Ask Dr. Nerdlove by Harris O'Malley

I Have Imaginary Relationships With Strangers. Is That OK?

DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I’m a 35 y/o woman with very little experience in relationship with men. I’ve only been in actual relationships 3 times in my life, and one of them was a complicated 3 years relationship with a married man who wasn’t completely available.

I don’t find it difficult to be without romantic relationships on a day to day basis, and I honestly don’t brood about it; I’m not one of those people who are always preoccupied with dating and I don’t feel like it’s a necessary part of life. It’s nice when it happens, but I find it very hard to get attached randomly to men. The past relationships were ones who grew out of friendships and long terms acquaintances.

I do have a long history of crushes on friends who never came to anything because I was too shy to confess about my feelings to them.

I never have sex outside of those relationships, and in that context I’ve learnt about the term “demisexual” in the past year and I feel like it applies to me – though I am interested in sex, I don’t see myself having casual sex with people I’m not attached to.

I do have a pattern though that had been bothering me for a while and I’m too ashamed to talk about; I have a tendency to develop a crush and what even feels like strong feelings towards celebrities. It’s been happening for years – every once in a while I develop a crush on an infatuation with a certain celebrity (musicians, actors) who’s external personas seem to be exactly “my kind of guy” and in my head I enter periods of imagining how I meet them and begin a long term relationship with them. I admit those infatuations can last months and they tend to occupy my free time in my head. It doesn’t bother my day day, rather happens inside my head in my free time. These thoughts give me a chance to imagine meeting someone and being intriguing, desired and sought after. The ‘relationships’ I build with them in my head are good ones and I suppose are a reflection of of the type of relationships I’d like to have if I would ever find myself in an exciting situation where a super interesting, attractive, (famous?) person find me attractive enough to pursue a relationship with me. It usually ends because the infatuation is over, I suppose.

I never stalk, online or offline, or make any attempts to contact these celebrities. I live outside the US so it’s not like I can see these people randomly on the street. It’s very clear to me that these people are very different from their external personas and live their own lives. It doesn’t mean though that I don’t get a jealous twinge if a paparazzi photo shows they’re dating someone new. However, in my very rational, down to the earth part of the brain, I understand it’s silly and I’m even ashamed by it all – to the point I’m reaching out to you through an alternative email address.  I’ve even been ashamed to admit this to a therapist I’ve been going to for a while to discuss, among others, my difficulty in bringing myself to take steps towards finding a relationship.

I will add that “imagining” these relationships isn’t something I do in context of celebrities only; I mentioned having numerous crushes and it always happens when I have a crush on someone too. In my head I build a story for us, like a movie, where everything goes great and everyone’s happy.

I guess my question is – well, is it weird? Do you think this is a bad habit, something that’s worth getting rid of? Is this something that I should worry about? I feel it does give me some sort of comfort in relation to the fact that I don’t have actual romantic relationships, but the question is – should I feel guilty about this?

Thank you,

Imaginary (Boy)Friend

DEAR IMAGINARY (BOY)FRIEND: Crushes on celebrities and strangers is normal, IBF; we get them all the time. All it means is that you’re a mammal with a sex drive and an active fantasy life. The fact that yours are fairly elaborate and detailed is, likewise, not terribly unusual. You’ve got a vivid imagination and you’re playing out pleasing scenarios in your head.

Of course, it doesn’t exactly take Dr. Freud to see what’s happening here. These fantasy relationships are just that: fantasies. They’re “safe” ways for you to explore potential attraction to people and — as you say — practice for the kind of relationship you’d like to have some day. Again: that’s not terribly unusual or even that rare. In fact, there’ve been studies that’ve found that imagining various scenarios that you’re expecting to encounter can help prepare you for them in reality. And playing out scenarios in your head is a great way to defang fears of things going horribly horribly wrong.

The only time that these fantasies could be a problem is if they’re interfering with your day to day life. If, for example, you’re using these fantasies as a way to avoid going out and pursuing real relationships, then yes, it can be an issue. That’s when it’s gone from “harmless fun” to keeping you from trying to live a life that you actually want. Similarly, if you’re conflating the emotion of the fantasies with real life and blurring the lines between fantasy and reality… that’s a horse of an entirely different color.

But it doesn’t sound like you’re doing that. It sounds like these are just pleasing distractions for you, a sort of emotional safety blanket. And honestly? That’s fine. if you’d rather have the fantasy relationship and you’re ok with your life as is, otherwise… well I don’t see any harm. It makes you happy, it keeps you satisfied and you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. You’re not confusing these scenarios for reality and they’re not bleeding into your non-fantasy life. It’s quirky, but it isn’t harming anyone and it makes you happy.

Plus, it’s happening in the privacy of your head. That’s nobody’s business but your own. If writing mental fanfic relationships between you and, I dunno, Orlando Bloom makes you happy then more power to you. The world has enough pain and chaos out there right now; enjoy these little nuggets of happiness all you want.

Good luck.

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