Yes, you know what the word "narcissist" means. Thing is, if you're thinking it just means a guy who exclusively brags about his trust fund and never asks you any questions on a date, you might miss the narcissist right in front of you.
Turns out, not all narcissists are insufferably entitled rich boys in sockless loafers. Plenty can seem like woke feminists who'll drink in every word you say more than any other man ever has...until they do a 180 degrees and call you a bitch in the middle of a small fight. Yup! Dating a narcissist and unpacking his or her behavior can feel incredibly damaging and exhausting—so here's a handy list of 11 signs you need to move on.
They did everything to win you over...in the beginning.
If you're deeply confused as to how someone who used to text you nonstop and told you they loved you by date two suddenly seems rude and distant, that might be your first sign.
"Narcissists are masters of love bombing, where they make a potential partner feel as special as they possibly can," says Dr. Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., chair and professor of counseling and counselor education at Northern Illinois University.
And narcissists might be better at wooing you than someone who actually loves you, because they're motivated by winning you over instead of actually getting to know you. What can seem like the most romantic gestures or thoughtful gifts can simply be them studying you to know exactly how to be the "perfect" partner to you.
"Narcissists are adept at winning affection from their targets early on, but they have trouble maintaining long-term relationships," Degges-White says.
They're wildly selfish when they can get away with it.
When you're past the honeymoon stage of the relationship or simply around other people, a narcissist will be the most courteous, attentive partner. But when no one who matters is looking (which, down the line, includes you), they'll very openly put their needs above yours.
"Narcissists see people as objects and often leave their romantic partners feeling more like an accessory than a living, breathing, feeling partner," Degges-White says. She notes that a good sign to look out for is their motivation for buying you gifts–do they do it out of nowhere, for no reason, other than to make you smile? Or do they shell out on special occasions only or shower you with flowers after they screamed at you during a fight?
The first is a sign of a genuinely caring partner who thinks of you. The latter is someone buying your affection so you'll stay even when they're a total nightmare to be around.
They care more about your image as a couple than the relationship itself.
A narcissist's self-inflicted pressure to be flawless doesn't end with them–once you're his or her partner, you're obligated to fulfill the Insta-perfect ideal of the power couple he or she wants to be.
"When a narcissist feels that they're losing face publicly, it creates a lot of inner distress because they cannot tolerate failure, and public humiliation is the worst type of failure [ to them]," says Degges-White. She adds that their ego is very fragile, so any perceived "attack" on their reputation makes them furious.
For example, say you get into a small, calm argument while you're out at dinner. Instead of addressing the conflict, a narcissist will get angry that you're "embarrassing them" in front of people they'll never see again. What started out as you asking them to please text when they're running late turns into a huge fight at home because you "ruined the whole night" by bringing it up in public.
"Narcissists don’t focus on growth in a relationship, because their own self-assessment confirms to them that they are already significantly evolved and accomplished," Degges-White says. They will always prioritize looking like a picturesque couple over actually addressing your needs.
They're constantly nitpicking everything you do.
When bae first met you, they loved EVERYTHING about you. Now, those same things–the sound of your laugh, your penchant for wearing Doc Martens, your love of bad reality TV–are a problem.
"Narcissists tend to hold some specific image of what they want their partner to be like and they don’t 'challenge you' to grow, they try to force your 'growth,'" Degges-White says. "What they are really trying to do is control your behaviors and your choices."
A warning sign: Your partner being convinced that his or her point of view on how you should behave is 100 percent right. Another thing to look out for is if they always criticize how you behave around friends–you made a joke that didn't land or accidentally cut someone off and you're a terrible, selfish person because of it.
Degges-White also notes that someone who actually cares about you checks in with you that you're on the same page about things you want to improve and work on (which isimportant in a relationship). They calmly discuss how they feel and reach a compromise with you instead of berating you for not falling in line.
It's literally impossible to argue with them.
The reason fights with narcissists are so volatile and deeply confusing is actually very simple: They're never wrong.
Degges-White says that while a narcissist may agree with your complaints in the dating phase of the relationship, that all goes away in time. "Disagreements and arguments are often highly lopsided–their partners plead with them to see things from another perspective, but narcissists are unable to accomplish a feat of this level of emotional maturity."
This is simply because narcissists believe they are done growing and that their version of the truth is ultimate and infallible. You could have screenshots of what they said to you earlier and they'll still find a way to say that's not reality or what they meant.
