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Narcissus didn’t die. Actually…

According to Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Narcissus was a youth of such surpassing beauty that he spurned admirers, including the infatuated nymph Echo. His only love was given to his beautiful face, causing the heartbroken Echo to diminish until just her fading voice was left. But the impossibility of his reflection ever returning his passion eventually led to Narcissus’ destruction, and he wasted away as well.

Sad, right? A lesson for all of us? Only somehow, the wrong ones learned it, turned it into a playbook, and are gaming it for the win.

Echo and Narcissus (1903), a Pre-Raphaelite interpretation by John William Waterhouse

Narcissus is alive and well.

It’s the story I never expect. It’s the one I hear over and over again. A friend I admire and even envy—intelligent, successful, beautiful—finally finds The One. And yeah, in the throes of her new and perfect love, she might pull back from regular contact. Old friends are ignored, invitations declined, catch-up requests just never quite a convenient match with their new life. That wonderful new world shrinks, excluding everyone else until, like Echo, she too disappears.

Later, tentatively, she might get back in touch. I might eventually hear her story. This happened to several friends, usually the least likely people I could imagine as targets. At first I wondered how it was possible. 

But when I thought about it, that part wasn’t what surprised me. Women, especially those of my generation, are set up by society to buy into the fairytale script. We’re supposed to find The One, we’re supposed to be adored, wooed with all the standard add-ons of candy/flowers/admiration, we’re supposed to get the guy on one knee holding up that sparkly ring and promising Happily Ever After. Everyone is supposed to know that.

Everything from dogfood commercials to national holidays gives us the message that sentimental, over the top gestures, Hallmark-standard gifts, compliments, and professions of love were exactly the signs of eternal love and HEA.

I realized it wasn’t so much that the fairytale wasn’t true, but that its untruth followed eerily similar patterns, like there was a checklist out there. Like someone has the playbook and is just calling predetermined plays. Those same sweet relationship tropes that make for long-lasting happy relationships between lovers with healthy emotional balance, become the play-by-play turning them into prey for the narcissist’s self-gratification.

The narcissist’s game plan was eerily similar in each of my friends’ stories.

Step 1: love bombing.

The new lover seemed so amazed and grateful to have found their perfect soulmate in my friend. Whatever my friend liked, enjoyed, appreciated was exactly what their new lover also loved, and he used almost identical lines.

    • “Our meeting was fate.”
    • “You’re so smart, beautiful, kind, and wonderful.”
    • “We don’t need anyone else.”

My friend wasn’t suspicious, because she was hearing all the right things. She deserved them. Her past shitty relationships had earned them. Why wouldn’t she want them?

Step 1: Love bombing❣️ [NOTE: I assume this can go both ways, but I’ve only heard about it happening to women, so please forgive the pronouns used here.]

Step 2: Gaslighting.

The new lover developed concerns about the way my friend dressed, how she behaved, and what she said in company. He ‘revealed’ that her old friends were jealous, judgemental. That her family didn’t trust or like her new love. That she was actually socially unsuccessful, perhaps even losing it (despite high-level achievements requiring a sophisticated social skillset). He told her he would take care of steering her through these difficult encounters.

  • “My friends hate you, but I’ve got your back.”
  • “You don’t remember what you said.”
  • “Don’t you think spending time with me is more important than your friends?”

It was all for her own good, he assured her, a sign of how much he cared about her, how he knew her better than she knew herself. If she challenged him, he had so many explanations. His own exes were all crazy/jealous/drug or alcohol abusers. He was only acting out of an excess of concern. He couldn’t believe she would choose her family and friends over their new love. Slowly, surely, and with very little fanfare, she disappeared from casual  contacts, group meetups, family events. Like the nymph Echo, her voice faded away.

Step 2. Gaslighting

Step 3: He Chooses the End—Even When He Doesn’t. 

In all of the cases involving friends of mine — and entirely to the credit of the incredible women I’d always known them to be — the ending process was initiated by them. But before that, their lover’s behavior had turned decidedly dark. Like Narcissus, when she stopped reflecting his beautiful self-image, he was done with her. But before that, fists were pounded on tables, she was backed against walls as he pounded either side of her head, she was shoved, abuse was hurled. He merged their bank accounts, stole from her, sabotaged her job.

  • “Everyone can see how stupid you are.”
  • “You’ll be alone; nobody else would ever want you.”
  • “You’re so ugly, I’ve just felt sorry for you.”
  • “You ruined everything, and you have only yourself to blame.”

Step 3. He doesn’t give up the head space.

Finally he was gone, leaving a trail of personal, financial, and emotional ruin in his wake.

Stepping away from the narcissist’s playbook.

In the case of each of my friends, I’ve been stunned with admiration for the way they’ve battled back from the experience. They’re wary, suspicious of new relationships, cautious with their emotions. But each of them has climbed an impossibly tall mountain, done battle with the land mines and demons he left buried in the detritus of their relationship, battled back to the woman she was meant to be. It’s a testament to each woman’s strength and resilience. But it’s also an indictment of the culture that makes it so easy for the narcissist to follow that playbook.

