Lessons from the Bachelorette
A Narcissistic Love Story
I never would have thought I would be writing about the Bachelorette series. Watching the show is a guilty pleasure for me that I always thought I would keep private. This season, however, the gaslighting, manipulation and narcissistic tactics in the relationship between Hannah and Luke created a spotlight for some of the prominent issues many of my clients face.
For those that haven’t watched this season it featured 24- year old Hannah Brown as the Bachelorette and 24-year old Luke Parker as one of the contestants. Both raised in the South and looking for love, Hannah and Luke are attractive, well spoken, and charismatic. Their relationship was dynamic, passionate and utterly painful to watch if you have ever been involved with a narcissist.
Introduction to a Narcissist
Luke had Hannah’s attention from the beginning even winning the “first impression rose”, as many narcissists do in real life. On the show Luke was charming and handsome to Hannah but he was not well liked by his peers, lying, gaslighting, and causing tension with the other men. Hannah questioned him on why no one liked him and only received trivial responses or he blamed others for being jealous and sensitive.
Hannah kept passing him through to subsequent rounds and talked multiple times about her immediate and intense connection to Luke. As is typical in narcissistic relationships, Hannah would believe his manipulations as truths. She thought their connection was special. Hannah thought of him as a “jigsaw puzzle for me”, talked about how she is “connected to him” and fell for his lies and charms; until she didn’t.
The Gaslighting Phase
As the series was wrapping up and relationships were growing more intimate, Luke, a devout Christian, stated that if she was having sex with the other men he would leave the show. Hannah said she had been having sex and did not regret her choices. Luke attempted to back pedal by telling Hannah she was misunderstanding him and misconstruing his message (gaslighting). He gave her another opportunity to change her tune; if she agreed that having sex was a mistake he could work through it and continue to be with her. Luke’s attempt was to use God to make Hannah feel guilty when she had not done anything to Luke. The narcissistic trap was set, Luke was testing how much she was willing to compromise herself for him and attempting to confuse her in the process.
Hannah responded by saying her sexual experiences were not a mistake and sending Luke on his merry way, not once, but twice after another boundary violation later in that episode (he came back after she sent him away once).
While I am not diagnosing Luke as a narcissist, his character and actions on the Bachelorette certainly resonated with those that have been in narcissistic relationships. Luke spun a web of lies, manipulated, and created a picture of a life that Hannah liked and wanted. Unfortunately, in a narcissist relationship, to achieve the fantasy Hannah could not exist. She would have to give up aspects of herself, autonomy, independence, sexuality, core self beliefs to make the fantasy happen but lose herself in the process. In that moment Hannah had a choice to make: the love fantasy or love herself unapologetically.
Now imagine if Hannah was unsure of who she was and what she wanted. What if Hannah listened to Luke’s words over her own inner voice? What if she valued what Luke represented to her, a successful, attractive man, a picturesque life, a good Christian, more than how she valued herself? What if she grew up in a family environment that was emotionally neglectful in which she did not have the emotional mirror to know even what her own inner voice said? What if she grew up in an environment learning to value a man’s word over her own? What if she didn’t have other bachelors and was desperately lonely? This choice is not easy when you consider these options. When you betray yourself, the pain in this choice is very real and difficult to move on from.
Below are six areas to consider and help you identify your vulnerability in narcissistic relationships.
Watch for making the fantasy better than the reality. Are they selling you on a hope or a dream you have? Are you focused more on how they make you feel rather than who they are? Hannah felt connected yet Luke was a puzzle. This is a sign to slow down and proceed with caution.
Be aware of mistaking intensity for intimacy. The love bomb that narcissists drop in the beginning is strong and intense. It does not mean there is mutual intimacy. Don’t confuse the two. If realize that you finding the intensity better than long standing intimacy, slow down. It will be data to see how the person responds to your requests for space.
Know why you are dating in the first place. Why are you looking to partner with someone right now? Are you lonely? Are you feeling like you “should” have someone? Is time passing and your friends are all getting married? Are you looking to share aspects of your life with someone? Knowing what your motives are for dating helps you know what your vulnerabilities are.
Know what you will and will not accept in a relationship, both a short term and a long term. Knowing what is acceptable and what is an unacceptable acceleration of intimacy will help you not lose yourself to the “rush” of intensity.
Pay attention to what feels good to you (and what doesn’t). If something doesn’t feel good to you it is OK to say so. Again, more data to see how the person responds to your requests.
Understand and accept it is better to know early on if a person isn’t the right fit for you than it is later. Be aware of your people pleasing traits and work on your insecurities about being good enough.
Happy Endings Don’t Look Like They “Should”
In the end, Hannah did not choose Luke or any other bachelor. She broke the mold with being able to accept herself as she is, a single person. She accepted her own her values and did not settle for relationships that did not meet her needs. Hannah set boundaries, believed her reality, and skillfully untangled from a toxic relationship. She chose to continue on her own self journey and limited the damage the narcissist had on her and her future relationships.
While we don’t all have the dating options that Hannah had during the show, we all do have the option of choosing ourselves regardless of what is being presented to us. There are reasons why you were hooked by a narcissist in the past. Knowing your answers and your truths is a key defense in partnering with a narcissist.