How Do I Love Me (Let Me Count the Ways)

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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?

Talk Nerdy To Me

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If a person’s sex dreams are any indication of her true personality, then I am apparently the love child of Woody Allen and Pee Wee Herman. And I should probably be concerned about the amount of pop culture permeating my brain. Last night, I stayed out until closing time sharing good wine and great conversation with a guy I am starting to get to know. Let’s call him “Joe”. Joe and I talked about many things, from family and travel to literature and football, so it was only natural that upon hitting the pillow at 3am I dreamt about him. But if this is what qualifies as a sex fantasy in my subconscious, I might as well get me to a nunnery tomorrow.

I think the dream started in a car – at least that’s the first part I can remember. Joe and I sat in our separate dance spaces (he was behind the wheel, so it must have been his car) and talked about some fascinating subject that I cannot remember for the life of me. The conversation came to a natural lull, and Joe told me that it was his birthday. So, I kissed him (apparently operating under the Marilyn Monroe philosophy of how to appropriately celebrate birthdays). The kiss was super awkward; I think I even had to hold his chin to keep him still. We stopped kissing. We talked more. Joe mentioned that it was his birthday. So, I kissed him. (My dreams get caught in time loops quite often.) The kiss was still awkward, but this time I was determined to stick it out until we made it work.

For some reason, we just couldn’t get our kisses to feel quite right. It was like our mouths were two puzzle pieces that look like they should absolutely connect, but no matter how many times you try them together they just…will…not…fit! Was this my subconscious sending a flare that Joe is not a good fit for me? A normal person would think yes, but I have always felt a bit awkward about kissing; I think too much about the mechanics of it and worry that I won’t be able to breathe, which keeps me from getting swept away by the magic of the moment. So it’s just as likely the dream was merely reflecting my neurotic fear that I will never experience that romance-novel moment of seeing fireworks and forgetting my own name. Even in a dream, I cannot relax.

Being two resourceful people, Dream Joe and I worked together to crack the kissing code, systematically trying different head positions and chin angles until we finally found the sweet spot and could begin the work of finding compatible things to do with our tongues. Did I not promise this would be a super-hot sex fantasy? Apparently, in my sex dreams I am just as deductive in my reasoning as I am when solving logic puzzles at work.

Joe invited me to go home with him and I agreed. Finally, some action! But, no. When we got to Joe’s apartment it was suddenly daytime and his courtyard was bustling with activity. As we walked toward his building, Joe (who was suddenly wearing a plaid shirt and a baseball cap) explained that before we could continue our private fun time, there was some very important public fun to be had. In anyone else’s dream this would have had kinky implications, but no such luck in my head.

That day, as it turned out, was the day that everyone in the building had to turn in their certified energy meter readings to the city government. No, I don’t get it either. In my dream world, once a month we citizens had to print out note-card-sized readings detailing our energy usage, get them certified and laminated, and hand them in for approval. Joe and his neighbors objected to this Orwellian regulation, so every month they participated in an act of group civil disobedience. As Joe held up his laminated, calligraphied (yes, calligraphy) certificate and grinned at me with a devilish twinkle in his eye, all of his neighbors slowly converged around him. Every single one of them now wore an identical plaid shirt and baseball cap. I don’t even want to begin to think about what this little nugget says about my psyche; I don’t need to poke the bear to know that it has claws and fangs and probably also rabies.

As one, Joe and his group of Joe-a-likes launched into what looked like an enthusiastic game of hacky sack played in the middle of a mosh pit. Instead of busting and bruising each other, though, they focused their aggression on the plastic coated certificates. Apparently, their ultimate act of sticking it to the man was to soil, mangle, and otherwise disfigure those pristine little symbols of government overreach before handing them in as expected. This is probably as rebellious as my inner-teacher’s-pet would let them be. From my vantage point just above the mayhem (a position to which I had somehow teleported the instant the action began), my job was to document the violence with my camera. Why did I suddenly have a camera? Just in case something like this happened – duh.

