A couple walking into a restaurant spot a mirror behind the front desk. Ignoring the hostess who is trying to get the name on their reservation, both partners jockey for position to catch their reflection — joking about who has a better view. Once they reach their table, they continue to preen themselves, cognizant of the attention (perceived as admiration) of other patrons. The man uses his smart phone mirror app to check his reflection; his date checks her teeth using her knife as a mirror.
These two peacocks are having a great time together. Realistic? Believe it or not, research says yes — but in some ways more than others.
Narcissistic Traits: Flash Over Substance
The couple struggling for mirror time might not actually be diagnosed with clinical narcissism, but merely display narcissistic traits. Paired together, they probably make a better match than when paired with non-narcissistic partners.
You probably know someone with narcissistic traits. Perhaps you like having them around because they are exciting and socially charming. Many self-focused people are fun to spend time with, and can regale a crowd all evening with tales of their latest exploits.
But when it comes to romance, unless paired with a like-minded lover of self, they usually constitute short term dating material, instead of possessing serious relationship potential.
Narcissism and Relational Quality
Kardum et al. (2018) examined the impact of similarity in dark triad traits (psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and narcissism) on relational quality. They found similar levels of narcissism to be linked to higher relationship quality in both women and men — a finding that was absent from an examination of the other two dark triad traits.
Regarding the explanation for this finding, Kardum et al. discovered the key was not the level of narcissism, but the similarity of narcissistic expression. They found that the highest congruence was in exhibitionism, and the lowest in vanity. They suggest that similarity in sensation seeking, extraverted behaviors, and social visibility have a more significant impact on relational quality than regarding oneself as physically desirable.
If narcissistic couples enjoy the same types of activities, and being in the spotlight, perhaps there are some celebrity couples in this category. Although there are countless individuals who love to see and be seen, often at the latest neighborhood hot spot. How convenient if their significant other exhibits the same love for the limelight.
But do these relationships last?
The Short Timer
Narcissism is often linked with short term relationships as opposed to marriage-bound bonding. Yet despite this trend, research indicates that narcissists may be attracted to other self-centered charmers as potential long term mates.
Lyons and Blanchard (2016) recognize that narcissism is the dark triad trait most strongly correlated with an interest in short-term mating. Yet they found that narcissistic women were attracted to narcissistic male faces for long-term relationships, even though narcissistic women themselves exhibit less relational commitment.
And when it comes to enduring qualities over time, we might consider the role of perceived perfection.
Mirror Time Reflects a Desire for Perfection
If time spent looking in mirrors reflects a desire to always look their best, perhaps narcissists do. This partner is the perfect arm charmer, enhancing the image of a fellow narcissist like a shiny new accessory.
Peterson and DeHart (2014) note in “In Defense of Self-Love” that narcissists prefer partners who are admiring, but also perfect — because perfect partners will enhance the narcissist´s own self-esteem. In this sense, two narcissists might be a match made in Heaven — neither of them ever caught dressed down, without makeup, or otherwise without their A-game image wise.
Sincerity Over Superficiality
Some people with narcissistic traits are kind, generous people, whose grandiose tendencies are tempered with positive personality traits. Others are showy, shallow, and superficial. Individuals in the latter category face significant challenges in attempting to develop healthy relationships of respect, if that is even their goal.
If you are not a narcissist, you will struggle to maintain a relationship with one. The most stable relational partners are other-focused, humble, and authentically grounded. You won´t catch them scanning the room for mirrors. Their eyes will be focused not on themselves, but on you.
A version of this article was first published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 3,00 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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