ME ME ME

Help! I think I married a narcissist.

This story is part of a series called Craigslist Confessional. Writer Helena Bala has been meeting people via Craigslist and documenting their stories for over two years. Each story is written as it was told to her. Bala says that by listening to their stories, she hopes to bear witness to her subjects’ lives, providing them with an outlet, a judgment-free ear, and a sense of catharsis. By sharing them, she hopes to facilitate acceptance and understanding of issues that are seldom publicly discussed, at the risk of fear, stigma, and ostracism. Read more here. Names and certain identifying details may have been changed or omitted to protect her subjects’ anonymity.

Troy, 40s

When I first met my now wife, she made sure I knew that she was valedictorian of her high school graduating class. I thought it strange even then—after all, she was bright, friendly, outgoing, and gorgeous. She certainly didn’t need to advertise herself to me. And to prove how much she was wanted, she could rattle off a list of men trying, at that very moment, to get her to go out with them—she made sure I knew that, too. Whatever it was that might have rubbed me the wrong way about her back then, I chalked up to her having been spoiled by her parents.

Several years into the marriage and with the help of some current events that seem to mirror her behavior, I’ve realized something: I think my wife is an undiagnosed narcissist.

The thing about Sarah is that she’s always had her parents to clean up after her. She has an incredible sense of entitlement. We couldn’t afford a grandiose wedding, for instance—we got married young—and she just had her parents pay for the whole obscenely overdone thing. It never occurred to her that perhaps they couldn’t afford it, or that it would be ridiculous to spend over $50,000 on a wedding that we could have put toward a house. She simply felt that she deserved it—that’s what she told me every time I brought it up: “I deserve this!”

Things got much worse after we had children. She was an amazing mother to our kids while they were young—doting, dutiful, even nitpicky with their care. She wanted them to have the best of everything. But as soon as they outgrew the age when their mothers are the center of the universe, she just flipped. She pits them against each other and against me. She manipulates them into doing and saying what she wants. She plays the victim whenever it suits her. Whenever we fight, she purposefully tries to get me to cross some sort of line—so that she can hold it against me later. Sometimes, she even records our argument, “for proof.”

What I’ve realized over the years is that she strives on having a moral high ground. I made the awful mistake of almost cheating on her several years ago, and she caught me—she saw the conversations online. Ever since, she’s told anyone and everyone who will listen, including our children, our families, and our friends, about how I cheated on her “several times, with several people.” She amplifies the situation to make herself look like even more of a victim and me like even more of an animal. It’s humiliating. She constantly twists my words around; she hears what she wants to hear, not what I say. But the scariest part is that it’s never safe to admit a mistake with her, because she has this running tally of things that she can hold against me. And of course: she’s never wrong.

She always gets her way, in the end. If there’s something that she wants, she will just keep up a steady stream of pressure until you give in and do it. She slowly wears you down until you can’t take it any more. And on the extremely rare occasion that I grow a backbone and resist or turn the tables on her—oh! It’s the end of the world. She just becomes the most fragile, most innocent person and I, the vilest monster for having suggested that some blame may lie with her.

And to people who don’t know us—man, we must look perfect! She’s constantly posting on social media about everything she buys. She’s made our daughter into her little carbon copy. She’s a stay-at-home mom, so she fancies herself a bit of an online influencer—she spends hours (and thousands of dollars) staging photos just so. Our other children have a whole bunch of issues; they can’t get along with her. I made the mistake of trying to explain to her, one time, about a problem one of them was having with her, and she just couldn’t understand it. She can’t understand how someone else’s feelings, while different from hers, could be just as valid. As far as she’s concerned, there is only one reality: hers.

Why do I stay with her? The thing is: if it’s not your week on the s**tlist, she can be quite pleasant, and really funny. She has a revolving door of “best friends” who come and go—always temporary, always amazing in the beginning and terrible, heinous, stupid, very bad people in the end—and she kind of takes turns chewing out the people in her life until there’s no one left. Somebody always does her wrong, at some point. So it’s like playing Russian roulette—you take your chances.

Read more Craigslist Confessionals here. To share your story with Helena, email her at craigslistconfessionalqz@gmail.com. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

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