My girlfriend believed I was a narcissist. Perhaps it was time for me to tone down the self-love.
Here is the story about the man who has been my love for the last six years: a 6'2" balding man with a huge nose. We have the same first, middle and final name. I'm what is known as a "narcissist".
Julia began to poke around my head. I had no idea that my mind was strange. She asked us to tell her our worst moments as we lay on the bed with covers covering our naked bodies.
What is a worst of reel?
It's like your five most embarrassing life moments.
There was nothing I could think of that I did wrong. How often do you play yours?
It's pretty much all the time, unless you distract yourself. It's especially bad when I meditate.
Many of our differences made sense now. She couldn't just sit and think without checking her phone, while I could stare a wall at least an hour. She would drink two drinks when we arrived at a party to calm her nerves, while I rarely drank.
Her mind was hostile, but mine wasn't. It was therefore surprising to see her as a tireless political spokesperson who braved the daily crises of the world, whereas I was a home-based memoirist who did not.
We continued to date despite our differences or maybe because of them.
She asked me, "Why don't you queue?" when she saw me jumping from foot to foot and tutting loudly at the post-office.
"I don't understand," I replied. 'I don't know,' I said.
She laughed. My favorite sound in the world. Do you think that you are a little narcissistic? Let's do a test.'
I pulled out my phone to take the Narcissistic personality Inventory test. I chose the best statement from the 40 options, like: "I like to blend in the crowd" or "I enjoy being the center of attention."
I scored 24/40. This is a narcissistic score. We repeated the test with her and she scored 1/40. The result would have been zero had I not persuaded her to choose 'People enjoy hearing me tell stories'. I enjoyed hearing her tell stories. Let's not make it about me. (Ha. Yeah, right.)
She read that 'people with narcissistic personalities disorder' have exaggerated self-importance, and a reduced ability to empathize. It's not you.
I shrugged. "I'm okay with it," I replied, thinking that was what a narcissist might think. We decided to have our child together and she seemed to be fine with that too. We tried to conceive for a year and half, initially as a hobby with wine, later as a job with fertility apps and finally as financial masochism at clinics, where Julia was probed and biopsied and drugged while I masturbated occasionally in a large cabinet.
Our minds were further diverged by the fertility industrial complex, which was vast, interminable and dehumanizing. Julia's turned on her, as it was prone to do. She was convinced that it wouldn't work and her body would be beyond redemption. She lost little things (sleep and hope) and then big things (the ability to feel joy and the patience to listen to my great metaphors that I had used on that particular day). She became obsessed with fertility science and chasing her cure.
Infertility is a tortured biological limbo that, if one has money, will sell you hope. I assumed that reality would be as I wanted it to be. I told her nothing but platitudes, that everything would be fine. When things weren't going well, I would hide in my work - if that is what you call it.
"How about therapy?" She asked this question on her way back to the fertility clinic after one of many appointments.
"I've always thought that I would be good at this," I said. "But I don’t have the time."
'I meant us going.'
Why would we want to go? 'Our only problem is infertility.
She said, 'I also used to believe that', but all I heard was 'I do too'.
On another occasion, I found my bag partially packed and unpacked in the hall when I returned home on a Saturday. It was the same bag that I packed during my two previous breakups. It happened again, but it couldn't have happened again.
She didn't kick me out. She had urged me to attend a silent 10-day Buddhist Vipassana retreat, but a place opened up at the last minute. I protested, saying that I'd already faced all of my demons. She joked about how someone who is passionate should know the person better. I had to help myself first so that I could help her. Infertility was a heavy burden to bear alone.
The retreat center had strict rules, including no talking, no eye contact, no stimulants, and no reading, writing, or exercising. The 45-minute meditation block felt like an entire decade was dragged out over spikes covered in acid. There were still 11 hours of the day to go.
My mind was constantly searching for distractions during these sessions. I heard songs, thought of memories, ideas, and traumas. It also brought up unhappy childhood memories. This week quickly became the worst of my life.
After a particularly torturous experience, I ran into the woods and started crying. I punched a branch and spoke to a worm that talked back. I was so scared I killed some nearby ants. I also had an erection. I realized: I was going through something similar to Julia -- intrusive, consuming thoughts.
I could not help but feel her terror and loneliness, and the way I had failed her. This meant that I had more empathy than I thought.
I returned to the meditation room and started listening to the teachers. I resolved to stop hiding the negative thoughts that were constantly running through my head.
The six days that followed were also awful, but productive. The retreat was to change some of the stories that I began telling myself as a child, and another in a queue at a post-office. I'm not a Narcissist. I just know how to think as one. This started when I was an introverted child, in a world that did not value these things. When I started to feel too much, I told myself that I was feeling little.
If people don't like your personality, you can decide if they are right or wrong. You will start to believe a lie if you repeat it enough. These were decisions, such as the one I made to be a memoirist - limiting my life and becoming self-centered. These choices made me an emotionally unavailable spouse and father, if given the chance.
In the real world I apologized a lot and took a short break. I didn't want to write about happier days until we made this one - even childless - as good as possible. After we had lost hope, we were in another doctor's waiting room, after I.V.F. We were sobbing in joy when we saw the first glimpses of snow on the tiny screen.
I don't hear worms anymore. The retreat and everything that followed it has helped me know myself better, but I love myself less. This extra space allows me to love other people more deeply than I thought possible.
Julia and I will often share a drink when we get to a party, just to calm our nerves. I care about what other people think. This means I buy gifts. Arrive on Time Listen before I talk.
I also have a reel of my worst moments, where I loop the times when I let Julia down. A mildly hostile mindset can be useful; it helps you stay honest.
In this spirit, I have to correct something I hope is blindingly obvious. This is not the story of my love, but of the loves in my life - a workaholic politician with a mixture of intellectual strength, social anxiety, and a choice to keep the world wide, and my daughter who has, at age 2, her mother's thick, blonde hair and her own cheeky sense of humor, as well as my nose.
We may not share the same name (first, middle, or last), but we do share almost everything else.
Adam Fletcher is a writer living in Berlin who is currently finishing his memoir on Vipassana.
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