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Dating a narcissist: The signs, how to cope and when to leave

by eharmony Editorial Team - April 25, 2024

You’ve met someone – they’re funny, charming, and treat you like royalty. As the relationship progresses, however, you start to notice more and more less-than-great things about them – they’re very self-centered, have trouble empathizing with you, and even try to gaslight you. If you have experienced this, the odds are you’re dating a narcissist. In this article, we’ll look at what narcissism is, what the signs of narcissism are, and how to deal with a narcissist. We’ll also look at what leaving a narcissist safely takes, as many narcissists can lash out when they feel they’ve been denied something they’re entitled to.

What is narcissism, anyway? How does it affect relationships?

While it’s common to dismissively call someone a narcissist for, say, posting too many photos on social media, Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a real mental health condition. It’s defined by The Mayo Clinic as “a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. Those with narcissistic personality disorder believe that they’re superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem, vulnerable to the slightest criticism.”1 Narcissistic personality disorder affects 0.5% of the US population, or about 1 in 200 people, and about 75% of diagnosed sufferers are men2.

Dating a narcissist can be hard for many reasons. While many narcissists are charming and will, at least in the initial stages of a relationship, shower you with compliments and affection, they have a sense of entitlement and lack empathy. This lack of empathy means they also have a tendency to exploit others, even people who care about them, for their own ends. They also require constant admiration,attention, and will lash out if they don’t feel like they’re getting enough.

Traits and signs of Narcissism you should know

The American Psychiatric Association has a list of narcissist traits that must be exhibited for someone to be clinically diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder, but what does that look like in real life? Here are some signs you might be dating a narcissist:

  • They overshare early in the relationship
  • They love-bomb you and generally try to move too fast too soon
  • It’s all about them and their life
  • They try to control you
  • They try to manipulate and even gaslight you
  • They lack empathy and cannot be vulnerable

As one of eharmony’s relationship experts Dr Lalitaa Suglani sums it up: “In a relationship, a narcissist often displays manipulative and controlling behaviours, seeking power and dominance. They may show a lack of empathy for their partner’s feelings and needs, prioritising their own desires above all. Communication tends to be one-sided, with the narcissist frequently interrupting or dismissing their partner’s opinions. They may also engage in gaslighting, invalidating their partner’s experiences and emotions to maintain control. Additionally, narcissists may exhibit grandiosity and arrogance, belittling their partner or seeking admiration and praise. Their behaviour in a relationship is characterised by a pattern of self-centeredness and exploitation, often leaving their partner feeling emotionally drained and invalidated.”

Since narcissists are also often very good at being charming, especially upon first acquaintance, it can be very difficult to distinguish between the beginnings of a narcissistic relationship and someone who is genuinely crazy about you. One way to tease out their real character is to be firm about your boundaries – there’s very little a narcissist likes less than being told no. Another way is to see how they react to being told they’re wrong – narcissists are often obsessed with being right and will refuse to acknowledge or apologize when they’ve made a mistake. The best way to figure out if you’re dating a narcissist, though, is simply to be aware of dating red flags.

The emotional and psychological toll of dating a narcissist

As you can imagine, dating a narcissist is no easy feat. A healthy relationship is based on balance, and dealing with a narcissist is all take and no give. Additionally, many narcissists do not have empathy, meaning that they see nothing wrong with emotionally manipulating and even gaslighting their partners. Their sense of entitlement leads them to believe that they deserve a perfect partner, and they will have no qualms criticizing or even abusing said partner when they fail to live up to the narcissists’ impossible standards. Bluntly, dating a narcissist can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health.

Is it even possible to be in a healthy relationship with a narcissist? We asked relationship expert Dr Lalitaa Suglani and she answered: “Being in a healthy relationship with a narcissist is challenging and often unsustainable due to their ingrained patterns of manipulation and self-centeredness. There may be temporary periods of harmony but the underlying dynamics typically lead to emotional and psychological harm for the non-narcissistic partner. We need to be mindful that healthy relationships are built on mutual respect, empathy, and genuine connection, qualities that are incompatible with the narcissistic mindset. Ultimately, attempting to maintain a healthy relationship with a narcissist may result in ongoing frustration, emotional distress, needs not being met and compromised well-being for the non-narcissistic partner.”

Tips and tricks for dealing with a narcissist

For some people, the pros of dating a narcissist outweigh the cons, at least temporarily, or they are not in a situation where they can safely leave the relationship. In such a situation, the following tips on dating a narcissist might be helpful:

  • Set boundaries: Setting boundaries with a narcissist is the key to successfully dating one. Set yours early and be consistent about enforcing them.
  • Communicate clearly: Narcissists thrive on drama, so don’t give it to them. Do your best to communicate your needs as calmly as possible and use tools like active listening and structured conversations to reduce conflict.
  • Agree to disagree: Narcissists love being right, so don’t give them the opportunity to browbeat you into an argument. Instead, insist that you can have different opinions.
  • Maintain your independence: Narcissists want to be the sun you revolve around, but that isn’t healthy or realistic. Insist on having your own life and keeping up your own relationships with other people, as well as your own hobbies and interests.
  • Learn about narcissism: Knowledge is power, and this list of books3 about narcissism is a good starting point. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to balance dating a narcissist while keeping your own mental health intact.

Hit the road, Jack: when to leave a narcissistic relationship

There comes a point where you realize that dating a narcissist isn’t working for you anymore. Perhaps you’ve hit your limit, or perhaps you’ve realized the relationship is physically or emotionally abusive. Maybe you’ve come to a point where the bad parts of the relationship are outweighing the good.

Leaving a narcissist is harder than leaving a normal relationship, but it can be done. Some things to keep in mind when ending a relationship with a narcissist:

  • Have a plan and prioritize safety.
  • Surround yourself with supportive people.
  • Go no contact and purge any reminders of the relationship.
  • Remind yourself you deserve better.
  • Don’t believe they will change, they won’t, and you’ve already tried several times!

Tips for healing after dating a narcissist

It can take time to recover from the damage done by a narcissistic relationship. There are, however, ways to speed the process along:

  • Create a list of all the reasons you left to remind yourself why ending things was a good idea
  • Surround yourself with people who will uplift and care for you
  • Make time for self-care and working on yourself in a healthy way
  • Seek out professional help for dealing with any trauma from the relationship and to help you make better choices in the future
  • A narcissist will always come back when they lack supply, don’t give in

You deserve better than a narcissistic relationship

While dating a narcissist can have its advantages – they can be charming, fun, and easy to be around, at least when you’re on their good side – a narcissistic relationship is all too often a bad one. Learning more about narcissism can help you successfully navigate a relationship with one, at least for a little while. Once you’ve left that behind, though, it’s time to try eharmony. Our Compatibility Matching System means you’re only paired with people who share your values and are looking for a serious relationship, just like you. Sign up for eharmony and take the first step on the path to real love today.

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