Do narcissists fall in love?


Narcissists can’t love but they can and do fall in love. All the time. What they feel is a state Dorothy Tennov has called “limerence,” more commonly known as infatuation or colloquially known as a crush.

According to Wikipedia,

Limerence (also infatuated love) is a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person typically including compulsive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship and have one’s feelings reciprocated. Psychologist Dorothy Tennov coined the term “limerence” for her 1979 book “Love and Limerence: The Experience of Being in Love” to describe the concept that had grown out of her work in the mid-1960s, when she interviewed over 500 people on the topic of love.

Limerence has been defined by one writer as “an involuntary interpersonal state that involves intrusive, obsessive, and compulsive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are contingent on perceived emotional reciprocation from the object of interest”. Limerence has also been defined in terms of the potentially inspirational effects and the relationship to attachment theory, which is not exclusively sexual, as being “an involuntary potentially inspiring state of adoration and attachment to a limerent object involving intrusive and obsessive thoughts, feelings and behaviors from euphoria to despair, contingent on perceived emotional reciprocation”.

In other words, the state of limerence is much like being high on a drug. The “LO” (limerent object) is the person fixated on, and this person is a mirror for the infatuated narcissist. When a narcissist falls in love with you, they can be the most romantic people you could ever imagine. They’ll gaze longingly into your eyes, bring you flowers, want to spend every moment with you, tell you they want to be with you forever.

But it’s not you they are seeing. What they are seeing is a reflection of themselves that you are showing them by reciprocating. You make them feel good about themselves because you are giving them supply and attention, and letting them know how wonderful you think they are. You’re basically nothing more than a mirror, and your narcissist, when he gazes into your eyes, is really gazing at his own false self you are feeding.

This doesn’t mean that only narcissists experience limerence or infatuation. Most people do at some point in their lives. It’s much more common for teenagers and young adults to have a “crush,” but it’s a temporary state. I think it’s more common in young people because they are still rather narcissistic and trying to find out who they are. Mature adults can “fall in love” too, but will normally move from the initial state of limerence with all its heady excitement and intensity, into a more stable state of deep love, which is less emotionally intense but much more rewarding for both partners.

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss. Antonio Canova (Italian, 1757–1822) – Eric Pouhier (May 2007)

Limerence only lasts an average of 1-2 years (in evolutionary terms, this is just enough time for a relationship to result in the birth of offspring, and is also about the length of time of an average engagement). But limerence isn’t love. It’s what Tennov calls a state of “cognitive obsession.” You can be “in love” with someone you don’t even know or have never met (like a celebrity for example), so how can that be real love? It isn’t. It’s obsession. You may be projecting what you want to see onto the limerent object, rather than seeing what’s actually there. That’s why later, after you’re “over” the object of your infatuation, it’s common to wonder, “what did I ever see in her?”

A narcissist can certainly fall in love (unless they’re the commitment-phobic type), but once you begin to express your own needs, and begin to show cracks in your armor that mean you’re only an imperfect human, you are no longer mirroring the narcissist as they want to be mirrored, and that’s when the abuse and manipulations will begin–or in some cases they will begin to devalue you before the final discard.

A narcissist cannot move from a limerent state into real love, as a normal adult can. Real, lasting love requires mutual give-and-take, empathy, sacrifice, compromise, and a lot of hard work–all things that narcissists simply can’t handle. That’s why their marriages and relationships usually don’t last that long–or if they do, become such hotbeds of misery and discord.

If you’ve been discarded by a narc and they’ve moved onto someone else, don’t feel too bad. Before you know it, that new “perfect” lover will seem not so perfect to them anymore, and they will be abused or discarded too, joining their long list of conquests.

21 thoughts on “Do narcissists fall in love?

  1. Reblogged this on Crumpled Paper Cranes and commented:
    It’s comforting to read certain articles, albeit ones that mildly trigger. In 500 words, I write about memories. My naivety and his complications. Our complications. Anyway, give Lauren’s blog a read.

    “You are a sponge. A penetrable, earnest, quick little learner with so much potential.”

    I didn’t think this was creepy. I didn’t think a lot of things were creepy for the four years and four or so months that I said “yes” to codependency. You ask me why I put up with the shit, and I’ll tell you, “I can’t read men.” Or that this was a better alternative than summers at a certain place. Regrettably, I’ve told myself, “No one will be the same.” Well, no shit. No one is exactly the same.

    I’m falling for you.

    It makes me sad.

    Why am I sad? Because of the distance. Because of our age. They see you as a naive little girl, and myself as an immature boy. But we have something they don’t have.

    Who the hell is “they”?

    I’m the survivor, and you’re the thriver. You’re just like me, but four years behind.

    And three months after we unpacked our boxes and fought over how to screw on the legs of our sad IKEA knockoff, I wasn’t like you. I was stupid. You laughed as I read about human rights and told me your biochemistry degree had more respectability than conversational Mandarin could ever hold. You reminded acquaintances at hookah bars that you could’ve gone to graduate school in Germany. But you didn’t, grading papers when you said it wasn’t expected.

    I helped you grade those quizzes. You told me I had to. My income wasn’t exactly yours, so I had to earn my keep.

    Before this, you lived with your parents. They didn’t charge you rent, and you spoke of how they owed you. You were twenty-three, or twenty-four back then. I know it shouldn’t matter. Society screwed you over.

    Your eyes were always open, and once I asked you why. You said you liked to watch me. The creases of my eyes. You said you found it funny when I opened them. You saw yourself in cloudy inkwells. You said you saw potential.

    Eventually, I embarrassed you. The Hello Kitty water dispenser you bought me our first Christmas, thrown down the apartment stairs as you called me a worthless bitch. Brought a Bible home one day, only for you to shake your head to laugh and ask how I live with myself, live without logic, live in fantasy.

    You’re so full of shit. And you think you’ll become some fantastic lawyer.

    I believed you for a time. My parents thought the same. Your father would always say I’d run off and cheat. Before, this didn’t matter.

    But it did when you asked that I sleep in my car as you spoke with a coworker over the phone. You encouraged friendships and thought they’d help. Eventually, you branded them heretical influences. And you had to protect yourself. I would’ve forgotten you anyway, and she was the one with a brain.

    Never learned formal calculus, but I know disrespect. Also, I didn’t have to grade those fucking quizzes.

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  2. I appreciated what you wrote… Gosh, I’ve sure been on the wrong end of this one. Thankfully not for long, though I know that’s different from your story. Thanks for making your struggles into something beautiful and sharing it – it’s a gift.

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  3. Excellent post.

    A therapist once told me that when a narcissist says “I love you,” what he really means is “I love the way you make me feel” or “I love the things you can do for me.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I wonder if my ex loved me because I was the way he wanted to see me and then when he learned more and more about me, he didn’t like it and he started to withdrew from me. This probably sounds like everyone though because we all meet someone and it takes 3-6 months to see the real them and we might not like it so we break up with them but I think the difference is, none narcs would leave and break up with their partner, narcs do not and instead they try and control you and mold you and will do anything like my ex did and it was him ignoring me, making fun of me, criticizing me, being so negative and he involved his son in it too. But I wonder what would have happened if his son didn’t follow his beliefs and didn’t agree with everything he said.

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  5. OMG. Maybe I dated a narcissist, too. Fortunately I dumped him before he could completely dump me, at least as I recall it now. At that time, I’d started to refer to him as “Shithead,” which is probably a good name for a narcissist, right?

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