Have you ever had dinner with a narcissist? If not, let me tell me be the first to tell you that it’s an unforgettable experience – one you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. In normal conversations, there’s an exchange of ideas, a give and a take, but that’s not how the Narcissist works. They speak. They don’t hear. They pontificate. They don’t reciprocate. In twenty minutes (but who’s counting?) I was able to speak a total of nine words: “I’ll have the crusted tilapia,” and “How was your summer?”
Maybe if I hadn’t asked first about her summer; if I had jumped in with a summary of my own, the evening might have played out differently… but I doubt it. I checked my watch again. Twenty-five of the longest minutes I could remember, more painful than sitting in the dentist’s chair.
I hoped the look on my face hid the truth: that I was bored out of my gourd, and that my cheek muscles were starting to ache. I didn’t know how much longer I could hold this pose. I thought back to the week before when we first met and how I had been charmed by her articulateness, her intelligence, and showmanship. Oh, yes, she was all of that, but now I knew better and was reminded of that old elementary school playground chant: “You can dish it out, but you can’t take it.”
The waitress brought our dinners, and when she asked if there was anything else we needed, I overreacted.
“Yes, yes, yes,” I answered, “Extra lemons, please. Yes, yes. Thank you.” It was good to hear the sound of my own voice.
The Narcissist picked up her fork and dug into her lasagna. I had to admire the way she was able to eat and talk at the same time without spraying bits of food across the table. I listened inattentively as she continued talking about her trip to the Brazilian Amazon, the native informants she had interviewed, and the day in Manaus.
I wondered what I could do – if anything – to turn off the broken spigot.
“Speaking of Manaus,” I interrupted, “did you ever see that wonderful movie about the opera house? You know, Fitzcarraldo.”
She answered by thrusting her smart phone in my face and showing me photos of children playing in a village, women cooking at an open fire, a crocodile on a riverbank, and a snake up a tree.
“I’ll be returning in two months… to continue my research.” With glazed eyes and a determined bite, I chewed my tilapia, enjoying the feel of my tongue and mouth in motion, while she described her research project in even fuller detail, which was, of course, funded by some major research foundation.
My life may not be as exciting as hers, I thought, but I did have one. Did she even know I was here? I remembered reading somewhere that researchers found that all adults – except those afflicted with autism and schizophrenia – responded to other people’s yawns with yawns of their own. I decided to try it – just to see if I was here or not.
My first yawn was relatively subdued, obviously too subtle to register. I yawned again, adding audio to video. It, too, went unnoticed. My third yawn sounded like a cat in heat. Still she didn’t yawn. She didn’t miss a beat. Obviously there was a third group of adults unresponsive to the yawns of others -- Narcissists.
Next I rested my elbow on the dinner table and dropped my forehead into my hand.
When she didn’t react to this show of disengagement, I pushed my dinner plate aside and collapsed dramatically on the table.
The imagined image of myself lying on the table top, unnoticed by my dinner companion, racked my body with swallowed laughter.
“Are you OK?” the waitress asked. I pulled up my head. Tears were streaming down my face. I wiped them away with my dinner napkin.
“Yes, fine…. And thanks for noticing,” I answered.
“Dessert?” she asked.
Before I could say no, the monologist asked for strawberry pie and coffee. That would add another twenty painful minutes to the evening.
“Nothing for me,” I said. “Just the check.”
“Let me tell you about my niece,” she continued. “She’s only eighteen months old, talking a blue streak and in full sentences.” A number of smart ass answers were on the tip of my tongue, but I said nothing; after all, I was raised to be polite … plus I doubted she would hear me. “And she can do 100-piece jigsaw puzzles by herself. Totally amazing.”
“Totally,” I repeated after her.
The waitress left our checks and disappeared. I opened my purse, found the exact amount plus a tip for the waitress, laid it on the table, and got up to leave.
That was when she first took note of me.
“You leaving?” she asked, surprised. “But I haven’t had dessert yet.”
“I’m sorry, but I have an appointment in twenty minutes. I don’t want to be late.”
“We must do this again sometime.”
The monologist’s total disconnect with reality finally got to me.
“By the way,” I asked, “Do you know my name?”
She hesitated, obviously flummoxed by the question and was still grasping for an answer when I exited.
THE BOTTOM WHINE: The spell of the Narcissist comes in a breath,
But dies an even faster death.
Whiningly yours, Carol