Dating in the time of narcissism

I like to think of myself as a generally positive person, but I have my pet peeves. Self-absorption is one of them, although I’m guessing I can act in ways that seem self-centered to others.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed others acting in ways that seem narcissistic. The visitors to the church next to my house who park extending two feet into my driveway. The woman at exercise class who put her bag on top of mine along the wall, meaning I would have to move it when I needed to get my weights out, when there was plenty of other space available for her to put her bag.

However, it’s in the dating world that this self-focus can be glaring. In the span of a week, two men who have shown interest in me have committed what I consider egregious acts of selfish behaviors.

Last week I hosted a small pot luck dinner party. Potential suitor #1 called a few days before to RSVP and asked what he could bring that didn’t require cooking, since he doesn’t cook. I suggested he bring a few bottles of wine, explaining no one else had volunteered that. He thought that was a superb idea and said he’d see me two days hence.

The appointed gathering time came and went. The other guests arrived with their contribution One brought a bottle of wine. After waiting an hour, we decided to eat without Suitor #1. I checked my cell phone numerous times thinking he would call to explain his absence. He never did. Not that evening, the next day, nor yet.

I scratch my head wondering how could someone who knew they had a key component to a small collaborative dinner party fail to arrive, and then to not even call to explain himself. Might he have had some emergency? I am tempted to call, but think he would have reached out if this were so. If/when he ever does call, I have my first words ready: “I’m glad you’re out of the coma, as that’s the only acceptable explanation for your not showing up for a small soiree to which you knew you were bringing a key component.” I doubt he’ll call back after that.

Today, another example occurred. Potential Suitor #2 and I have met several times and speak regularly even though we live 1000 miles apart. He’s flown to visit me a few times. On an upcoming trip, I was going to be changing planes in his city, so before I booked the ticket I called and asked if he wanted to rendezvous and if so, I’d arrange for a very early flight into his city, and a later-than-needed flight to my destination. He thought that was great, telling me he knew the perfect restaurant where we could linger for hours and enjoy each other’s company.

I sent him my itinerary with flight information.

I texted him when my flight landed telling him I’d arrived. Nothing back. I called when I exited the secure area. Voice mail. I texted again, nothing. Called again. Voice mail. I waited 30 minutes and tried again. I decided he forgot or changed his plans and forgot to tell me. I entered the long security line and headed toward the gates. I had 4.5 hours to kill.

Two hours after our appointed meeting time he called. He had forgotten. He apologized profusely and said he’d be right out to the airport, a 30-minute drive. I said I was very upset, as I’d gotten up at 4:00 to take the earlier flight when I could have taken a later one. I’d been waiting for him for 2 hours. He shouldn’t bother coming as I wasn’t in the mood. He said he understood why I was upset and apologized again. We hung up.

We all make mistakes. We forget. We’re not as organized as we should be and something slips. I’m willing to forgive if it happens once in a blue moon, but only if the person has some deposits in their Bank of Grace. Both these men had made promises in the past they hadn’t kept. Usually that’s enough for me to cut ties. They are both intelligent, articulate, fun, and good conversationalists. I gave them grace in the past. But these transgressions are the nails in the coffin.

We all know that someone’s behavior screams the kind of person they are. Yet if we like them, we allow them grace, which can be kind. However, if their self-absorption happens way too often, no matter how interesting they are, we have to respect ourselves enough to not let their less-than-thoughtful behavior stand. We have to cut the ties or they will continue, as it’s doubtful their behavior will change.


To see what other head-scratchers you may encounter, get your copy of Embracing Midlife Men: Insights Into Curious Behaviors.


13 responses to “Dating in the time of narcissism”

  1. Catherine Avatar

    Sorry to hear about this. Not that you are asking for my advice, but mine would be that when people do stuff like this, it’s usually part of their character. I always try to remind myself of this quote:

    “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
    — Maya Angelou

  2. Leah A Avatar

    I am totally with you on this. I agree that if someone has built up some credit, so to speak, they can make an occasional mistake. But those who do it too often and too soon…are out.

    Both of the situations you described are uncool–and unacceptable.

    I look forward to reading more here on your site. It’s excellent! I just started a blog, btw, that’s connected to yours with a dotted line. It’s about women who do stupid things when they get into relationships. I’m sure you’ve come across the type of “friend” who disappears the minute she meets a man since her identity is wrapped up in having one. Or the kind who’s supposed to be comforting you after a break-up, but instead, goes on and on about how great her guy is or–worse yet–makes out with him in front of you.

    Anyway, I really enjoyed your post and can’t wait to read more!

  3. Max Avatar

    There may be a fine line between forgetting due to narcissim and forgetting because of being busy. For suitor #1, its just downright rude. I wouldn’t waste any time on him. For number two, considering the amount of effort involved, “forgetting” doesn’t make sense.

    Interestingly, I’m in a similar situation, but slightly different, of people “forgetting”. I’ve bein in email conversations where the woman is keen to meet up, and when I propose a date, the wires go quiet.

    If one is truly interested, forgetting doesn’t seem to make much sense. It only takes a moment to spit out a quick email or text to say “I’m very busy, can we do this next week.” or something, especially in this wired/wireless world.

    In my case, I just dismissed her. Should she write back, well, I’ll decide the tact at that point.

  4. Mark Avatar

    Yes, many people are selfish and they don’t realize it.

    Your first example is really inexcusable, as you said. I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

    I’m sure the second guy did just forget. My only question about that is how much of a gap in time was there between when you and he made plans to meet during your stopover and the day of your stopover? My tendency would be to make contact no later than a day or two before to once again confirm the meeting. It is easy to forget at times if it’s been days or even a week or two since you had the discussion.

