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Nonexistent Lover

Question:

I’m not sure if this is strange, but I feel as though I’m in love with someone who does not exist. I talk to "him" as though he is really there, and sometimes even argue. It feels different than a child’s "imaginary friend," and sometimes I feel that this person is really there. I didn’t originally feel attraction or "love" for this fake person, but it developed after many years. I have plenty of friends in my life both male and female, but I have never been attracted to a real person. What should I do? I’m not withdrawing from my normal life, but is it healthy to think like this all the time? I don’t know what to do.

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Answer:

Unless/until you become convinced that this imaginary lover actually exists, I doubt this love affair of yours qualifies as a psychotic condition (a la schizophrenia with it’s hallucinations and delusions).  Rather, it sounds like you have a well developed fantasy life and have breathed life into a particular fantasy until he seems real and attractive to you.  I imagine that many authors feel a fondness for their characters, and you have simply taken this to the next logical (if irrational) place. 

It may seem odd to fall in love with a fiction, but people do this all the time.  Love at first sight is love of the visual appearance of a person combined with love for a fiction, an approximation of who you think that person is.  People fill in the blanks of what they don’t know about someone they’re interested in with their own fantasies.  These fantasies and assumptions are slowly found to be untrue as they are contradicted by actual behavior once an actual relationship forms. We’re probably programmed to fall in love with our fantasies by evolution, because if we didn’t have beautiful fictions to sustain us early in the relationship-forming process, we’d never get involved in the first place. 

There is a suggestion in your brief email that you think you may be avoiding real relationships.  If you are worried that you may be avoiding actual relationships, well, you may be actually avoiding relationships.  Falling in love with a fictional character of your own devising is not the most common way that people play this relationship-avoidance game.  The common way is to fall in love with someone who is already in another relationship or who has made it clear enough that he/she is not interested in you.  Another common method is to insist on standards in a lover that no actual person can meet.  It sounds like you have more imagination than the average bear, and have hit on a novel way to get the same unsatisfying result of being alone, however. 

I don’t think it is unhealthy, per se, to be involved with a personal fantasy, but it does strike me as stagnant and ultimately narcissistic (in the classical sense – not in the sense of being an obnoxious jerk).   Ultimately, being involved with such a creation boils down to a form of creative masturbation.  I’m not knocking masturbation by saying this, but as nice as masturbation can be, it is no way to live your life.  A fantasy partner can never be a real partner.  A fantasy man can be sensitive like no real man because he can read your mind (being a creation and reflection of your mind).  But since he has no substance, he cannot ultimately satisfy on any level.

I think you’d be better off taking your eyes off of your fantasy man and turning them towards some real actual men in your area.  You can do this by taking steps to date actively.  It’s pretty easy to do these days even for the shy, what with modern dating websites and services.  You may find yourself rebelling emotionally at this thought – as though you are being disloyal to your "man".  This is how the mind and the heart work, but it doesn’t mean that this would be a helpful urge.  The mind and heart frequently cannot tell the difference between loyalty to real people, and loyalty to an idea of a person.  Honoring the former makes sense; but honoring the latter doesn’t much. 

I also think that, since you are confused about what you want to do, that it would be useful to you to have a few sessions with a therapist to just unpack all this stuff and whatever concerns come with it.  Having the perspective of a third party or two is a helpful way to gain bearings when you have temporarily lost your internal compass.

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