Don’t worry, I got some great mental pics. One of them was an awesome action shot of Joe smashing his certificate into a muddy planter like a rabid pitcher in a cricket match. He was suitably impressed when I showed him, but there wasn’t much time to bask in his admiration because a car had arrived to take us to Detroit. It was a small SUV, and while I have no idea who else was in the car, I remember that there was only one seat available so Joe and I had to squeeze into the back seat together. This turned out to be an excellent position for more kissing practice, and I was just starting to think I might finally get some action in this sex dream when, wouldn’t you know it, the van passed through a wormhole and arrived on the set of a fashion photo shoot in the glamorous Motor City.

Much to my surprise, the model for the fashion shoot turned out to be me. Well, I was one of them, anyway. I was dressed up in a slinky pink negligee and instructed to writhe around in faux ecstasy with the male model for all of the wide shots, while a pretty young thing in the exact same outfit popped into the scene for the close ups. This is my brain’s not-so-subtle way of reinforcing my confidence in my general physical fitness while simultaneously boosting my neurosis about having a “butter face”. Just what every girl wants in the middle of a sex fantasy: her mind holding a mirror up to her ego.

On top of everything else, the male model in the shoot hated me, because I refused to have actual sex with him in front of the camera. He kept giving me vaguely-gay Argentine death stares when the photographer – who I swear was from an episode of America’s Next Top Model – paused to reload his film. Yes, film. My Luddite tendencies run deep. So, even in the middle of a sex fantasy I get rejected by men because I won’t put out without at least a little conversation first. Does this mean I wish I were more of a slut? More likely it means I am a prude through to the very core of my being. Awesome.

Eventually, the photo shoot ended – though no one told me; I figured it out when I found myself writhing against a bare mattress while the male model chatted up the hot-face girl and everyone else stood around looking awkwardly embarrassed for me. Joe, who for some reason had not yet decided to run for the hills, climbed back the into SUV with me, but this time he sat on the other side of the back seat and I got crammed in with my nemesis the face model. She immediately turned into my 19-year-old cousin, Paige, which was pretty great for me because Paige is built like a bird and I had to have her on my lap. At this point, it became clear to me that the driver of the car was my dad (hello, Freud!), and I’m pretty sure that the person riding shotgun was Heidi Klum. Seriously, I need to stop watching reality TV.

As we drove away from Detroit, and as I became more and more sexually frustrated in my own fantasy, I suddenly realized that I had absolutely nothing appropriate to wear to a swanky event I would be attending that night with Joe. Having completely failed to impress him in any way thus far, I would now have to accompany him to a party in jeans and a T-shirt from the musical Wicked. Fortunately, this was MY sex dream, and even in a world of its own creation my brain does not rest until a problem is solved. I remembered that back at home base I had my suitcase, which was full of clothes packed for (what the hell?) my college reunion, including a little black dress. The reunion, dress, and Joe’s party were all near Boston, I guess, which is clearly only an hour-or-so drive from Detroit.

In the blink of a REM-sleeping eye, I was snug in that little black dress, back with Joe in his car at night, and back to (finally) getting some dream nookie. For some reason, Joe’s car was much smaller this time so we were crammed together, but who cared? We were alone and all over each other; two over-the-hill teenagers making out like we’d just gotten our braces off. Things heated up and I found myself finally confident that Joe really did like me – largely because he kept moving my hand down to grasp something hard and insisting that I “tug on the parking brake”. It was raunchy and arousing, until I looked down and I realized… he was not being euphemistic. Joe really did want me to keep a hand on the parking brake so his car wouldn’t start rolling backwards down the hill. Safety first – and apparently rides before brides.

With this sudden confirmation that I can’t even manage to play first fiddle in a fantasy, my sex dream finally imploded. I woke up, alone, with the sun in my eyes and my cat hollering in my face for her breakfast. Figuring at least one of us should feel satisfied, I fed her.