Confidence is Attractive. Narcissism? Repellent.

Please read this disclaimer before reading this post.

Note: this post is I-swear-to-$DEITY the last post about the date I had with the batshit crazy girl known as Jen Friel. If you’re sick of hearing about her, just skip this post altogether. But if you’re game for one final round, here goes...

I once asked my therapist if I’m a narcissist. She laughed and said, “the proof you’re not a narcissist is that you’re self-aware enough to even ask the question.”

A few years ago I dated someone who I now know has borderline personality disorder (she cops to this diagnosis on her blog, but I won’t link to it out of respect for her privacy). She did not start getting therapy for it until long after we split up. Not because of anything I did, but because she’s finally mature enough realize that only she is the common denominator in all her problems.

And I now realize that Jen Friel is a narcissist.

What’s interesting to me is how much I’ve changed in the few years between those encounters.

First, a little background. Narcissists have a way of dragging others into their problems, then making them feel responsible. For a good example of this, read the biography of Steve Jobs. One of his early girlfriends talks about his unique ability to make her feel like his bad behavior was her fault.

So the first time I ran into this, I did what Jobs’ girlfriend did: I blamed myself. Why can’t I make this person happy? It was only through lots of therapy that I realized it was pointless even to try. Which is not to say I don’t have my own issues to deal with, but the path to longterm happiness is this: focus on what you control and ignore the rest. I’ve slowly adopted that attitude in all my decisions over the past few years and I feel at peace and empowered in a way that I once thought was impossible.

So when Jen wrote about my scary eye contact, and suggested that I flew her to Colorado to get business advice, my reaction was to just laugh.

And that’s probably where this post should end, but because I’m an INTJ, I did some more introspection. INTJ’s are good at pattern matching, so I looked back on the weekend, compared it to my previous experiences and tried to figure this out like an engineering problem.

Finally, it hit me: she really does think she’s the center of the universe!

She will even admit this, in a way. She refers to this trait as “confidence.” Which it is, though magnified well out of proportion, and perhaps explains why so many movie stars are narcissists. In a business full of rejection, it’s very helpful to have a personal reality distortion field. Numerous times Jen referred to the truckloads of confidence she’s had since childhood.

But the true sign of narcissism rather than confidence is the story she tells herself about what actually happened. It consists of three proposition:  1) that I am attracted to her, 2) that I want her advice and especially 3) that this is anything approaching a conventional date.

Let’s deal with the attraction part first. (I was advised by a friend to leave this out, but I’m a guy and looks matter to us, so here goes.)

Physically Jen did not do it for me. She’s reasonably cute, but no more so than anyone else I’ve dated, and definitely not the kind of person that makes me think “Wow!” when I look at her. That’s okay, though, because I look at the total package, not just whether she’s pretty. I only wanted to share this for all you guys for whom this unspoken question is top of mind. (That is, every single one of you. 😉

Intellectually, she’s reasonably intelligent but speaks in cliches. To give an example, she responds to a lot of comments with “Absolutely,” which I find grating. Not because I hate the word, but because people who use that are typically on autopilot mode. They aren’t listening and considering what you actually say. They’re just acting out rituals.

Now, regarding business advice.

I’ll start with the obvious: On what planet could she possibly think someone would fly her across the country for advice?!

She seems to think I was pitching a startup to her, which is emphatically not the case. I have my hands full with my current startup. I am pursuing a side project about the entertainment industry, and it may have career ramifications down the road, but at this point I’m just curious to learn more about the industry.

This is what is commonly known as an interest. I also have other interests: salsa dancing, entrepreneurship, fitness, politics, psychology (yes, including depression), economicseducation reform and lately marijuana legalization.

We talked to some degree about all these interests because, you know, they are interesting to me. As with any date, I probed her interests as well and calibrated my conversation based on her verbal and nonverbal feedback. For her to zoom in just on the startup part and make it the centerpiece of our “date” suggests a highly inflated sense of her own importance. Sound familiar?

Bluntly, we did not have an actual conversation. Rather, she established an internal model of what the conversation should be about — her amazing business genius, natch — and processed the entire experience from that distorted viewpoint. It was confirmation bias to a shocking degree. Not just about a particular topic, but of the entire framework of our interactions. “I am a business genius. This guy is talking about business. Ergo, he’s a loser who desperately needs my brilliant insight.”

Finally, about the “date” part.

I suggested a date as a cute little framing device. A pretext for two adventurous people to take a risk. It worked out great for me in New York, which is why I linked to it in my original email to her.

An actual romantic connection, however, was extremely unlikely. Why? Well, let’s look at it logically by asking, “what is the most likely outcome of a first date from someone you’ve never met and who lives a thousand miles away?”

In the best-case, romantic comedy view of the world, we meet in person, are instantly smitten and next thing you know we’re making serious compromises in order to sustain a long distance relationship. While it can happen, I’ve been on enough dates and in enough relationships to know that this is a really stupid thing to even fantasize about. Odds of it happening: 0.000001 %

The most likely case: we get together, don’t really feel any attraction, but because of certain similarities (cultural tastes, career interests, we move in common circles) we develop a friendship. It could be shallow Facebook friends, or something more meaningful. I have a lot of friends in both categories. Odds of Facebook friends: 50%. Odds of something meaningful: 10%

Another case: we are both delighted to discover that there is mutual attraction, we have fun together, maybe there’s a romantic spark. But we are mature adults with our own lives that do not intersect very often, so we friend each other on Facebook, occasionally notice each other in our respective feeds and smile to ourselves. I have several friends who fit this definition. Odds: 5%

And the final case, the one I least expected, the worst case scenario: we repel each other. Not attraction, but loathing. I’m not the kind of person who has enemies, so this is really an edge case for me. Odds: 1%

Congratulations, Jen! You’re part of the 1%!

(Aside: It turns out Jen has compiled these statistics herself and they are about what I estimated.)

I’ve been on at least 150 dates over the last 3-4 years. Most of them didn’t get to a second date, some did, and a few blossomed into relationships. I got rejected quite a few times and did plenty of my own rejecting. Such is life in the dating market.

And we now know those dates included two narcissists.

The math: 2 narcissists/150 dates = 1.3%, roughly matching the incident rate of narcissism in the general population.

The first narcissist nearly drove me insane. The second one made me thankful for my own sanity.


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One Response to Confidence is Attractive. Narcissism? Repellent.

  1. Hillary says:

    Oh, Derek I’m so sorry. I have a total spidey sense for borderline boys. My sense is so well honed I can pick them out off dating sites. Perhaps they just have a twinkle in their eye? Dating your way through the DSM-IV is no way to live!

    Tell you what, next time you wanna fly a random girl out to Colorado I’m down. I can write in actual paragraphs.

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