Known for his wit and irony, Oscar Wilde wrote: “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.” Was Wilde referring to narcissism or real self-love? There is a difference. His use of the word “romance” suggests the former. That’s a key to differentiate the two concepts.
In contrast to genuine love, romantic love is filtered by illusion and idealization. In the romantic phase of relationships, intense feelings are predominantly based on projection and physical pleasure. All is rosy because we don’t really know the other person or see his or her flaws. In Wilde’s novel about narcissism, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian, a narcissist, falls in love with his appearance in a portrait of himself, just as mythological Narcissus loved his own reflection in a pool of water. Both he and Dorian were incapable of interest in, or love for, anyone else. They were oblivious to their arrogance, sense of entitlement, or cruelty to the women who loved.