I highly recommend this piece on the (transitory) appeal of bad boys.
The reality of life with a bad boy, however, is a drip-fed diet of gentle criticism and push-pull affection to keep you exactly at clutch-biting point – even if it means being routinely chucked out of bed post-coitus because “I’m not ready for a girlfriend”, or being dumped on your birthday, only to be asked back a week later when he’s bored and lonely.
It can mean not receiving a Christmas present despite investing several years of your time, because it’s all “just conformist crap”, or enduring a cavalier attitude about monogamy because he would not be confined by the dreary societal norms you’ve swallowed unquestioningly (reader, all these things actually happened to me), all apparently defended by beat writer clichés and dreary sob stories about how his dad didn’t love him. It’s not always this dramatic, of course. The tiny, insidious stuff has even greater effect. Missed dates and putdowns, days without so much as a text, failing to show because something better came up, the constant reminders that one shouldn’t get any ideas above one’s station. (Sali Hughes)
The end of the piece left me with an odd feeling. I went away and thought about it, and realized that we have this societal script that plays when you’ve been involved with a narcissist or a just plain douchebag. The script says things like I should have known or I can’t believe I put up with it so long or I was so stupid, or maybe even just I was so young, I didn’t know any better.
I don’t like this script for a number of reasons. It treads perilously close to victim-blaming, for one, and is usually loaded with an almost Catholic level of shame. It also overlooks the single biggest factor in dating (or having any relationship with) a narcissistic douchebag–namely, that someone chose to be a narcissistic douchebag, and spent serious amounts of time refining said douchebaggery, most likely from a very young age.
While other people are having hobbies, practicing their tap dancing, and spending energy thinking about doing nice things or at least avoiding being complete assholes, the narcissistic douchebag is practicing manipulation and crafting sick systems to keep people close to them and off-balance so the douchebag can get what the douchebag wants. This is the manipulating asshat’s hobby; this is the narcissist’s musical instrument practice, this is what they spend their energy on.
Should a normal person feel bad that they’re not as good at something as an Olympic athlete? The latter has spent years and much energy refining their craft, training and perfecting. Should a normal person feel bad because they’re not Mozart? Mozart was training since before he was four years old, for Christ’s sake. One can use the image of an Olympic athlete or Mozart (or Picasso, or or or) to help one practice, but feeling bad because one isn’t magically an Olympic athlete just doesn’t make sense, right?
Or, let’s take it down a notch. Say you want to learn a particular recipe, and your friend has been doing this recipe for years. Your first attempt goes pretty well, but it’s still not as luscious or delicious or perfectly browned as your friend’s. Are you going to feel guilty? No, you’ll most likely think, well, my friend has been doing this for years, I’ll ask for tips and I’ll practice.
The point is, manipulating people, drawing them in and stringing them along, is what narcissistic douchebags practice. They get good at it. Other people get drawn in precisely because they’re not narcissistic douchebags. Qualities like empathy, patience, and forgiveness get taken advantage of by the douchebag to keep people providing whatever the douchebag wants. The fucked-up part is, if the narcissistic asshole just spent a little of that manipulation practice on other things, they could probably be a decent human being. (There are also jobs where douchebaggery is an asset, but that supply is far, far short of the demand. That’s another blog post, though.)
You wouldn’t feel bad getting up off a couch and losing a race to Usain Bolt. You wouldn’t feel like you were stupid if you’d never practiced music and couldn’t compose like Beethoven. You wouldn’t feel like you were too young to know any better if you fudged a Julia Child recipe cooking for the very first time in your life. Bolt, Beethoven, and Child spent years practicing and refining, and while they can be great role models you wouldn’t expect to just tie on some running shoes, get out some staff paper, or just throw some flour in a pan, all for the first time, and expect their results.
So, next time someone says “I was so stupid,” or “I should have known,” you can say, “No, you weren’t stupid. They did everything possible to keep you from knowing. Douchebags spend their lives practicing to draw people in. It’s their vocation, and you were drawn in because you’re a relatively decent person.”
Or the next time you tell yourself, “I was so stupid, I should have known,” you can pull up this blog post and hear me telling you: no, you’re not stupid. Someone who practices manipulation like you practice your hobby of choice used your better qualities–your empathy, your loyalty, your work ethic, your desire to help and to heal–to string you along. It was seductive to think you could change them, or love them enough to fix them, or even that they were reasonable people instead of soul-sucking asshats.
The fact that you were taken in doesn’t prove you’re somehow less. It means an empty douchebag wanted to feed on you because you are more.