I’ve been reading Terry Tyler’s latest book, Where There’s Doubt, which goes inside some of these narcissistic relationships.

Book Review

Where There’s Doubt by Terry Tyler

‘I can be anything you want me to be. Even if you don’t know you want it. Especially if you don’t know you want it.’

Café owner Kate is mentally drained after a tough two years; all she wants from her online chess partner is entertainment on lonely evenings, and maybe a little virtual flirtation.

She is unaware that Nico Lewis is a highly intelligent con artist who, with an intricately spun web of lies about their emotional connection, will soon convince her that he is The One.

Neither does Kate know that his schemes involve women who seek love on dating sites, as well as his small publishing business. A host of excited authors believe Nico is about to make their dreams come true.

Terry Tyler’s twenty-fourth publication is a sinister psychological drama that highlights the dark side of internet dating—and the danger of ignoring the doubts of your subconscious.

Book Title: Where There’s Doubt
Terry Tyler
Psychological drama
Length: 391 pages
Published: 24 March, 2022

gold starMy Review: 5 stars out of 5

There’s one thing I’ve come to count on with Terry Tyler’s books: you can’t count on anything. She effortlessly — and brilliantly — moves between genres, from history, to romance, to dystopia, from mystery, to sci-fi, to thriller. So I was intrigued but not surprised to read her newest book, the psychological drama Where There’s Doubt, which tells the stories of four women and their romantic relationships.

Terry Tyler is the author of twenty-four books including the dystopian Operation Galton trilogy. Also published recently is ‘The Visitor’, a post-apocalyptic murder mystery set in the same world as her popular Project Renova series. Proud to be independently published, Terry is an avid reader and book reviewer, and a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team.
Terry is a Walking Dead addict, and has a great interest in history (particularly 12th-17th century), along with books and documentaries on sociological/cultural/anthropological subject matter. She loves South Park, the sea, and going for long walks in quiet places where there are lots of trees. She lives in the north east of England with her husband. You can find her online and on Twitter @TerryTyler4 .

Kate is an entrepreneurial restaurant owner recovering from a breakup who meets and falls for the perfect man: a fellow chess lover who enjoys the same low key approach to life.

Heather is a grieving and introverted widow. The man she meets through an online site has also lost his family. He promises her it will be “us against the world”, and offers her a chance at a new life.

Minerva is a clear-eyed realist looking for companionship. The wealthy older widow finds her new boyfriend “amusing, outspoken, and a little brash”, and is looking forward to becoming his business partner as well.

Polly’s trust in the universe has paid off. “I asked for a handsome, romantic boyfriend, a fabulous house and all the money I need, and six months after I started doing my self-valuation ritual in the morning I won the lottery.” Now the bubbly young woman is planning her upcoming wedding and move into the mansion she and her fiance are buying together.

Each of these woman has met The One, a perfect man who knows exactly what she wants and needs. There’s just one problem: it’s the same man. Nico, a self-absorbed amoral narcissist, has a plan for each woman. He showers them with loving attention, promises them a happy-ever-after, including shares in his business or the family mansion where he and his sister played.

Where There’s Doubt is a character-driven tour de force. Author Terry Tyler takes us into each woman’s head, shows how each sees herself as capable, intelligent, and able to make her own decisions. They know about romance, how it’s supposed to work, what it’s supposed to become. None of them have a clue about the real identity of the man who offers them their dreams, accepts their hearts, and plans to take so much more. We also see through Nico’s eyes. He sees his approach to conning each woman as a business decision but it becomes clear that Nico’s genius lies in allowing each victim to guide the course of her own loss.

It’s all about understanding what people want. Knowing how they see themselves. What they fear, what floats their boat. Once you understand these basics about a person or a group of people, you can bend them to suit your will.

I enjoyed the way Nico lays out the complex series of relationship cons, often repurposing his ‘sets’. He’s clearly an experienced con artist, at one point absently musing that he could teach classes in the con. But what I found even more fascinating and unexpected is the way each of the supporting characters rationalizes their behavior to reflect their own wants and desires. I enjoyed the detailed planning and groundwork involved, and was honestly surprised by some of the outcomes.

I absolutely can NOT resist a shoutout to the humor of Polly’s version of one of the books put out by her boyfriend’s publishing company. As author Terry Tyler is a master of the dystopian thriller—indeed, this book is set in Shipden, the fictional Norfolk village setting for the beginning of one of Terry’s dystopian series—this description is hilarious.

I did start one but it was all dark and depressing about the world when something really bad had happened (I’m not sure what ’cause it didn’t say) and lots of people had died. I don’t know why he thought I’d want to read anything like that.

I recommend Where There’s Doubt to anyone who enjoys character-driven con artist capers with a real-life flair, dark humor, and more than one twist.