Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chapter 2: Falling in Love with Narcissus

When I was proposed to on August 18, 2006, it felt like a dream. I was so thrilled to be joining the ranks of the “marrieds,” to have a stable life, a little family (of two, for the time being), and someone who would vow never to leave my side. Yet the notions of playing house, and the actual practice, are two very disparate things. I could say that I wish someone had warned me, but honestly, I wouldn’t have even listened. Heck, maybe some people did warn me. If that is the case, clearly I was not prepared to listen and have blocked their words from my mind.

I am pretty sure that our announcement pretty much shocked everyone. James and I had been dating just shy of six months when he proposed. The two of us had met through a mutual friend in the fall of 2005. Sara was the hostess at the restaurant that I worked at the time and had become my partner-in-crime. Together we would attend a weekly quiz night hosted by one of the other waiters. She started bringing along a friend of hers from college to be on our team.

The first time I saw James, his smile charmed me, and as I got to know him, his knowledge impressed me. He was well versed in topics that we two girls would have had no clue about, like old school hip-hop and sports. He was quirky too, with his penchant for Marx Brothers movies and oldies music. He knew, as did I, that when you say forte to refer to someone’s strengths, it is pronounced “fort.” I think I first impressed him when I identified the CD he was playing in the car one day as Nellie McKay, who at the time was a somewhat obscure chanteuse attending Columbia University. Over time we became friends, and one evening he drove me home, and we kissed. The rest, as they say, is history.

I once told James that if I had initially encountered him on an online dating site, I probably would not have agreed to meet him. He was two years my junior, less one day. He lived in Long Island (a long distance relationship, in my mind) with his parents, so he could finally finish up his bachelor’s degree. The reason for his delayed graduation was the birth of his son, so he had to drop out of school for a time to earn money to support the child and its mother. Lastly, if I had seen his photo on this hypothetical dating site, his photogenic good looks would have likely intimidated me. All of these things, on paper (or “on screen” as this scenario dictates) would have deterred me.

My saying so made James furious despite the reason behind my words, which was: none of those things mattered to me because I got to know him for him and not what he was like on paper. I was trying to show that I acknowledged my prejudices and to say that I was proven wrong. He probably still holds those words against me, as he would frequently reference this exchange in arguments as an example of how critical I was of him. The problem was, and likely still is, that he is a narcissist. Certifiable, diagnosed, capital N, Narcissist. This is a fact I learned well into our relationship, and if I recall James dropped this factoid on me during an argument as an excuse for one of his behaviors or actions.

Wikipedia describes Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) as being “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.” So as was the case when I said I wouldn’t have dated his online profile, anything short of praise is read as criticism. NPD is, according to Wikipedia, “indicated by five (or more) of the following:”
  1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. believes that he or she is "special".
  4. requires excessive admiration
  5. has a sense of entitlement
  6. is interpersonally exploitative
  7. lacks empathy
  8. is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes
Wikipedia also lists several hypothetical causes for NPD.
  1. An oversensitive temperament at birth
  2. Overindulgence and overvaluation by parents
  3. Valued by parents as a means to regulate their own self-esteem
  4. Excessive admiration that is never balanced with realistic feedback
  5. Unpredictable or unreliable care giving from parents
  6. Severe emotional abuse in childhood
  7. Being praised for perceived exceptional looks or talents by adults
  8. Excessive praise for good behaviors or excessive criticism for poor behaviors in childhood
Shortly after James’ son Jamie (named after his father, of course) was born this “modern day Narcissus” penned a manifesto. He called it his “Life in Verse,” meant to be “spit” with a hip-hop beat (a non-freestyle freestyle, if you will). Looking at these cause and effects lists side-by-side with his lyrics to me paints a very clear picture that he is indeed a narcissist. It’s like one of those matching games you might do in grade school where you draw lines to connect words from a list on the left to, say, their possible synonyms on a list to the right. For the sake of formatting, I have extracted some corresponding lines from the verse and numbered them according to the two lists above. First, the indications:
  1. Or maybe I'm just some sort of twenty-first century Job
  2. …so I could go back to school/Dean's List consistently
  3. Teachers braggin, "One day, I could say that I taught him"
  4. Persistent feelin like I was in but always kept at a distance [about friends]
  5. So they withheld money from me and was strict as could be [regarding his parents during high school]
  6. Moved my girl in [to his parents’ house]
  7. 3 schools in 4 years, never got close though I had a few friends
  8. Got to stay strong to face the heat cause I wasn't #1 in the class
  9. Attained genius status young, my brain, it was awesome
And then the causes
  1. An oversensitive temperament at birth [this I can’t speak to]
  2. [his brother] moved out with his girl and succeeded [thus leaving essentially an only child]
  3. Parents were dependent, now I'm alone, began makin demands
  4. Attained genius status young, my brain, it was awesome [according to others]
  5. So they withheld money from me and was strict as could be
  6. Emotionally father was fucked, I bottled it up and hobbled along
  7. Teachers braggin, "One day, I could say that I taught him"
  8. Forced to be the smartest, eighty-five just wasn't enough
These examples may not be entirely clear out of context (both of the full verse, and of not having heard his whole story) or are a bit of a stretch, but they give a rough view of who James perceives himself to be in relation to the people in his life. It is probably impossible to love a narcissist because it is impossible to be loved by one. In fact in the spring of 2008, shortly before he left, James began frequently telling me that he didn’t love me anymore, and in fact never loved me at all. Knowing all this now, I have a whole different perspective on the course our relationship took.

