8 Early Red Flags You’re Dating a Covert Narcissist
I caught these little-known signs…but didn’t act on them.
Narcissists are… “odd” people. The way they talk, the way they think, the way they relate, and the things they do, all have a tinge of oddity to them. Something inside you (deep inside) notices them, but the optimist in you makes you want to ignore them, because these people are so charismatic and charming, and you seem like a perfect match…
…at least at first.
There are indeed signs beyond the charm, charisma, and showers of attention and affection that you can watch for. Behaviors they’ll display when their guard is down, when they think no one’s looking.
Always be looking. Always.
Here, I’ll highlight eight little-known red flags that you might be involved with a narcissist. These often appear early on in the relationship, and become more pronounced as time goes on.
1. Something is “off” about their texting patterns.
Often, they’ll be fast texters, because they’re always online. They’re visiting their (many) social media accounts, checking their blog stats (even though they rarely visit others’ blogs and they interact with other bloggers even less), involved in a flame-war with someone online, or “checking in” with the many “friends” (acquaintances) in their circle.
All of this activity, however, may stall their replies to you. I would get confused when I would send him a text, he would read it, but then four minutes would go by before he’d respond.
They’re so captivating that you want to spend all evening texting with them, too. Much of that texting is waiting. A few minutes here and a few minutes there add up throughout the evening.
They do reply pretty quickly at times, just often enough for you to realize that those responses could be instantaneous — if you weren’t merely another source of supply, interchangeable with anyone else in their circle.
You get the feeling that they alternate between hot and cold, a cycle of hyper-attachment and detachment.
2. There seems to be a lack of presence, especially when you’re together.
Their minds are usually somewhere else — their workday, a conflict they had with a boss or a family member, the fact that a Facebook or Instagram post isn’t getting the attention they thought it would, an off-hand comment someone made that they took personally…you get the idea.
Truthfully, any of these stressors could preoccupy a person, at least somewhat. But that doesn’t mean you ignore the people you’re with, or go about your business mindlessly, without paying at least half-attention to what you’re doing.
They‘re always lost in some kind of self-directed thought, and they forget to be in the here and now, with you.
3. Their moods swing wildly — they’re often prone to rage, and they can’t or won’t let go.
They often overreact to the slightest disappointment, delay, mistake, or hiccup, by completely flying off the handle. It’s like 0–60 in a split second. And it isn’t a quick F-bomb and then it’s over, and back to regularly-scheduled programming. It’s as though dark, tumultuous clouds have rolled in for the long haul.
Instead, it can basically ruin the rest of their day. From here, their thinking becomes very black-and-white: everything “sucks”, nothing is good, and they hate everything. If they get caught at a red light, expect an outburst of anger. If they hit a second one, it’ll intensify. There’s no appreciation for the green lights, however, because that’s how every light “should” be automatically.
Even though you had absolutely nothing to do with the reason they’re angry, they will almost assuredly treat you as though you did. The hostility they’re feeling toward an unrelated circumstance will get transferred to you.
The dark clouds can suddenly dissipate and they may instantly brighten up again if something “good” (by their definition and standards) happens to them. They might get a compliment or a “thank you” at work, or maybe an award. It’ll be short-lived; they’ll misplace their keys or phone and the apocalypse will return.
Eventually, everything will “suck” again.
4. They ruminate, and cannot let go.
As I mentioned, they ruminate, meaning that they keep reviewing the same event, conversation, or situation in their head over and over again. In doing this, their mood and thoughts spiral downward until they’ve tied themselves up into pretzels of confusion, irritability, depression, anxiety, and pessimism.
One side-effect of rumination is that they can hold grudges forever. Once they’ve been slighted by someone, there is usually no going back. They simply cannot or will not let it go and move on.
The one exception to this is if they are in need of narcissistic supply, and the target of their grudge has been a good source of supply in the past and there’s a possibility that they might be again. Then they might appear to forget about whatever they think that person did to them.
- ProTip: You’re probably going to feel like a babysitter, parent, or therapist. They need a lot of reassurance, and no matter how many hours (!) you spend trying to coax and soothe them, it’s never enough.
5. They have imbalanced body-image.
Their body image will either be yang, or it will be yin; there will usually be little-to-nothing in between. Nothing is ever “okay” — either it rocks or it sucks.
- If they perceive their body as imperfect, they will berate themselves. Even males may develop eating disorders and be overly concerned about metrics such as their weight, body-fat percentage, or body mass index.
