The most recent research on narcissism runs contrary to what the legions of self-help experts have proselytized when it comes to finding love—that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. Twenge says that’s a fallacy. “There is no evidence that people with very high self-esteem are any better in a relationship than people with low self-esteem.”
In fact, narcissism, even in small doses, has shifted courtship into a high-stakes relationship culture. Now that people think more highly of themselves, expectations of what a relationship should be like have skyrocketed into the realm of superlatives. Twentysomethings not only expect to waltz into high-level career positions right out of college, they also expect partners who have the moral fortitude of Nelson Mandela, the comedic timing of Stephen Colbert, the abs of Hugh Jackman, and the hair of Patrick Dempsey.
“Everyone is looking for ‘the perfect product,’” says Perel, who says she believes this is creating not just emotional, but also sexual, frustration. “People are not willing to compromise, or willing to be patient.”