Narcissists can be male or female, yet women seeking relationships encounter specific dangers in the dating world due to an increased risk of violence, misogyny, double standards, and the traps of hookup culture. Here’s how you can protect yourself from dating narcissists if you’re a woman who hopes to have a healthy relationship in the future:
1. Decenter men and relationships from your life and connect with the peace and joy of being single. If you’re a heterosexual single woman looking for a relationship, the idea of “decentering” men and relationships from your life and enjoying the peace of singlehood may seem like counterintuitive dating advice. However, it is actually one of the most powerful pieces of advice women can heed if they want to avoid the danger of settling with a toxic person just for the sake of settling down.
Research indicates that contrary to popular myth, single women can be just as happy, if not happier than their coupled counterparts. However, society conditions women into believing that having a relationship is the ultimate goal of their lives from an early age. This brainwashing causes them to believe that having any relationship, no matter how toxic or abusive, is better than having none at all, and trains them to equate their worth with their relationship status.
This social conditioning becomes dangerous because narcissistic abusers will prey on your intense desire for a relationship, can don a false mask and love bombing (excessive flattery, attention, and contact) to lure their victims into an abuse cycle early on. Women pay a heavy price when they buy into this myth of “relationship superiority” and disregard the benefits of singlehood. This is especially dangerous as society elevates even the most toxic of relationships as a sign that at least the woman in question has been “chosen.”
In truth, it is time to reframe this myth to reality: when it comes to toxic relationships with narcissists or even just incompatible partners in general, as a woman you have only been “chosen” to take on more labor in the relationship while enduring countless trials, tribulations, and mistreatment in return. It is important to identify the “costs” of relationships and dating when you’ve been taught only the potential benefits (which you may or may not even experience depending on the particular partner you’re engaging with).
Make a list answering these questions: What are the costs of being in a relationship, especially a toxic one? What costs do you incur to your physical health, mental health, energy, goals, self-esteem, resources and your ability to take care of yourself? What do you lose when you’re in a relationship that’s not right for you? What have you lost in the past? What kind of additional emotional and domestic labor are you expected to do in a relationship with a toxic partner? What kinds of unpaid labor have you performed for people who have only returned your kindness with cruelty?
Then make another list: What are the benefits of being single? What kind of activities can you do when you’re freed from any obligations to another person? How much time can you now spend focusing on yourself and manifesting your desires? How does being single free up your mental resources and energy? What kind of goals can you pursue without interference? What kind of communities can you engage with? What kind of worries are you no longer plagued by? How secure and confident will you feel?
Once you begin decentering men and relationships from your life and positioning yourself as the focus of your existence, you’ll begin to date the way many men are already accustomed to dating: by seeing a relationship as a potential bonus to your life rather than the main goal.
Relationships will then become not a necessity but an option, should you desire it and if a person who is safe, compatible and has proven their character long-term comes along. Consider that many men only settle down when they think they’ve found the “best possible choice” for them. It is time you do the same, and do not limit yourself when looking at your options strategically and ruthlessly. You deserve a partner you are both emotionally and physically attracted to and fulfilled by, and you shouldn’t settle for anything else.
As you decenter coupledom from your life, you will also be able to focus on creating a fulfilling, joyful life with plenty of ambitions, hobbies, interests, friendships, and exciting career opportunities. You will build a life that only a truly worthy partner would be able to enter in order to add value to your life. This will make it that much more difficult for narcissists to enter your life or stay, because you will recognize how much they are detracting from the peaceful baseline you’ve set for your life.
2. Match their energy and set limits to contact. Do not treat any dating prospects like a long-term partner until they have proven their genuine interest and character to you long-term. When in doubt, “cut it out” – your time, effort, and energy, that is. If you notice any red flags, big or small, pull back your attention immediately instead of chasing this person – whether they be a narcissist or an emotionally unavailable partner. Keep in mind all the costs of a toxic relationship that you’ve listed whenever you’re tempted to chase someone who is wrong for you. The trick is withdrawing early on before you get attached to toxic individuals. The longer you stay in a toxic relationship, the harder it can get to detach.
There is an exception: if a narcissistic partner comes on strongly with love bombing in the beginning, don’t match their energy but rather sit back and observe. Identify whether this is a short-term manipulative strategy or a signal of genuine excitement about you.
