The Advice Goddess
The Selfies of Vulnerable Narcissism
I’m a woman in my late 20s. Guys don’t have car crashes looking at me, but I am pretty and have a nice boyfriend. I have three drop-dead gorgeous girlfriends who are perpetually single, but not by choice. I realized that they all do two things: complain that things never work out with a guy and constantly post stunning selfies on Facebook. One takes a daily pic in her car, showing how hot she looks. When I mentioned this to my boyfriend, he said guys want a hot girlfriend but they don’t want one who does that. Please explain.
Sure, getting other people to like you starts with liking yourself — just not to the point where you’re dozing off in front of the mirror.
Selfie posting, not surprisingly, has been associated with narcissism — being a self-absorbed, self-important user with a lack of empathy and a sucking need for admiration. But consider that there are nuances to what sort of person posts selfies and why. There are those who post selfies in keeping with their interests, like “Here’s today’s outfit!” (because they’re into fashion) or “Here I am about to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel” (because they are into adventure travel and are also kind of an idiot).
Though these “stuff I like” shots include a picture of the person, they’re ultimately about some hobby or interest they have. And then there are people like the women you mention, who simply post endless vanity shots like “It’s Monday and I’m still alive, and aren’t I pretty? #WeAllHaveOurCrossToBear”
Clinical psychologist Christopher T. Barry and his colleagues found that posting a lot of “physical appearance selfies” is associated with a subtype of narcissism he calls “vulnerable narcissism.” Vulnerable narcissism involves self-worth that’s “highly contingent” on what others think, “hypervigilance” about rejection, and a tendency to manufacture a façade to protect against rejection. (“Grandiose narcissism” is the louder, more domineering subtype most of us think of as narcissism.)
Like ice cream and medical marijuana, narcissism comes in different flavors. Though you can probably feel for the vulnerable narcissists, they also come up short on empathy. They just do it more quietly. Chances are that guys who want more than a hookup or arm candy see a slew of “Worship me!” selfies as a generic sign of narcissism — and a big flashing DANGER sign telling them to look elsewhere.
Beauty fades, but unempathetic is forever.
Paging Dr. Filler
I was a married man for a long time, but about a year ago, after grieving my divorce, I got into friends-with-benefits things with two different women. (Neither knows about the other.) We like each other, but we don’t call or text regularly or discuss whether we’re seeing anybody else. Well, last month, I met this great woman and felt a real romantic connection. We haven’t slept together because I want to end these FWB things first. My question is: How do I do that? What does a woman who isn’t a girlfriend but has been having semi-regular sex with a man want to hear that will not hurt her?
The really terrible breakups are those where the other party just won’t let go — like when the gym chain or cable company makes you talk with three “retention specialists” and show the lease to your new place 6,343 miles away, with no access to transportation but a rickety footbridge over a 400-foot chasm.
However, Paul Mongeau, who researches communication in relationships, finds that there are three different levels of friends-with-benefits relationships: “true friends,” “network opportunism” and “just sex.”
“True friends” mean something to each other. They know and care about each other and also have sex.
“Network opportunists” are a step down from true friends. They’re people in the same social group (or “network”) who aren’t really friends but are friendly enough to go home together if neither meets anybody better at the bar.
The lowest on the FWB ladder is what you have — the “just sex” thing. The just sex-ers don’t hate each other or anything, but for them the “friend” in FWB “is a misnomer.” They’re in each other’s life for one reason: to be sexual grout.
It bodes well for the woman you want that you care so much about being kind to the women you don’t.
But consider that you probably have deeper and more frequent conversations with the guy who makes your burrito at Chipotle. So, for these women, losing their “just sex” man will be inconvenient and annoying but probably not as heartbreaking as needing to find a new plumber. Just politely inform them that you have to end it because you’ve started seeing somebody — and not just for 45 minutes at one in the morning.
Got a problem? Write to Amy Alkon at 171 Pier Ave., Ste. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email her at AdviceAmy@aol.com.
Alkon’s latest book is “Good Manners for Nice People who Sometimes Say F*ck.” She blogs at advicegoddess.com and podcasts at blogtalkradio.com.