But I didn’t know all this back when we first met, and I was ready to fall in love, so it may not have made a difference. The guy I had gotten to know week by week at the quiz night had made it so all those hypothetical online profile red flags weren’t important. James was generous with his time (and fuel), driving me home from work or out to see him in Long Island. He would stay in my Manhattan apartment at night and then in the mornings drive about two hours to his university, on the eastern end of Long Island. For the first couple months we were dating, we didn’t pass a day without seeing each other. We were getting along great, and it just felt right as though the Fates, and not Sara, had brought us together.

Around the time of his graduation in May 2006, James officially moved out of his parents’ house and into my apartment. This was a decision, like many more to follow, that he would later say I pressured him into. Between the dorms, the girlfriend & baby, and his parents, James had never lived on his own. He could have gotten his own apartment and gained some desperately needed independence, accountability and sense of responsibility. But at the time, I did not know of his personality flaws and figured since we spent so much time together it would make fiscal sense to shack up together. At this point the notion that we would end up married had been brought up – by James – so I felt living together was the next logical step in the progression. I see now that that jump from his parents’ house to mine meant that my role to him was not that of live-in girlfriend or even roommate, but of Mommy 2.0. James both loves and detests his mother, so that was not a great position to be put in.

I felt for the first time that James did love me when he asked me to go with him to visit his son. Jamie's mother Lisa had moved him to Summerville, South Carolina where they lived with her new husband Erik and their growing family. We went down for Jamie's birthday, in June 2006. Having heard only one side of the story, I was prepared to hate Lisa. The version I heard had her painted as a trashy, loud, mean, cheating, loser who selfishly kept her son from his father but had a “bangin’ body.” When initially confronted with this supposed monster, I was incredibly confused. Who was this quiet, almost meek girl with her beautiful home and military husband? She certainly didn’t look anything like the photos I’d seen of her from years before. Lisa looked, if anything… kind of like me!

We had a great visit primarily because Jamie is just so freaking sweet and adorable. He looks like a miniature version of his father, but with a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. He is incredibly intelligent and good natured, and has developed evolving passions for Napoleon Dynamite, Sonic the Hedgehog, and most recently Guitar Hero. Over the course of our several visits with him, I don’t think I ever saw him act up or shed a tear. All in all, he was just a joy to be with. So how did he get to be this way with such a “monster” for a mother? Clearly Lisa had done a lot of growing up, in ways her ex-boyfriend, now my boyfriend, had not. I was in love with James though and so was on his side no matter what.

Flash forward to August 18th. I had gone out with my girlfriends during the day and mentioned that I thought a wedding was in the future for us. My recently-engaged friend Cathy got excited to go back on the prowl for jewelry. We started looking at rings on the internet to see what style I might want. I told Cathy that my maternal grandma had given her wedding rings to me for my birthday one year after my grandpa had passed away. I had always hoped to somehow incorporate the stone in a new ring or resize the existing one when I got married.

Upon arriving home that night, James asked me what the girls and I had talked about that day. I mentioned the engagement ring conversation and that I had my Gram's ring. He asked to see the ring, and took it from me to have a closer look. The next thing I knew, James was down on one knee asking me to marry him. In shock and wanting to be sure (in part because we were both a bit tipsy at the time), I kept repeating “For real? For real real?” Every time, he answered “yes.” James told me later that this, much like moving in together, was something I had pressured him into, and that he immediately regretted it upon waking up in the morning. I don’t know if that is just something he said to hurt me, but I do know that I sure as hell didn’t force him down on one knee.

1 comment:

emmablue said...

Polyester Bride is also the name of an eyeshadow at Urban Decay.

I'm not sure the Ex has narcissism so much as he clung to ideas of the Self. Rather than a texture of the Self. We get in trouble when we cling to things, since "stability" and "security" and characteristics are impernanent.

We say "I dont ski, I am tall" bla bla to define who we are, all the while creating boundaries of what we aren't. Rather than embracing the whole/parts of the Great Nest of Being.

But sharing your life with someone is about surrendering, relaxing and no seperation. That is love and that is all I know.