We have all seen people arrive at parties with a gorgeous trophy date. Or are we jumping to conclusions when an 85-year-old company CEO walks in with a 25-year-old model on his arm? Perhaps . . . although many people admittedly enjoy showing off an attractive partner.
Most examples of trophy dates, however, are not so extreme. Many attractive people, particularly those who have unsuccessfully pursued deeper connections with their partners, worry they might be arm charms. How can you tell? Consider the following scenario.
Spotting the Arm Charmer: Flash Over Substance
You have recently begun dating a new romantic interest. Yet almost all of your “dates” thus far have consisted of accompanying him to ticketed public events, his company party, or the “see and be seen” local hot spot. No walks on the beach, movies, sporting events, or even lunch dates.
Your conversation is shallow, superficial, and superfluous. Yet your partner compensates for the lack of intellectual stimulation by fueling your ego. He makes you feel beautiful and desirable every time you are together by raving about how great you look—a compliment that might be expected considering that all of your dates are evening, formal events requiring you to dress to the nines.
Of course, you are flattered by his attention, and his obvious desire to be seen with you. Yet you are not an escort, you are an equal. A healthy relational partner should respect you as a person. A partner preoccupied with flash over substance might be a narcissist. After all, a narcissist´s desire to be with you is not about you; it is about how you enhance his image.
Does Dating A Narcissist Make You A Trophy?
In “Narcissism and mate value: Is beauty in the eye of the narcissistic beholder?” Zeigler-Hill et al (2018) studied whether narcissists select partners to enhance their own self-image.[i] Results including the finding that the positive association between narcissistic admiration and self-perceived mate value was mediated by the perceived mate value of their partner.
They note that research has established that narcissists use romantic relational partners as trophies in order to enhance their own self-views. Ironically, they also note that although narcissists have high expectations for romantic partners, they tend not to view their partners positively. They often consider themselves superior to their partners in order to maintain a sense of dominance and self-esteem.
The results of their study, which was conducted on participants who were involved in a committed heterosexual relationship for at least three months, suggested that people with high levels of narcissistic admiration may base the assessment of their own mate value, at least in part, on the perceived mate value of their partner.
They also found that partners with high levels of narcissistic rivalry negatively judged both their own mate value, as well as that of their partners—consistent with research showing narcissistic rivalry to be linked with negative views of self and others.
If you are worried you might be dating a narcissist who views you as a trophy date or an arm charm, look for these three red flags.
1. Your partner treats you as an accessory
Does your partner brag about how friends or colleagues have remarked about what a stunning couple the two of you make? Consider the difference between placing the focus on how you enhance your partner´s image, as opposed to mentioning how much a friend or family member enjoyed meeting or talking with you. The focus in the first instance is where it always is with narcissists—on themselves.
2. “No diving!” Conversation wades in the shallow end
When it comes to conversation topics, narcissists prefer superficial to serious. A verbal red flag warning that you may be dating a narcissist is the substance of your conversations, or more appropriately stated, the lack thereof. Narcissists will talk about themselves, but are not interested in getting to know you. They are not curious about your background, your worldview, or your hopes and dreams. If you are dating a narcissist, do not expect any “deep diving” into heavy conversation topics.
3. Self-focused flattery: I like the way you make me look
This red flag is harder to acknowledge because it is both a blessing and a curse. Narcissists deliver authentic praise for an inauthentic purpose. They genuinely compliment you on your physical appearance . . . because of the way it reflects on them. Ironically, their praise makes you feel good about yourself, even though you recognize that highlighting your attractive image is being used to keep the focus on your partner.
Seeking Partnership Not Pretense
Healthy relationships include substance and staying power. Love and respect. Consider whether dating someone focused on himself is taking up precious time that you could spend finding someone who will be genuinely focused on you.