What You Should Know About The Narcissistic Dating Strategy 'Future Faking'

Cautionary content about narcissists has exploded on social media, using hashtags like #narcissism and #narcissisticabusesurvivor. In truth, narcissists — as in people with a diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder — are relatively uncommon. One 2008 study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry discovered that only around 6% of the population experiences the condition during their lifetime. Still, narcissism as a trait separate from a personality disorder can play out in everyday life, especially when it comes to dating.

Some signs of narcissism are fairly straightforward, like a significant other only talking about themselves or acting as if they're superior to others. But other signs are harder to spot, explains WebMD. Narcissistic types may be extremely charismatic, especially early in relationships, before showing their true colors. One strategy they may employ in romance is "future faking," a behavior that appears sweet at first but can actually have a sinister motive. Here's what it means to be future-faked and how to protect yourself from it.

What is future faking?

Sharing your visions for the future with a partner and learning that their goals align with yours may set off your soulmate radar. But before getting too smitten, you might want to check that they're not future faking. According to Psychology Today, future faking is when a narcissistic person talks about the future they dream of creating with their significant other, even if they have no real plans of bringing those dreams to life. They exaggerate and embellish their hopes and desires, painting a fantasy that they know the other person will find irresistible.

Future faking often involves imagining relationship milestones together, like getting engaged, having children, or buying a home as a couple. Essentially, all the things you might hope your relationship will actually lead to are detailed in exciting, passionate conversations between you and your boo. But unlike genuine future planning, the talks never seem to translate to real action.

Signs of future faking

Talking about future goals is a necessary part of getting to know your S.O. and gauging your compatibility. When done with honesty and authenticity, this isn't the same as future faking. But how can you tell if someone is being genuine or not?

One way to flesh out fact from fiction is to watch for differences — if there are any — between you and your partner's desires. Generally, narcissistic people who turn to future faking will only cater to your dreams, never revealing any of their own. They simply echo whatever you want. Do you want to have three kids? So do they. Do you want to move to a ranch house near the mountains? They do too. If their ideal future seems to harmonize with yours a little too well, they might be trying to deceive you.

Another way that future faking differs from genuine future talk is that it happens early in a relationship, similar to love bombing. "In the beginning of a relationship, you'll cover a wide array of topics that are relatively superficial, then the more you get to know someone, the closer you'll move to the center of [the] circle and talk about topics that are closer to your heart," Dr. Kelly Campbell, an associate professor of psychology, shared with Shape. It can take months or even years to judge if a partner is worth marrying or having kids with, she says.

Future faking can be manipulative

Besides being dishonest, future faking can also be conniving. Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and expert on narcissism, explains in a YouTube video, "It's actually a form of manipulation and it's keeping you hooked in by making the kinds of future promises you want to hear." She asserts that a narcissistic person pinpoints their partner's values and then, using those values, "preys upon that most vulnerable part of you: your hope."

This isn't the only strategy narcissists may use to seek control. According to Choosing Therapy, other narcissistic manipulation tactics include gaslighting, playing the victim, guilt-tripping, and hoovering. Future faking and other toxic behaviors can trap a partner in a relationship, encouraging them to abandon their own life and independence in hopes of creating an ideal future with the narcissistic person. Additionally, future faking can pave the way for financial dependence and, ultimately, financial abuse, especially if the narcissist promises to provide for their significant other.

Even when future faking isn't malicious, it's still unhealthy

While narcissistic people can be manipulative, sometimes, their actions are meant to simply feed their own ego more than control the other person. Dr. Greg Kushnick, a psychologist, told Health that future faking isn't always calculating. "Many narcissists are very impulsive when it comes to having romantic feelings. And in that impulsivity, they promise someone the world," he revealed. "They actually believe what they're saying to you to be true during the initial courting period. Until they don't."

Psychology Today adds that people with narcissistic personality disorder may also future fake to maintain conversation and connection with their love interest. If the narcissistic person doesn't know how to communicate well, and if they want to avoid directly expressing their interest in the other person, they may use made-up stories about their future dreams to please their partner and build intimacy.

Whether future faking is malicious or not, it's still a red flag to watch out for. Future faking is often associated with narcissism, but similar behaviors can be seen in people who struggle with anxious attachment and codependency too. In either case, rushing into future fantasies often reflects deeper relationship and self-esteem issues.

The consequences of future faking

While the image created by future faking may be rosy, the reality is often much less picturesque. In fact, future faking can have dire consequences for couples. Over time, the narcissistic partner may grow bored of the dream they fabricated, especially as their relationship grows closer. Then, just as quickly as they jumped into talking about the future, they'll abandon it by ghosting or turning cold on the other person.

If you're on the receiving end of future faking, you may feel shocked and confused once you realize you've been misled. "You lower your guard thinking you just met your person, but you didn't," Susan Trombetti, a matchmaker and relationship expert, noted to AskMen. "It will leave you questioning everything and your self-confidence is surely going to take a big hit. You get no closure, which can then prevent you from moving on." She also adds that being future faked only exacerbates past relationship trauma, compounding fears and trust issues.

How to respond to narcissistic future talk

There's no need to run the other direction whenever a significant other starts talking about the future. However, if it feels premature or disingenuous, it's important to take notice and respond appropriately. PsychCentral points out that, because the narcissist depends on you believing them, they may react with anger if you accuse them of future faking. Moreover, they may use other manipulation tactics, like guilt-tripping, to reel you back in. If this happens, it's best to cut your ties and move on.

If you wish to continue the relationship, WebMD suggests setting boundaries, even if they trigger or upset your partner. Don't hold yourself responsible for their emotions; instead, focus on remaining calm even when they aren't. You may want to set firm boundaries around what future-related topics are okay to discuss and which should be saved for later. You can also express what you need to feel safe in a relationship before moving on to bigger milestones.

Finally, don't leave your future in someone else's hands. Even in committed relationships, it's essential to retain control over your own life and happiness. Avoid sacrificing your goals and desires now just because a partner promises to make your dreams come true later.