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Narcissism and Modern Dating

Dating apps have made finding love, and narcissists, easier than ever.

Key points

  • Narcissists are typically unable to engage in healthy relationships.
  • Dating apps offer narcissists an easy platform to seduce vulnerable partners.
  • Narcissists may heavily edit their photos or exaggerate their successes to appear more desirable.
Source: Cottonbro/Pexels

Dating at any time, in any generation, can be scary. But dating today? Absolutely terrifying. Social media and dating apps have made it easier than ever to find the perfect person. Whether that match is ideal for right now, forever, or just for a plus-one to a party, the internet makes it possible to be found.

The availability of dozens of willing matches can send a narcissist’s overwhelming need for attention (or, if you are so inclined, “needometer”) into overdrive. Online platforms also give narcissists a great opportunity to talk about themselves and create a believable narrative. This narrative is a powerful tool in attracting potential mates, allowing the narcissist to paint themselves as a sympathetic main character, reassigning blame, and embellishing (or creating) any positive attributes.

Many times, a narcissist goes online simply to look for extra attention and ego-stroking and not necessarily for a relationship. Narcissists simply need someone to fulfill a need or play a part in the grand production of life. They may already have a partner in real life but feel unappreciated or undervalued. Dating apps make it easy for a narcissist to attract attention and fulfill their needometer at the touch of a button.

There are several traps the narcissist can set in order to capture a victim. Catfishing, ghosting, breadcrumbing, and love bombing are just a few ways they can manipulate online dating. The crux of online dating for a narcissist is not necessarily to find a new partner but rather to build themselves up and get the attention they feel they lack in their offline life. They get a thrill out of the witty banter, the compliments, and the desire to be wanted and pursued. All of this feeds into the narcissist’s low self-esteem and gives a temporary boost to their fragile ego.

Photos: Real-life or really edited?

All dating profiles require some sort of photo, even just a headshot, to get published and go live. Some dating apps will verify people for an extra boost of protection and validation, but it is not a requirement. This makes it easy for people to use outdated or heavily edited photos and pass them off as current headshots.

Narcissists can have cripplingly low self-esteem, covered up by a bombastic, egotistical exterior. Photo editing apps make it possible for a narcissist to alter their photo into what they believe they should look like. Some people may edit their photos due to actual skin flaws or bad lighting, but narcissists edit photos for the ego-stroking. Additionally, some studies have found that narcissism is positively correlated to the frequent taking and posting of selfies.

Andrea Picaquido/Pexels
Source: Andrea Picaquido/Pexels

Narcissists are also enamored with fame, attention, and popularity. If all the photos on someone’s profile are selfies or taken in vacation hot spots, the person may be looking for flattery and compliments. A narcissist’s profile will most likely consist of posed photos in exotic locales or big parties with perfect lighting and airbrushing instead of casual snaps in low-key places. They will always appear to be fearless, popular, and outgoing.

The greatest story ever told

Narcissists love to talk about themselves and exaggerate their accomplishments while downplaying their failures. Some narcissists may actually focus on their struggles in order to elicit sympathy and support. Whether they are the hero or the victim, they are always the star of the show. They may be trapped in an abusive, loveless marriage, or their ongoing divorce is high-conflict and never-ending. Perhaps their last partner died tragically or called off the wedding at the last minute. Maybe they simply haven’t met the right person yet, and they have so much to give and no one to give it to. Whatever the reason for being on the dating app, the narcissist will happily give you in-depth details with themselves at the heart of the story.

No matter the topic of conversation, whether it be about a favorite restaurant or movie, a narcissist will turn it around to focus on them. It could be to brag (“When I visited Spain/Italy/Greece, the wine was far better than here in town!”/“I attended grad school there; did I tell you I was second in my class?”), gain sympathy (“My ex would never take me to that bistro!”), or remind you how desirable they are (“The last time I went to that bar, the men simply wouldn’t leave me alone!” or, “The tab was well over $1,000 by the time I was done ordering drinks for everyone!”).

Narcissists are also masters at mirroring other people’s emotions, likes, and dislikes. They may pretend to love the same things you do in order to pull you in. For example, if you profess to love rock climbing, fishing, or jogging, they will also be a devotee of that activity. Once you are committed to that person—be it by marriage or with a child—they will suddenly stop being so invested in you or the activity. You are already trapped in the relationship, and they no longer need to pretend. The narcissist will say that they never truly liked fishing, they always hated marathons, and they only put up with it because you “made them.”

Overwhelming attention

The private messages with a narcissist will be full of flattery and fawning. You get a nickname right away, or they fill your inbox with good morning and good night messages. If you do not reciprocate, they become angry or start accusing you of cheating or not being ready for a relationship. This results in you apologizing, making amends, and becoming the new villain of the story.

Alternately, they might act needy or troubled to get more and more attention from you. Above all, a narcissist must be the center of attention. If that means creating narratives of trials and tribulations or constant flattery, they will do whatever it takes to get their ego boosted.

Narcissists use dating apps for attention and control. The influx of messages and compliments soothes their fragile ego and makes them feel important and wanted. It can be incredibly difficult to identify a narcissist from someone who is merely suffering from low self-esteem or low self-worth. The difference is the person with a rock-bottom ego is still worthy and capable of giving and receiving love while a narcissist is not.