Life is what you fake of it
I'm in love. This person makes me feel like a shaken-up Coke bottle ready to explode with happiness! But not even my therapist understands. She wants to hand me pills for the problem. Being in love isn't the problem; it's the fact that I'm in love with someone who doesn't exist. I'm 19, and I've been in love with him for nine years, since I was a kid with no friends. I love him for his courage and willingness to help. He'd run faster than anyone in the world to catch me when I fall. I understand that he isn't real and that I'm supposed to have had real relationships with real men by now. (I have the complete capability to get a real guy and have let lots of opportunities go by because of him!) Why am I in love with someone who will never love me back? How can something so unreal feel so good? — Clinging
Well, you do have a great way to get those pesky flesh-and-blood guys off the phone: "Gotta go. Just heard my boyfriend's unicorn pull up outside my apartment."
When you are 7 and have no friends, an imaginary boyfriend is the ideal tea party guest. When you're 19 and turning down real live guys for Prince Nonexistent But Charming, you're digging yourself into a psychological ditch. You've been engaging in the literal version of what clinical psychologist Dr. Robert Firestone deemed a "fantasy bond" — when two (actually existing) people use the pretense that they have love as a way of avoiding the risks of real love. In Fear of Intimacy, Firestone calls this "an addictive mode" of retreating to "an emotionally deadened existence." (Kinda takes the imaginary bloom off the imaginary 26 dozen roses, huh?)
An imaginary boyfriend never shoots you a disappointed look when you go back for more pie, but he also never challenges you in the good ways a real boyfriend would. A real relationship requires compromise and empathy. It's also an interpersonal flashlight of sorts, pushing you to grow as a person by highlighting what's less than ideal about you — stuff you can't learn by spending your nights going to second base with your pillow.
There are risks in dating a guy you can't put your hand through. He might try to catch you when you're falling but miss or not even notice you're falling because he's staring at some other girl's jigglies. Of course, there are also risks in not taking a risk with somebody real, like waking up at 40 and realizing you've been pretending to have a life for 30 years.
Retiring from your emotional slackerhood starts with evicting "that special nobody" from your head. Whenever he pops into mind, recite the Turkish alphabet or count backward from 100. (You can't do these things and moon over him at the same time.) You might even follow the lead of comedian Amy Sedaris, who told David Letterman that her imaginary boyfriend, Ricky, had been murdered — brutally stabbed 18 times. If that's too violent for your taste, maybe tell yourself that yours finally realized he's gay and he's off at a pool party comparing little gold Speedos with his imaginary new boyfriend.
Fools Rush Inn
I'm 50-something, as is this man I met at a meeting for a nonprofit. We exchanged some e-mails, and then he asked me out. The week before our date, he texted me, asking me to go on a several-day trip with him, and he clearly wasn't kidding. I found this inappropriate — my return text made that clear — and I nixed our date. He responded that he didn't want to be with anyone so touchy, who couldn't take him for who he is. Wouldn't any man in his right mind know this invitation was out of bounds? — Apparently Touchy
A man can have a crazy thought fly into his head, like "We've e-mailed three times already. Let's spend 44 hours together in bed!" If he's in possession of the Adult Social Skills worksheet, he'll keep that thought parked in its thought hangar, predicting that a woman will answer as you did: "Don't mind if I don't." This guy might've had a shot with you if he'd immediately pulled back: "Sorry ... a little rushed on my part. Gimme another chance."
But why would you want to take him for who he is — a guy who screws up and then hurls blame at you instead of taking responsibility? I mean, come on — for a woman who isn't 22 and really impulsive or a needy mess, a weekend getaway invite from some man she talked to at a meeting is about as tempting as "So ... deserted country road at 8? I'll be the guy carrying the rope coil and the duct tape."
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Alkon is the author of I See Rude People: One Woman's Battle To Beat Some Manners Into Impolite Society.