Research indicates that narcissistic individuals tend to demonstrate love bombing tendencies, and that these love bombing tendencies are associated with increased text and media usage. However, love bombing often ends abruptly as soon as victims of narcissists are sufficiently invested in the relationship. Regardless of what he promises to you in the future or how much attention he gives you in the beginning, do not give “wife” or “girlfriend” treatment to a man you just began dating. That means do not pour a majority of your time, energy, resources into a man who has not yet proven they are genuinely interested in you long-term and has not yet shown you sufficient proof of his good character or integrity. Do not forego your other options and do not allow him to consume your mind, thoughts, or future plans. Do not waste your time engaging in attempts to change his behavior; observe his natural behavior and act accordingly based on your boundaries, standards and needs.
Resist their attempts to make excessive contact, do not spend your whole day conversing with them and do not be available whenever they need you. Set a time limit per day of how much time you are willing to spend on any dating partner as you’re just beginning to know them, especially through texting. That way, you never get attached to constant contact in the first place.
Stick to getting to know your dating partners and their behavior through in-person dates instead, where you can observe their behavior up close and take note of their nonverbal gestures, tone, and facial microexpressions – subtle cues you can identify if you’re trying to understand if there’s a discrepancy between their words and actions.
Maintain your regular routines and do not sacrifice your goals, hobbies, interests, or time spent with friends and loved ones for them; make sure the dates fit your schedule. Do not begin the dating and courting process accustomed to making sacrifices – in a patriarchal society, you are already taking on a lot of the risk dating at all. This initial time is for you to explore, have fun, and to observe any red flags that might arise.
3. Engage in cost-benefit analyses and start to see your dating experiences in a more “transactional” and practical way in terms of effort, boundaries and standards. Don’t defend your standards and do not lower or negotiate them with potential partners.
As you enjoy the peace and joy of singlehood and identify the costs of relationships, you’ll also become more selective in who you date at all. This will give you more leverage in avoiding and cutting ties with narcissists who demonstrate red flags, even if it’s only later in the relationship, because you’ve already experienced what it is like to feel fulfilled, secure on your own and not to have constant chaos in your life.
This mindset will help you maintain a detached perspective and perform the cost-benefit analysis of being in a relationship with anyone at every stage of the dating process and avoid the pitfalls of hookup culture if you’re seeking a relationship. Remind yourself again the costs of being in a relationship and compare it to the potential benefits this person brings to your life – and if those benefits are no longer forthcoming, decide that your investment in the relationship is no longer forthcoming either. This detachment early on is also necessary to prevent trauma bonding with toxic individuals.
According to research, hookup culture has allowed some men to reap sexual benefits with minimal effort and while giving less satisfaction to women in general. Women seeking relationships must thus be on the lookout for manipulators who may pretend they want relationships when, in reality, they’re just looking for sex.
This means you have to decide for yourself what constitutes “effort” early on and what you will and won’t accept in the beginning of and throughout the dating process. By identifying those standards and boundaries, you can use it to weed out anyone who’s not willing to give you that bare minimum effort before dating them – and detach while dating them if they’re not giving you what you need.
Discerning effort early on in the dating process:
For example, perhaps “effort” to you, at least in the short-term, looks like being taken out and treated to romantic dates early on in dating, consistent phone calls and texts, and a healthy amount of attention and affection (rather than love bombing).
Due to the inequality and double standards of hookup culture and the fact that there are male partners out there willing to exploit women for sex, it’s important not to feel guilty about setting such standards. See this standard of effort as a form of self-protection against users and manipulators, as many manipulators in the dating world will use low-effort dates to try to date and bed as many women as possible. These standards will help you select dating partners who are willing to invest their time and resources into you – a potential indicator of interest beyond just a hookup. Even if such a show of romance turns out to be just a manipulation tactic, at least you did not waste your own resources or too much of your time and energy in a person looking to waste your time.
This will not weed out all narcissistic people, as narcissists are skilled at romancing their targets – however, it will allow you to set a basic standard for how you want to be treated in dating before you choose to date them.
Setting standards for dating in the long-term:
You must also establish what you won’t tolerate long-term in terms of boundaries and standards. In the long-term, ongoing effort may look like a certain level of commitment, mutual trust, and respect. This means writing down the behaviors and traits you find unacceptable (e.g. I will not allow someone who talks to me in a condescending manner to have access to my life; I will not allow anyone I am seeing to treat me coldly) and acting accordingly to cut ties if a partner only shows these red flags – whether it’s two, three, or six months down the line.
