and leader Sun Myung Moon said:
“Unification Church members are smiling all of the time, even at four in the morning. The man who is full of love must live that way. When you go out witnessing, you can caress the wall and say that it can expect you to witness well and be smiling when you return. What face could better represent love than a smiling face? This is why we talk about love bomb; Moonies have that kind of happy problem.”
The cult leaders Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and David Koresh weaponized love bombing, using it to con followers into committing mass suicide and murder. Pimps and gang leaders use love bombing to encourage loyalty and obedience as well.
Love bombing is an attempt to influence another person with over-the-top displays of attention and affection. It’s not just about romantic gestures, but it includes lots of romantic conversation, long talks about “our future,” and long periods of staring into each other’s eyes.
It works this well because us humans have a natural need to feel good about who we are, and often we can’t fill this need on our own. Sometimes the reason is situational, brought on by an event, like divorce or job loss. Other times, it’s more constant and traces back to our childhood. Whatever the source, love bombers are experts at detecting low self-esteem and exploiting it.
The Cycle of Love Bombing: Idealization, Devaluation, Discard
Love bombing differs from romantic courtship, but not at first sight. The difference becomes visible after two people are officially a “couple.” If these extravagant displays of affection continue indefinitely, if actions match words, and there is no devaluation phase, then it’s probably not love bombing. But if it is love bombing, then brace yourself for impact, as it will just get worse:
I experienced it, they are the perfect charmers. They know all the right words to say and they will gain your trust quickly. They share overly personal, gut-wrenching stories from their past. They will be obsessed with you, talk about the future with high hopes for you two. They will tell you they’ve never felt like this before. They will flatter you, overly so, in such a fashion that they make you feel like they’re running out of time and each second must be spent with you. Their smile radiates warmth and their eyes twinkle at the sight of you. And just when you can’t seem to help but also smile from ear to ear and waiting to hear from them, you realize you’re hooked.
In love bombing, after the Idealisation phase, there is an abrupt shift in the type of attention, from affectionate and loving to controlling and angry, making unreasonable demands, that’s a red flag.
Once they feel confident that they’ve secured you, the mask slips and they begin to show their true colours. The narcissist’s admiration can end as quickly and abruptly as it began. It’s harsh, unexpected and heartbreaking. They become cold, inattentive and indifferent. They become bored easily, and the emotional void you helped them fill at the initial stage begins to wear off. They are now wondering if you can give them what they need; if you’re worthy; if you’re special. Certainly, you cannot be since they no longer feel the high they initially felt.
They disappear and dismiss your feelings and you are left wondering what went wrong. The devalue phase is a crucial part of the cycle, they deliberately mess with your head. This is classic psychological conditioning: love bombing is the positive reinforcement (you do what I want, and I’ll shower you with love), the devaluation is the negative consequence (you did something wrong, so I’m punishing you).
If you point out any of their wrongdoings, you’ll be met with resistance and criticism. A narcissist will not take any blame. They will begin to undermine you, while putting themselves on a pedestal, speaking highly of themselves. Their self-worth is completely dependent on your and other’s admiration. Once you take that away from them, once you abandon them, they no longer have any need for you.
Then there comes a point when you are no longer of any value to the narcissist. They will easily humiliate you, leave you for another, compare to you to their exes and future targets. They ignore you, stonewall you, ghost you without looking back. This is intended to hurt and traumatise you without any closure.
You can never leave, how dare you! But they are entitled to play with you, leave you and when they get bored with someone else, the reserve their rights to come back at any time. And they do come back, they always do. And the vicious cycle begins. They act like the same charming person that first lured you in, maybe even throwing in some more attractive promises, some more affection. This is a tactic to again gain your trust, make you believe they’re remorseful, that they can and will change, only to use you once again. They revel in the fact that you were so devastated, hurt and confused. It gives them a sense of power, and there is nothing to stop them — as you are playing along with them, you are a sensitive human being, acting perfectly as they planned it out for you.
The red flags
It is very difficult to see the red flags if this is your first encounter with a narcissist. Idealisation looks like the perfect start of a relationship and depending on your natural scepticism it lasts as long as they need to reel you in completely.
There are a couple of things that should keep you alert when hearing, experiencing them from someone you just met.
“We are soul mates.”
You just met and they get you. They don’t know you, but they get you. It sounds really romantic and who doesn’t want to be seen and understood. But can this really happen? We over-romanticise the connection and chemistry of fresh love. It is possible to be on the same wavelength and somehow just click, but if they know you better than anyone who you have ever met in your life, including your childhood best friends — that is a huge red flag. Watch out.
“Look how bright our future looks.”
It is a good thing to plan ahead and it’s even better if you see yourselves growing old together, but talking about marrying, having a dozen kids and being buried together belongs to a later stage of a relationship. If the talks about the future are happening overwhelmingly soon or are based on values you haven’t even discussed, there is a high chance that it is about something else, not love. Not sustainable love.
“You are perfect.”
No one is. It is great to be appreciated and valued for who you are, but when you are shown a mirror, where you cannot even recognise yourself, it’s not something to shrug off. You don’t need someone who thinks you are perfect; you need someone who appreciates you even if you are imperfect in ways. Perfection is not sustainable — it cannot last. Pedestals are not the right place to be, it is easy to fall off, losing everything.
What to do then?
Slow things down. Talk about it, communicate, tell them you appreciate the attention, but things are moving too fast. The suggested test for any narcissist is to say “no” to them. If they cannot take no for an answer, if they make a scene about you wanting to slow down or needing time alone, it is already a sign. Besides, taking it slower will allow you to enjoy the thrill of the first phase a little longer.
Look for actions. They speak louder than words. If their words and actions are not in sync, that’s a big red flag. If the talk of you, the talk of the future and the promises never get to be realised, you might be hooked by a narcissist.
Listen and hear. Listen carefully to what he says, and don’t be afraid to challenge them. Try to hear what they are saying, not just things you want to hear. They are very good manipulators, but they let their masks slip every now and then and they disclose important information hidden in their sentences, to test you and provoke you. If they say they are not good enough for you… hear it — it is probably true.
Love can be too much. Early displays of too much affection can be too much. It does feel good, but it’s not always worth it.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t trust anyone. I’m saying you should be careful. Your instincts are there for a reason. Don’t suppress them — not even for the love of your life.