Tina and I were on our way back to Farmington one chilly evening when Tina interrupted our chat to excitedly point out some baggage ahead on the roadside. There were three matching pieces, strewn in a way that suggested it had fallen off a moving vehicle.
“Pull over and get it!” Tina urged.
I drove on past shaking my head.
“Turn around. Go back! Hurry before someone else gets it!”
“No, Tina. That’s not ours. Hopefully the person who picks it up will be the person who lost it,” I said.
“That’s really nice luggage,” she insisted. “Do you know how expensive that is?”
“I can imagine,” I said, “and can’t you imagine how upset you’d be if you realized you’d lost it, turned around to retrieve it and found someone else had snatched it first?”
She grunted in frustration. “Better us than them! Hurry before someone else gets it!” she said.
Too often, I’d let Tina override my better judgement, but I had the steering wheel and in a rare moment of defiance, resisted her urging. I was disappointed in her lack of empathy for the people who had lost the luggage. Instead, she saw an opportunity to enrich herself and felt entitled. Our pleasant chat was over. She crossed her arms for the rest of the ride, occasionally grumbling about her own cheap luggage, and reminding me that we had a trip coming up.
“Tina, I’ll buy you a new bag before we go,” I promised, but she wasn’t mollified.
I was wondering if the luggage was empty or if it was lost by travelers. I was putting myself in their shoes, imagining my distress if I was on a trip and suddenly lost all of my clothes, shoes and maybe my passport or other important documents.
When we got home, we met Maura in the apartment. Tina was bursting to tell her mom about the luggage I’d neglected on the highway.
“Mom, mom! You won’t believe what Dan did.”
Maura welcomed the news with an amused look.
“We saw a set of luggage on the side of the road and he refused to stop to get it.”
Maura raised an eyebrow.
“It was a really nice set, too, like really expensive, probably. Dan, tell her why you wouldn’t stop.” Her tone was incredulous.
“Well, I guess I wanted the rightful owners to have a chance to get their belongings back,” I said.
Tina’s wide eyes said, “see?!” She was literally amazed by my attitude. She could not comprehend my empathic and honest motives.
“Darn people with their good morals,” Maura quipped. I took it as a joke, but couldn’t really tell where Maura fell on the dispute.
I didn’t take Tina for a thief, but I was learning that she was an opportunist. Her lack of empathy for other people probably bothered me as much as my failure to seize the moment bothered her. I didn’t know what a narcissist was at the time, but now I can see how this incident illustrated the difference between narcissists and empaths. I was amazed that Tina couldn’t see my point of view and she was just as surprised by my attitude. Ironically, as an empath, I could see Tina’s point of view. I was just repelled by it and had difficulty seeing that characteristic in my partner.
Narcissists believe that deep-down, everyone is like them and everyone who appears otherwise is just putting on masks and being manipulative, just like them. In Tina’s mind, if we didn’t take the bags, the very next people to come along would. The original owners were already out of luck. To her, she was the victim in this story, because she was entitled to that lost luggage and I let it go to someone else.