It started as a fairytale romance – your soulmate swept you off your feet with grand gestures, passionate kisses, and promises of a perfect future together. But slowly, the cracks began to show. Charming apologies for repeated bad behavior. Gifts that felt more like props for his fantasies than genuine expressions of love. Criticism of your “mood-killing” when you didn’t respond enthusiastically to his every whim. Welcome to the world of the glamorous gaslighter.

“Intermittent reinforcement is one of the most powerful ways we learn, and one of the hardest patterns to break. It’s the key to why people stay in relationships with narcissists.”

Dr. Ramani Durvasula

The allure of intermittent reinforcement

Glamour gaslighters are masters at using intermittent reinforcement – a pattern of rewarding desired behaviors inconsistently – to keep their partners hooked.1 They shower you with affection and attention one moment, only to withdraw it the next, leaving you anxious and eager to win back their approval. This cycle of idealization and devaluation is a hallmark of narcissistic abuse.2

As clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula explains, “Intermittent reinforcement is one of the most powerful ways we learn, and one of the hardest patterns to break. It’s the key to why people stay in relationships with narcissists.”3

Diversions and redirections

He begins showing up two hours late and brings your favorite flowers. You try to address how upset you are at his lateness. He apologizes as an aside. Excitedly, he tells you about the newest restaurant he’s made reservations at. He kisses you passionately and tells you he adores you. He is a fool for keeping you waiting. You are marvelous. It makes you laugh the way he says it. But the bad behavior continues, over and over again.

He no-shows at a business dinner with your boss, leaving you embarrassed. You protest, and he acts like you’re the ridiculously unreasonable one for being upset. You hurt his feelings, but he forgives you. He redirects your attention and tells you to move on. He has great things in store for the two of you.

Eventually you become “difficult to please.” He buys you sexy clothes, that don’t fit your style (but they do fit his fantasy life). He has a menu of sexual acts he’d like to try. He acts hurt that you aren’t willing to please him that way. You feel like a prop in his drama. You have withdrawn because sex isn’t fun; it’s now a performance. He wonders whether you should see a sex therapist. Alone.


Things devolve.

He gives you gifts that feel too over-the-top. You tell yourself: “Am I crazy?! Any woman would love a generous man! Why am I so picky?” It’s because deep down you realize that these acts come with a price.

You know something is wrong, but you feel like it was so perfect in the beginning. It was once an enchanting world, and he was incredibly charming and flattering. Now he makes you anxious, upset, and annoyed with only fleeting moments of the previous luster.

You cling to anything he says that might provide direction. What did you do wrong that stopped the romance? What’s preventing it from returning? Apparently you are, for not totally accepting him as he is.

Slowly but surely, you lose yourself as you assume his vision of you. He can never please you. You aren’t responsive enough to his sexual moves. You are mean and won’t accept his casual apologies.

You “kill the mood,” he tells you. You come to realize that the only “mood” that counts is the one he wants to create. And you feel increasingly resentful.

Maybe you see a therapist to “fix” yourself. You might even grow in important ways. But it does nothing to improve the relationship.

The high cost of “perfect” love

In the early stages of the relationship, you may have been willing to overlook red flags like showing up hours late or getting drunk at your birthday party. His charm and flattery were intoxicating, and you wanted to believe in the fantasy he was selling.

But over time, the cost of maintaining that illusion becomes apparent. You find yourself constantly performing for his approval, whether it’s in the bedroom or at social events. Your own needs and boundaries are dismissed as “unreasonable.” You may even start to doubt your own perceptions, a classic sign of gaslighting.4

As psychologist and author Dr. George Simon notes, “Gaslighters use charm and flattery to disarm you, to convince you to accept their ‘reality’ while suppressing your own. They redefine what’s acceptable in the relationship on their terms.”5

Real love is calm

You have been with other men who seem “boring” in comparison. Trustworthy, but unexciting, like this man. Real love is calm and steady, not a heady rollercoaster ride of unsettling surprises. Your nervous system has gotten used to being jarred and craving more.

Reclaiming your reality

If you’re involved with a glamorous gaslighter, it’s essential to recognize the manipulation for what it is. Those extravagant gifts and sweet words are diversionary tactics, not proof of genuine love. Real intimacy is built on honesty, consistency, and mutual respect, not a dizzying rollercoaster of highs and lows.6

As Joe Navarro, author of Dangerous Personalities, advises: “In the end…the questions that need to be asked are very simple. ‘Are they using their charms or behavior to control you or others for their own benefit? Are they manipulating you? Are they doing things that hurt you or put you at risk? Are you hurting in this relationship?'”7

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship and prioritize your own well-being. Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist who can help you see the situation clearly and develop a plan to move forward.


The glamorous gaslighter uses charm, flattery, and grand gestures to manipulate their partners and mask their self-centered behavior. They employ intermittent reinforcement to keep you hooked, alternating between idealization and devaluation. Over time, you may find yourself losing your sense of reality as you try to conform to their expectations. Recognizing the signs of this toxic dynamic is the first step to reclaiming your autonomy and building healthier relationships based on genuine love and respect.


  1. Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
  2. Durvasula, R. (2019). “Don’t you know who I am?”: How to stay sane in an era of narcissism, entitlement, and incivility. Post Hill Press.
  3. Durvasula, R. (2018, October 30). Intermittent reinforcement: Why you can’t quit someone. MedCircle.
  4. Stern, R. (2018). The gaslight effect: How to spot and survive the hidden manipulation others use to control your life. Harmony.
  5. Simon, G. (2010). In sheep’s clothing: Understanding and dealing with manipulative people. Parkhurst Brothers Publishers Inc.
  6. Gottman, J. M., & Silver, N. (1999). The seven principles for making marriage work. New York: Three Rivers Press.
  7. Navarro, J., & Poynter, T. S. (2014). Dangerous personalities: An FBI profiler shows how to identify and protect yourself from harmful people. Rodale.