The Narcissism of Love


My parents and I loved the game show, Let’s Make a Deal. Audience members wore costumes, really good ones. Contestants were asked which prize they wanted, the one behind door #1, door #2, or door #3.


I never asked my mom and dad why they watched. I knew why I did. At the end of each episode, host Monty Hall went into the audience. He would call out a random object. “Does anyone have an egg?” The first person to deliver won a prize. I loved imagining the lists that women made prior to coming to the show. And the act of cramming their bags full of countless items hoping to get lucky. I remember a lot of large purses.


I loved this contest but it was not made for me. I’ve never had a full purse. In fact, I rarely have basic things. A band aid to soothe the beginnings of an ankle blister on a hike? Nope. A napkin to clean up a messy ice cream cone? Tums? A safety pin? Nope, nope, and nope. Other moms or a nearby convenience store have frequently had to come to my rescue.


This lack of preparedness for life’s little emergencies has always made me feel like a loser. If Mary Poppins, with her carpetbag of stuff, is “practically perfect in every way”, I am clearly the opposite. An essential component of maternal programming must have been missing in my prenatal vitamins.


On Glennon Doyle’s podcast, We Can Do Hard Things, I recently heard writer Kate Bowler use the phrase “the narcissism of love.” She used it to describe the idea that when we love someone deeply, we imagine that they cannot live without us. In parenting terms, it suggests that our children won’t survive without the constant and consistent having, or doing what they need at any given moment.


I may lack a well-stocked purse, but I’m no stranger to the belief that my family would collapse if I ignored my list of endless tasks. I work extra hard to get them all done. But lately, I’ve started to think that this is completely bonkers, not to mention unsustainable.


Love isn’t being an amazing doer.


So, I’m trying to rescue less and advise more, asking myself, “What support do those in my life, and my children in particular, need to independently thrive?” At the end of the day, I suspect my role is about preparing them to soar without me, not because of me.


Making this shift hasn’t been easy. It feels SO good to feel indispensable. I recently got such a rush when I happened to have an extra pair of headphones in my bag on a long flight. (Take that, Monty Hall.) But I don’t miss the exhaustion and resentment that rides sidecar to overseeing everything. So at least for now, I’ll opt for door #2.


Image Credit: Nicoli Barea