Breaking Up: Inside the Mind of a (Recovering) Male Narcissist

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I have heard far too many tales of how poorly men deal with ending relationships. It hurts seeing the pain such behavior causes. One particular client, whom I treated for many years, exemplifies the inner workings of the modern male narcissist. He asked me to tell his story publicly, not just as penance but to help women avoid the trap men set for them and help men mend their ways (as he hopes he has). The following are his words, unedited.

I wanted to go out so badly with Chelsea, but she kept saying no. She heard about my reputation as a player and wasn’t interested. But I eventually wore her down by sending witty texts and passing along interesting blog posts and snippets from Times articles. Finally, she agreed to one date, which led to many more. I made it a practice of being available to her 24/7 for any reason; complimenting her slender yoga-toned figure and natural look; and giving her excellent advice on how to deal with the sexism on her job in commercial real estate. I told her early on how I could see us getting married and having kids. She was so accepting of my idiosyncrasies like occasionally reading while I eat; always having to sleep on the right side of the bed; and not liking to travel. She tolerated my whining about the constant demands of my family for financial help. She watched out for my health, discouraging me from consuming my usual repertoire of junk food, helping me beat my Snickers addiction. Gentlemanly discretion prevents me from mentioning our sexual relationship except to say there were no problems there.

But, after three months, it just wasn’t working for me. I cannot truly tell you why. I just felt less attracted to her, everything seemed so humdrum, routine. I found myself eyeing random women on the street, flirting with them at conferences. It wasn’t exciting for me anymore. I was missing out on other opportunities.

I felt squeamish contemplating how to dump her, especially when I made no previous attempt to express any dissatisfaction in the relationship, mostly because I didn’t experience any dissatisfaction with her. I dreaded the moment when she would ask me why I was breaking up with her. I could ghost her, seeing that as easier than confessing that I’m having thoughts and fantasies about other women. But that would not be the right thing to do, would it? I could change my Facebook status or begin telling friends I was losing interest. But that seemed no better than ghosting, perhaps worse.

I could do what I have done before with girlfriends: be less available, see them less frequently on weekends, and wait a few hours before returning texts. Girlfriends would eventually see that I was losing interest despite providing semi-credible reasons for my fading presence. They would inevitably get frustrated, accuse me of all sorts of passive-aggressive behavior, and finally dump me. I thought I had hit on a brilliant way to make prospective ex-girlfriends feel empowered by their decisions to end the relationship.

I understand how hard it is to break up with someone when they profess their love for you. After all, I don’t think that I am completely devoid of empathy. It would hurt me to see her so hurt, or maybe I would just feel uncomfortable. I want to leave Chelsea feeling empowered, not in shambles. So, I could start an affair and “accidentally” leave my computer open or leave text messages in plain sight so she can “discover” what’s going on. When she confronts me, I would guiltily admit the truth. When she suggests couples counseling to work through the crisis, I would decline, leading her to end the relationship.

But, in my growth as a person, I have no choice but to be direct in breaking up with her. After all, she is a good person; she doesn’t deserve to be treated badly. So I met with her and basically used something out of the typical male playbook: It’s not you it’s me; I have commitment problems; if I were to be with anyone, it would be you hands down. To assuage a twinge of guilt and not lose all the benefits of knowing her, I proposed being “friends.” I stayed in touch, texting her trenchant observations on Trump world and sharing social media pics of me at one social event or another. I knew it would make her happy if I was happy. I knew she still loved me but rationalized the contact was for her benefit so that she would not feel abandoned — all laudable instincts, at least I thought so at the time.

However, it slowly began to dawn on me that the only chance she had of moving on was to be absolutely rid of me — to hear nothing from me, to never see my lousy face again. Caring enough to leave her alone would be to my credit. And I could feel proud over how considerate and thoughtful I am. So, I sat down with her one last time and told her I needed to leave her alone for her sake. This time, I managed to listen to how angry and hurt she was. She cried.

I have not had any contact with her for six months. I make sure she doesn’t see any of my Facebook posts or Instagrams. I do not socialize at any event that she or any of her friends may be attending. I did not continue friendships with any of the couples with whom Chelsea and I socialized so she would hear nothing about me in any way.

I have come to realize that, while I can fake it, I am not equipped to relate to the feelings of others. All my attention is on what I feel or need. And I have always made excuses for acting in the way I did. I wanted to be a good person but just did not know how. So, while I cannot change the wires in my screwed-up brain, I can totally control how I behave with women. And I do not want to go down as one of those scumbags who uses women.

I know this intention, however noble, will not be enough. I have to set up rules for myself that I will never violate, no matter how I feel in the moment. That means when I meet a woman I like, I will not rush her, deluging her with texts or seeing her more than two times a week. I will not have sex with a woman until dating her for three months, thus allowing myself to pass through the infatuation stage which, I now know, was more about feeling good about myself or just being on a high. I will make no promises about the future until I have known a woman for six months, even if she brings up the subject. I will try to express a complaint or problem the moment I am first aware of it (that is going to be hard).

I know these things sound strange and mechanical but I do not know what else to do. At the very least, it is a start in trying to act like a decent human being.

Challenger of assumptions. People worker. Recovering nihilist.

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