Narcissus didn’t stand a chance. All he had to do to live a long and healthy life was avoid reflective surfaces, yet there he sat, in his prime, wasting away on the edge of a lake. Seems pretty weak – except it was inevitable. While he certainly wasn’t a perfect man, Narcissus did have a really, really good-looking reflection.
It is well documented that my heart and I have an unhealthy affinity for narcissists. This is clearly not good for me, as evidenced by the fact that my most successful relationships thus far are with my two dependent cats and a ’96 Toyota. I have tried to kick the habit time and again, but I keep running into the same snag: the problem with narcissists is that there is a lot of awesomeness there to adore.
The original Narcissus was literally part god. He was the love child of the river god Cephisus and a sexy nymph named Lyriope, so his esteem for his own physique was 100% legit. Even Apollo – the real-deal god, not the pilot from Battlestar Galactica, though I personally would take either – was infatuated because Narcissus was so frakking pretty. While I have never had the pleasure of a romantic entanglement with such an exceptional beauty, experience has taught me that every narcissist has some remarkable trait that makes him worthy of affection – his own as well as mine.
(Of course, there are also plenty of folks with a completely unfounded esteem for their own greatness, but we should label them accurately as what they really are: delusional asshats.)
Like Jane Goodall of the Ego jungle, my years in the field have brought me vast knowledge of these cold yet fascinating creatures. They are not all alike, but they are all capable of driving a lover to despair. In hopes of saving even one future Aminias – the Narcissus admirer who kills himself in the Greek version of the myth – or Echo – who in Ovid’s telling retreats to the mountains to end her days in lovelorn solitude – I feel obligated to share my research with the world.
Within the Genus Narcissa I have so far categorized three distinct Species: the Passionate Artist, the Depressed Intellectual and the King of the Room. Which makes me Dorothy in a very F-ed up version of The Wizard of Oz.
Artiste Passio is the most classic species of narcissist. This guy is all about his talent, which only makes him increasingly talented. I have pined for brilliant writers, hilarious performers, and more musicians (okay, bass players) than I care to admit, but regardless of medium the outcome is the same: there is no room for anything but “the craft”. Sure, these Artists love the attention, the admiration, and the praise we shower on them, but that is all they love. From whom the praise flows is irrelevant – unless that “whom” happens to have financial backing. Shutting off the affection faucet will often get the Artist’s attention (he might even take steps to keep it flowing freely), but do not mistake a love of being loved for actual love of the lover. We are merely faces in his adoring throng.
A more controversial species is the Literati Depresso – not because it is controversial to be depressed (heck, it is practically vogue these days), but because calling a depressed person a narcissist isn’t exactly PC. I don’t care; I have had enough relationships with depressives suffering from everything from chemical imbalances to Woody Allen to know that a certain amount of self-obsession is needed to maintain that level of inner torment. It takes impressive focus and mental agility to see every interaction as a reflection on themselves, analyze all new information in terms of how it impacts their life, and suspect that every personal thought might hold the secret to their impossible existence. No question, these Eeyores have remarkable brains, but rest assured there is no capacity reserved for wondering how we are feeling today. (Unless it is how we are feeling about them…)
Rex Locus is the third and most insidious species of narcissist – the King of the Room. This is the guy with Personality. Mr. Awesome. His defining characteristic is that people love him, but the problem is his lack of ability – or possibly courage – to sincerely love anyone in return. Narcissus loved that Echo followed him everywhere, so he called out that she should show herself; when she rushed out of hiding and hugged him, he recoiled at the intimacy and literally shoved her aside. The King of the Room does the same. His ‘why’ will vary from one to the next – he’s a loner, he’s a rebel, we aren’t perfect, we’re too perfect – but it will always be some version of, “Uncertainty and vulnerability scare me! So…. I’m gonna go meet a room full of new people now.” Like sharks they keep moving forward, leaving us to flounder in their wake.
Still, we chase these narcissists time and again, keep Echoing their greatness, and we probably always will. Pain fades over time, but Talent, Intelligence, and Charm remain potent drugs. Narcissus didn’t stand a chance against his own beauty; how can we Echos be expected to resist?