As much as I advise against untangling the skein of fuckupedness, we chumps (myself included) spend a lot of time decoding cheaters, narcissists, and the other assorted wing nuts in our lives. But really, the best policy once you’ve determined someone is toxic is to steer clear. File them under “Creep” and adjust your life accordingly.
But the skein is so compelling. If we could just find that one unified thread that explains them, it would all make sense. One hazard of untangling the skein for chumps is that it leads to compassion. You might happen upon something that makes you feel sorry for that person. The humiliation she suffered in 8th grade. The way he’s always had to overcompensate because of his club foot. Her phobias around bridges, public speaking, and marsupials. His faulty neurotransmitters that make him socially awkward. Her fucked up parents. His first wife.
The problem with this is two-fold. If we point to some constellation of fuckupedness and think, “Oh THAT explains them”… now I just need to avoid everyone who is a Scorpio and phobic about marsupials and everything will be fine, we’re missing the point. Naming the skein doesn’t make it any less of a tangled mess. Second, thinking we understand the skein is a form of spackle. It gives some credence to Why They Act The Way They Do and allows us to give them a pass and us a false sense of security. It’s better to focus on yourself — is it okay for this person to treat me this way? And fight or flee. Which is a superior strategy to staying mired in the relationship asking yourself, “why do they treat me this way?”
When you are detaching from a narcissist ask yourself what you saw in that person. Untangle your own skein (you know it better than anyone else). Yeah, it’s not as fun. If you’ve ever had a good therapist, you know they’ll make you squirm, call you out on your shit. I’m not saying you’re not a victim of wing nut. The pain those motherfuckers inflict is hugely disproportionate to the crime of being a chump, but I encourage you to look at your own dynamics with narcissists. When you figure that out, then you’ll have the winning strategy for spotting them and avoiding them.
I think one reason chumps are initially attracted to sparkly people is that they are nothing like us. I’m not saying chumps aren’t charming or accomplished, but we tend to be self deprecating about it. One thing that all chumps have in common is that they are exceptionally responsible people. They feel the obligations of duty to their families, to their jobs. Chumps are conscientious. Narcissists, on the other hand, are quite liberated from conscientiousness.
A bit of tangent here — cheating is a narcissistic act. I do not think all cheaters are narcissists, as in personality disordered wing nuts. However, I do think that anyone who can conduct an affair for any significant amount of time is probably disordered. Healthy people don’t juggle double lives. To me, this degree of consciousness divides the cheaters. Someone with more of a conscience will confess, won’t cross certain lines (EA to PA, although I think these people are rare). More likely, they just exit the relationship. They’re not in it for the cake.
The cake eaters, however, those who lead double lives with proficiency — these people are free from the bonds that tie ordinary people.
And chumps — I believe many of us can sniff that out on a person and find it attractive. I know I did. I’m NOT saying that you knew they were cheating. On the contrary, what I’m saying is that you found their spontaneity, the permission they gave themselves to enjoy life, to be a taker revelatory. Exciting to be around. Very yin to your yang. I think chumps look at narcissists and think at some level, hmmm. I’d like a bit of that.
Narcissists are edgier and risk taking. They don’t ask permission. They don’t apologize. They hold themselves in high regard. They let you know that you’re very, very fortunate to associate with them. In their early love bombing courtship days they focus their laser beam of sparkles on you and make you think you’re very special. And gosh, they’re very special too (more special really), and together you’d be dynamite.
For the chumpy soul, this strikes a chord. Narcissists are good salesmen. They aren’t selling the lopsided, lack of reciprocity that will come — they’re selling adventure. And like a good salesman, they’ll morph their product into whatever you want it to be — It dices! It slices! And makes julienne fries! The product is really a Ronco piece of crap, but we’re taken in.
Narcissists don’t come across as all bad. At least not at first. They’re often actually somewhat accomplished, at least superficially. They play act at the hallmarks of a responsible life, but if you scratch the surface you’ll find half-assedness. A lack of good friends. A dearth of sticktoitiveness. There is sparkle without much substance. Narcissists don’t do substance. That takes commitment and they’re easily bored.
So chumps, if you want to be happy, surround yourself with responsible folks. If you partner up again, find a person who doesn’t help themselves to the last slice of pie, who feels guilt, who pays their taxes, who can’t be out late because they need to come home and feed their dog.
Reject people who are edgy and trendy and over stimulated. Don’t be like me and date a man with seven kayaks, okay? Chumps — you’re good folks. You deserve someone just like you.