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.
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, No. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405 or e-mail her at AdviceAmy@aol.com (www.advicegoddess.com). Copyright 2012 Amy Alkon