    I also sometimes wonder how many times we meet someone and we make it onto that person’s list as an interesting and potential dating partner, but it never gets beyond mild interest with that person? I think we often want to keep our options open, yet we are really waiting to meet that person that will spark a fire inside us. In the meantime, we keep others on the list.

  5. Julie Avatar

    I think most of us have just a few people we can rely on.

    I think it’s great to extend the circle waaaay out beyond that inner circle… I would count on being disappointed many times over as the numbers game is played with complete strangers, and aquaintances, in the quest to find Mr. Right.

    I am happy with the few I can rely on, and dont expect anything from the rest. If someone shows me something, I take note… and then things can maybe grow from there.

  6. Anna Avatar

    DG, I am sorry that you had to experience two disappointments. For that is what they are. We have normal expectations for how decent human beings should behave based on social norms. I think both situations reveal people whom you would be better off without. I know that sounds blunt but you are worth way more than that.

  7. Wayne Avatar

    I agree with Mark on the first guy, sounds like a xxxx and like you said only some kind of super major event could possibly make me excuse that kind of behaviour.

    However I disagree with Mark on the second guy regardless of time between making the arragement and actually making the flight. It’s not like you lived in the same town and you suggested that you should meet for coffee! You arranged flight plans around something he said he would do! People who are genuinely busy (which I consider myself to be) tend to attempt to be relatively organised, and with todays technologies (smart phones, laptops, old school calenders) there is no real excuse.

    I consider people who waste other people time (including people who do that “I must purposely be late for a date”) rude and therefore I would have also kicked him to the kerb for leaving me waiting them for hours.

    I also see your point about the more you like someone the more grace you give them because there has been times in the past where I have mugged myself off allowing people to be really selfish around me and I tolerated it and they didn’t change.

    Now, I’m pretty ruthless when it comes to selfish people, I think a lack of effort shows a lack of interest and that cannot be good at the start of any relationship! But it may also explain why I’m single 🙂

    Rant over… over and out…

  8. Katie Avatar

    Self-centered, forgetful, vainglorious, snobbish, thoughtless, discourteous, conceited, presumptuous or egotistical potential suitors will be immediately disqualified in my book. If these men were true narcissists, however, wouldn’t they behave with manipulative and malicious intent? I apologize for picking nits over your word choice; you are in a position to know their motives, not I. After enduring dealings with a few bona fide narcissists, I tend to bristle at having what may be rude boorish behavior lumped into the horrifically disordered category. (Bottom line: neither variety can be taught, trained, or rehabilitated — but one is way way way worse.)

    Thanks for yet another reminder that manners mean a great deal.

  9. Mark Avatar

    “However I disagree with Mark on the second guy regardless of time between making the arragement and actually making the flight.”

    My point wasn’t that he should be excused for being forgetful, though there’s nothing wrong with being forgiving, but that as a matter of practicality I would make a point of contacting someone a day or so before arriving in town, simply as a reminder.

    Let me put it another way. I think an arranged meeting where two people haven’t talked to one another for more than several days prior is just a potential problem with forgetfulness. As a middle-aged person, I am sympathetic with forgetfulness.

  10. Tina T Avatar

    I think that the no-show is the worst of all offenses, especially these days when everyone has access to a cell phone pretty much 24/7. Set a reminder on your phone, every single one has some type of calendar and reminder system. If it were a job interview the men would have been there no matter what came up. So yes, short of a coma or death, there is no excuse for not making a simple call to say they cannot make it.

  11. Mark Avatar

    “Set a reminder on your phone….”

    Heh. No idea how to do this.

    I don’t forget things that are a couple of days away, but if I made an appointment that is a week or more in the future, that’s something I can forget. I’ve missed a doctor’s appointment before like that.

    I’m not really defending the guy here, but if I had a date planned and hadn’t spoken or emailed the lady in several days, I think I’d call the day before and confirm once again. What does it hurt?

  12. Mitsy Avatar

    Some of those scenarios are why I haven’t done online dating in several years now. I have found a lot of men to be very self-centered or thoughtless when it came to dating. With your scenario #1, I think I would have made at least one phone call to see what the hold-up was. How embarrassing, esp. when there were other people there to witness the rude stand-her-up routine he pulled.
    With scenario #2, I would also be livid and being “forgotten” shows just how flaky he was. At least he did apologize even if he didn’t have a good reason.

    I agree, though, that we have to cut bait when men behave so badly that we can’t overlook it yet again. My experiences with dating has been that the guy should be putting on his very BEST behavior in the beginning. When he can’t manage to do that or ends up taking you for granted early on in the relationship, that doesn’t bode well for the future with him. It’s usually wise to not get too entangled if you see that they are not making you any kind of priority in their life.

  13. Joan Avatar

    I think flaking out is generally not a good indication of their reliability. It seems perhaps some people may genuinely forget- but it also means that they did not care enough about the appointment to write it down or set reminders for themselves. Like a poster mentioned: would they forget an interview?

    As with some people, they also find it hard to say no, it may be their passive-aggro way of avoiding certain things (intimacy, crowds or responsibility) by choosing to forget. If u call them on it, they may apologise but do the same thing again.

    It doesn’t matter how smart or how good you get along with them.. until they solve their flakiness, u have to accept their behavior. Or just cut loose.

    Of course, it can be entirely possible that some people suffer from some memory loss because of health.. that’s a different matter. 🙂