It also means writing down what you do want in a partner (e.g. I want someone who is emotionally validating; my partner should feel happy for my success; me and my partner agree on goals regarding marriage and children).
It’s important to remember that you are also allowed to have personal preferences – if for example, you don’t want to date anyone who has close friendships with their exes, or you would prefer a partner who doesn’t drink or smoke, or prefer a partner who doesn’t engage in shady practices on social media (as narcissists are prone to doing), that is your right. Forego the fear of seeming “insecure” by social conditioning which tells you that you’re not allowed to have standards for yourself as a woman. You will be the one dating and possibly entering a relationship with this person, so you are more than welcome to look for someone who meets your specific needs, just as men do while dating.
Keep in mind that while it would be wonderful if the world was equal, it is unfortunately not, and the dating world is no exception. The truth is that women in general face more misogyny, more risk of violence, more mistreatment and less benefits from dating, so you deserve to be impressed before you invest in any dating partner, in case they’re out to exploit or harm you. Instead of committing to a toxic person, make a commitment to yourself that the way they treat you will determine your investment in them.
4. Process your traumas and insecurities as much as possible.
Anyone can be traumatized by a narcissist, but women with childhood trauma or trauma from previous relationships may find themselves having an extra layer of difficulty in cutting ties with narcissistic individuals. That is because the “sweet and mean” cycle of abuse can feel all too familiar and addictive to the brain, especially if you’ve experienced it before at a vulnerable stage of development.
Working on your insecurities and processing your traumas, preferably with a trauma-informed mental health professional, can help you to detach from narcissistic people with more fervor in the future. You’ll be able to identify what wounds and triggers they may be deliberately targeting to exploit you. Once you’ve worked substantially on your healing, you will have a much better chance of exiting the relationship rather than staying within it just because you’ve been conditioned to seek a narcissist’s comfort after they trigger you. You will rely instead on your healthy coping skills and ability to process your trauma, instead of avoiding the trauma they put you through or rationalizing it as a survival mechanism.
Women especially can also find themselves manipulated by the specific tactics narcissists use, such as jealousy induction. This is because there is already a great deal of social conditioning to “compare and compete” and internalized misogyny at play. That is why it is so important to develop a strong self-concept of knowing your worth and irreplaceability, so you do not fall into the trap of vying for a narcissist’s attention and always choose yourself.
Get in touch with what you love and appreciate about yourself and your life – the unique positive traits and qualities that you have that cannot be replicated in another person. This will help you to remember your worth and value, especially when a toxic person is doing something that goes against your core values and standards that you have for your dating partners.
5. Take charge of your finances, career, and living situation. Some women who find themselves having an intense longing and desire for romantic partnership may be subconsciously avoiding the work that is needed in other areas of their lives and unknowingly looking for someone to save them. This can create a void that narcissistic partners can pretend to cater to in the beginning in order to get you to see them as your “savior.” Unfortunately, this can escalate into narcissists isolating you and demanding control over you in return.
If you find that other areas of your life could benefit from your attention such as your finances, career goals, living situation, physical health and friendships, now is the perfect time to work on these areas so you don’t fall into this trap of becoming dependent on anyone for validation.
Start to “date yourself” by getting to know yourself and your aspirations for your best life. What do you like to spend your time doing on your own? What are the types of self-care activities that replenish you and how can you engage in more of these? What would your dream life look like regardless of whether or not you’re in a relationship? What is the kind of career you’d like to have, or if you already have an established career, what goals are you working on to improve that aspect of your life? What would your dream living situation look like and what steps would you have to take now to begin working toward that dream? Are your current friendships, communities and support networks nourishing, or do they need a reevaluation? Are there any fitness goals or goals for your physical health you want to meet?
Learn what aspects of your life need remodeling and take time to “enjoy” the process of pursuing a rewarding life with or without a partner. This will enable you to have plenty of “cushioning” to fall back on regardless of what happens in the dating world and remain centered in yourself rather than your dating partners. It will allow you to stand by your standards with more confidence and knowingness that that you can provide for yourself. It will mitigate any desperate need to be in a relationship at the expense of the abundant, peaceful, fulfilling life you’ve created for yourself.
Dating a narcissist is tough, but what’s even more difficult is having to break a traumatic attachment to them once you’re already invested in a relationship with them. The sooner you exit a toxic situation, the better chance you have of maintaining your freedom and finding the healthy love you do deserve – both within yourself and with others.