Degges-White says that narcissists are more likely to threaten breakups or give harsh ultimatums if you refuse to concede and apologize, even if you have serious doubts about being wrong at all. It's the ultimate form of gaslighting, and it happens all the time with them.
They're masters at making you think that ~you're~ the dramatic one.
As if explosive fights weren't bad enough, narcissists also have a knack for convincing you that you're actually the drama queen who starts all the conflicts, all the time.
"Narcissists are manipulators who have no qualms about twisting a partner’s words or actions in a way that would make the partner feel guilty or remorseful about things they have no reason to feel bad about," Degges-White says.
Just by bringing up an issue, you're "blowing everything up again." By calmly standing your ground and explaining your perspective, you're "stubborn" or "angry" or "crazy" or "selfish." They'll never get that they're the ones who refuse to compromise in any capacity and draw out fights because they can't handle ever being wrong.
They're repeatedly shitty to their friends, and don't have any close ones.
Narcissists don't really have friends as much as collector's items. They use their charm to form tons of surface-level friendships but do no work to maintain them, according to Degges-White.
"To be in an authentic relationship requires that a person is able to let down their guard," she says. "Narcissists are terrified of being seen as human as that would crack open the image that they try to project as 'super human.'"
A narcissist will blow people off with no explanation, counting on them to continually reach out to hang out. They'll never truly be there for a friend if it inconveniences them and doesn't make them look charitable or kind. And of course, that leaks into their romantic relationships.
They have a roster of "crazy exes."
By now, it's pretty common knowledge that if a guy calls his exes crazy, he's the one with the problem. And maybe "crazy" isn't so much used as "difficult," "had issues," "loved drama" when describing all their past partners.
"Narcissists who are especially good at winning the affection and praise of others are likely to also have a lot of broken relationships," Degges-White says. Makes sense–being self-obsessed with your image is not exactly the foundation of a healthy relationship.
But she also says that narcissists want to be perceived as the victim in all their relationships, embellishing their great qualities while vilifying their exes to achieve that image. Anytime a narcissist's first comment on past relationships is what the ex did wrong over what they both might've struggled with is a good sign they haven't learned anything.
They're suddenly really sweet again the moment you show a hint of independence.
Narcissists are often dubbed emotional vampires for a good reason: they need your constant attention and affection to feel ok (but ironically, treat you like trash once they get their fix).
So naturally, when you go out with your friends more or spend some time on your own (very normal things), they panic. "If you try to claim some space for yourself, the narcissist may feel that you are trying to strip away part of their own identity," Degges-White says. "When you back away, they're going to try that much harder to reel you back into their lives."
In order to regain their sense of self-worth, narcissists may start showering you with gifts or simply being more warm and affectionate when you come home late. And tiny things, like forgetting to wear the necklace they bought you, can trigger this (or just another huge fight).
They lash out when they realize they're replaceable.
Eventually, you'll probably be put off by a narcissist's exhausting behavior and start to emotionally pull away for real. And that's when they get mad.
According to Degges-White, when they feel that they are losing you for good, they can do everything from flirt or cheat with someone to make you jealous, to threatening to leave first so they don't lose face.
Their actions are callous because your only value was to be an accessory, and now that you maybe aren't, bye bye. To them, it's better to be an outright asshole and break your heart over being the one who's left first, because it gives them the sense of control they simply can't live without.
Dating them makes you feel worse about yourself.
Based on everything on this list, you can probably guess that a narcissist is not going to make you feel great about yourself over time. The repeated criticism over the smallest issues, gaslighting in arguments, and inability to ever admit fault inevitably takes an emotional toll on someone who is empathetic and in the relationship to try and make it work.
"You may begin to accept that you are less than your partner and begin to belittle yourself and accept criticism as deserved, whether it really is or not," Degges-White says. This creates a codependent relationship: "The relationship can become something like a yoyo–you try to get some distance, but get sucked right back into the old patterns," she adds.
The only way you break the cycle is when the narcissist leaves you out of boredom or anger, or you spot these signs and get out of there (and possibly seek therapy to heal from the emotional damage). If you're reading this list and something in your gut just sank, know you deserve better and don't need to stay in this. There's a lot of love out there for you, but it'll never come from this person.
Follow Julia on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.