Are Dog People Narcissistic by Nature?

Pups are loyal, needy, and affectionate — living, barking ego boosts.

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Photo: pxfuel

In the early ’90s, my first boyfriend, Derek, told me a story I remember to this day, possibly because it was about me. He had been out on his own a few nights earlier with his best female friend Angela, an artist in her late 30s.

At some point, the subject of me came up, and he mentioned that I love dogs.

“He loves dogs?” she responded, in what I imagined must have been a condescending tone, emphasizing the word “dogs,” as if she found the very idea unfathomable.

You might recognize the tone: It was favored by White hipster New Yorkers on the Lower East Side, circa 1992–1995, the ones who favored mismatched vintage clothes and Birkenstocks. The women often wore bouncy Jo Reynolds (from Melrose Place)-style bobs, a lone concession to ’90s glamor, while both genders dragged their sullen dispositions and deadpan expressions around town. On rare happy occasions, they’d grin because smiling — and laughing, unless it was ironically — was so bourgeoisie.

I could hear Angela pausing long enough to indicate it was a rhetorical question with a punchline to follow: “Oh,” she continued, “that sounds a little narcissistic.”

Hmm… Dog lover equals narcissist, I said to myself after Derek finished. That was news to me.

To this day, I’m not sure why only the vain must love dogs, but being someone who gives critiques of myself more consideration than they’re often worth, I wondered: Did she have a point?

To sir, with self-love

At 23, I liked to think of myself as a noble young man, a Sidney Poitier movie character-in-training. I had a lot to learn but possessed the tools necessary to approach greatness: courage, determination, persistence, independence, and a few sad childhood stories. I was never thinking only of myself. I thought about other people all the time — how could I be a narcissist?

Decades later, I realize I wasn’t as singular as I thought. Most kids think they are, to quote Oprah, “destined for greatness.” That must go double for true narcissists.

When I considered the feelings of other people back then, I wasn’t just being considerate. I also was wondering what they were thinking about me.

Like most early twentysomethings, I wanted approval. My “people pleasing” (an Oprah-ism that a therapist applied to me when I was in my mid-30s) was all about how others saw me. If that didn’t make me full-on narcissistic, it certainly qualified me for some of the generally accepted synonyms for it: self-centered, self-absorbed, egocentric… Right?

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Snow White’s Evil Queen, Disney’s first narcissist (Photo: Walt Disney Productions)

My how times have changed. I no longer spend an inordinate amount of time wringing my hands over whether those adjectives fit me and what other people think about me.

But I still love dogs, possibly even more than I did at 23, though I’ve still yet to own one. My dog love has more to do with their adorableness than that they’re loyal, dependent, and, unlike cats, prone to showering you with affection. Despite Angela’s assumption all those years ago, I love them because only babies and toddlers are cuter.

Aren’t Facebook status updates basically just a way to focus attention on yourself?

Does that mean I’m not a little narcissistic, though? To a degree, all writers are, especially ones who write about themselves. Though it doesn’t require the same level of vanity as modelling (which demands far more effort than I’ve ever been willing to devote to looking in the mirror and posing for photos), writing requires a considerable amount of me time.

At the very least, you’d better be comfortable receiving a lot of attention, even if it’s just from you. In this social media age, I’m pretty sure most people can relate, even non-writers. Aren’t Facebook status updates basically just a way to focus attention on yourself?

Don’t we all just want to be “liked”? In a way, Facebook has brought out the narcissist in so many of us. I joined it at the beginning of 2008, about four months before I started blogging. I’m not sure if I would have had the courage to start writing about myself had I not gotten that initial practice on Facebook.

Around the same time, my friend Cara, who lived three stories below me in Buenos Aires, told me, half-jokingly, that she sometimes worried about enjoying her own company a little bit too much. I was never concerned about my own joy in solitude until she mentioned hers.

If loving me is wrong, I don’t want to be right

These days, I try not to over-analyze my enjoyment of “me” time. People can make it challenging, though, as they did at a New Year’s Eve afternoon barbecue I went to while I was living in Cape Town. I arrived at 3pm, and after three hours of excellent company and breathtaking views from the roof of the host’s building, I was ready to return to my preferred party of one.

“Why are you leaving?” “Do you have plans tonight?” “What are you going to do?”

The questions were being served more quickly than I was able to volley back responses. I didn’t know how to tell the people looking at me with complete bewilderment that I’d been looking forward to solitude since I’d arrived.

“So you’re just going to go home to be alone?… Why?… That’s so sad…. Don’t you want to be around people?” Langton, one of the barbecue guests was looking at me with that same mix of shock and horror that he’d given me when I told him that I didn’t care for Toni Braxton’s latest single.

My own reflection simply isn’t all that compelling to me. I don’t even like taking selfies. I’d rather take a pic of gorgeous sunrise or sunset.

I think he felt sorry for me. Or maybe he just wanted me to stick around.

I’m pretty sure I walked out with my head held high and my posture erect, but I imagined they saw my head bowed and shoulders slumped forward as I limped out the door. I didn’t want them to think of me like that. And of course, they were thinking about me, right?

The definition of a “narcissist”

If you Google “narcissist,” you’ll find a number of different definitions involving varying degrees of negativity. The Free Online Dictionary defines it as “an excessive love or admiration of oneself,” while the Urban Dictionary says a narcissist “is always right and has the urge to make you feel less than him/her.”

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“Echo and Narcissus” by John William Waterhouse (1903) (Photo: Public Domain/Wikipedia)

The word “narcissist” is rooted in the Greek myth of Narcissus, a beautiful but clearly not-to-smart man who fell in love with his own reflection in a pool, not realizing he was looking at himself. He was so enamored he didn’t notice the mountain nymph Echo looking on, pining for him.

Devastated, poor Echo wasted away to nothing but her echo. What did it say about me and my relationship with narcissism that when I read the Greek myth as a kid, I always identified with Echo most? I still do. I’ve never been given to unrequited love, but her pining at least makes sense.

My own reflection simply isn’t all that compelling to me. I don’t even like taking selfies. I’d rather take a pic of gorgeous sunrise or sunset.

I’m sure Derek’s friend, the one who thought my love of dogs meant I was probably a narcissist, would have found a negative spin to put on my relationship to cameras, probably while looking at Derek’s stack of holiday photos from our summer of 1993 vacation in Spain and the south of France. I’m not sure if she ever saw them, but Derek told me when he showed the photos to his family, they noticed he didn’t take pictures of the sights, only of me.

I hadn’t been paying attention, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love that he only had eyes for me, or that I didn’t consider the “I adore you” he once uttered in the throes of afterglow the highest compliment he ever gave me. I didn’t know what to say in return, so I didn’t say anything. If he thought I hung the moon, who was I to disagree?

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

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