- If their body looks fine to them, then it’s not just “fine”, it “rocks the free world”, and they’ll show off their assets to make sure everybody knows just how great their legs, their abdominal six-pack, their biceps, or their pecs are.
They may claim that they like to dress for comfort, and this may be at least partly true. However, comfort is second in priority to the interest of vanity.
6. There’s something up with their friends.
Relationships of any kind (including friendships) are never true bonds with other individual people. A healthy bond, even a very platonic one, involves a degree of closeness between human beings. Narcissists don’t develop that kind of closeness with others, so you’ll probably sense something abnormal about the friends they choose and the connections they form with them.
Their friendships can take on several variations.
They may choose friends whom they perceive as “inferior” in some way.
Examples include females (if they’re male), less intelligent, less accomplished, lower socioeconomic status, people who are younger than they are, and so on.
They surround themselves with people they can feel superior to. In turn, they are intimidated by those to whom they feel inferior.
Friends who are immature or create drama, or perhaps are tangled up in drama in their own lives.
- These people provide a fair amount of entertainment and even schadenfreude for the narcissist.
Friends who don’t really act like friends.
- These may be people who once gave them the time of day, but now they essentially ghost them — or perhaps they’ve slowly drifted apart, and the other person was perfectly okay with letting go. The narcissist, on the other hand, will attempt to strike up a conversation (“check in”) with them as though they’re best buds.
- ProTip: you’ll see a general pattern of the narcissist texting the “friend”, the friend might even reply, but the conversation will be short, and the friend never initiates one with the narcissist.
7. Nothing is ever good enough.
Narcissists have unreasonably high expectations. They set impossible goals. And then, they become disappointed (read: hostile) when those expectations and goals are not met.
You feel like shaking them and asking “what did you think would happen?”, or shrugging and saying, “oh well, life happens. Get over it.”
They demand perfection, and that includes perfect experiences, perfect conversations, perfect workdays, perfect commutes home, and so on. They do expect to hit every green light. They expect that the grocery store will always have their favorite chips in stock. They expect that everything will go smoothly at work and that all of their coworkers will read their mind and anticipate their every need or desire (which is quite hypocritical, since a narcissist would never do that for anyone else!).
They may have had a perfect day thus far, with that smooth-sailing commute and properly-mindreading coworkers, and then they get home and BAM…
…They forgot to thaw the meat for dinner. Or they hit a long red light, just at the beginning of the light cycle. Or they get a bill in the mail that they don’t understand at first. Or they’ve lost power and they have to reset the clocks and reboot the computer.
As you can see, the list goes on…
Suddenly, that perfect day turned into a shitty one and they’re in a bad mood. Never mind that they didn’t get into an accident or road rage incident on the way home. Never mind that they didn’t get called into the boss’s office for their laziness or poor people skills. Never mind that they remembered to prep everything else for dinner.
The one hiccup equals imperfection which is almost a personal blow to a narcissist.
8. There’s a strange emphasis on activities and time.
It’s almost like each day has time-slots, even weekends. Every time-slot must be filled with something, always planned out early in advance. You feel like you’re going and going like an Energizer Bunny, all day without reprieve. It’s exciting and even exhilarating, but it can also be exhausting, leaving you with no time to engage in the activities you want to do — or even just get some relaxation time to yourself.
The narcissist is highly cognizant of time, such that the (Lack of) Presence (#2 in this article) trait comes into play. They’re so focused on what time it is and keeping to the pre-planned schedule that they forget to enjoy the present moment and engage fully in the present activity. They’re always preoccupied with what’s coming up next.
This is because they’re hardly ever fulfilled, and if or when they are, it’s short-lived at best.
- ProTip: Set boundaries. Make sure you carve out time for your own hobbies and interests. Make sure you set aside your own relaxation time alone, or time with family or other friends. Make sure you don’t become dominated by the narcissist, because that’s exactly what they’ll try to do.
Other Tips For Handling a Narcissist
Ask yourself if you can walk away? If you’re not married and there are no children together, or if you don’t depend on one another for financial survival, you probably can. If not, it’s important to deal with these types of people realistically.
Make sure you “hang on to yourself”. Never forget who you are, what you like to do, your preferences, your daily rhythm, your health, and the kind of behavior or treatment that you will and will not tolerate. Always maintain your own identity and firm, healthy boundaries.
Always listen to your intuition. That gut instinct is there for a reason! If you spot early signs of narcissism in your relationship and you’re not too deep into it yet, gently and diplomatically walk away. Change your phone number (or at least block their number) and block them on social media if you have to.
It’s not wrong for you to come first in your life. If you don’t take care of you, who will?