Fred met Elissa at a community meeting on a topic they both were passionate about. They chatted some, and he asked her for her number. When they met for coffee later, they found it easy to talk. They shared their interests and some of the things they had done in life. Fred thought Elissa was attractive, and she was drawn to him also. He liked that she had traveled and seen some of the same places he had. She liked that he seemed successful in his work. They held similar political views, which helped. They soon were seeing each other regularly. With time, they became physically involved, which was pleasing to them both. And, with time, they found themselves saying, “I love you.”
Fred thought, “Finally, this is the one I’ve been looking for.” He started thinking ahead about what life with Elissa would be like. He imagined being married to her, them living together, and each coming home to see each other every day. He imagined taking vacations with her, driving across country or flying to destinations together. He imagined having a fulfilling sexual relationship with her and about having children. Fred built an elaborate fantasy of how life would be with Elissa.
Have you ever fallen in love with someone? When you fall in love, everything seems to be perfect for a while. You live in a series of emotional highs, as you see many similarities with the other person. And, in the ways you are different, you find pleasure precisely because of the contrast with yourself. You think you know the other person and see how he or she fits you. It is easy to start to make up a story about how great he or she is and how your life with them will be.
As you make up the story in your head, though, are you seeing the real person or a fantasy? Indeed, if what you are seeing is at least partly fantasy, what or whom have you fallen in love with? Have you fallen in love with a fantasy or reality?
It is not to say that Fred’s love for Elissa was imaginary. There indeed were wonderful compatibilities and complementarities. Still, problems began to arise when he started to see things that were not part of his fantasy. Elissa did not want to get married, as she had had issues in a previous relationship that made her cautious about marriage. Also, their ability to talk seemed to change as Elissa became more involved in work and also wanted to spend more time with friends she had had. Fred felt a pronounced decline in the connection he had had with her. And there were the things that Fred had not even considered. For instance, Elissa was not a particularly neat person, and her disorganization began to bother him.
Elissa also found her bubble bursting. To keep the story short, though, I will stick with Fred’s side, because his tale illustrates how fantasy can delude both sides of a partnership.
So reality starts to clash with fantasy, and what happens? There are several possibilities. If one clings to the fantasy one might:
- Wish the other person would go back to the way he or she was earlier in the relationship
- Expect the other person to change
- Break up over the differences that have emerged
The 1st option can lead to longstanding, silent suffering, because relationships and how people were earlier in them rarely go back to the stage of mutual infatuation and seemingly perfect compatibility.
The 2nd option can lead to repeated fights in couples relationships, or at a minimum ongoing judgement and dissatisfaction.
The 3rd option can leave one very sad, as one clings to the fantasy of how one thought things would be. It may include wishes of getting back together and having another chance at the fantasy.
If one accommodates reality, the options are different:
- Acknowledge how the other person does not conform to one’s wishes or dreams and work out a mentality to be with the person in spite of the differences
- Break up because of the differences
The 1st option allows one to continue in the relationship and perhaps build a deeper, steadier love based on reality.
The 2nd option arises if one or more of the differences is a “game ender.” That is, one or more of the ways of thinking or behaving of one’s partner is incompatible with one’s values or well-being. So one ends the relationship without regret and without clinging to the fantasy of how things should have been.
So with Fred, things could go several ways. If the couple stays together and Fred holds onto how he thought Elissa would be, the couple may become ensnarled in repeated battles over their differences. Alternatively, the couple might split up, but if Fred has a hard time letting go of the fantasy and how things “should have been,” he may miss her and all the things he had with her for a long time.
Or Fred could accept Elissa for who she is in all her aspects. If so, and if he can accommodate the ones he does not like, the couple may stay together and enjoy a relatively harmonious relationship. Or he may accept the reality of who she is and decide she and he are too incompatible to stay together. Without regrets, he could end the relationship. Either way, he does not hold onto a fantasy and the concomitant disappointment of “what should have been.”
Are there implications for your relationship?
This is Glenn Stevenson, with Self Sense Counseling and Coaching, until next month, saying watch out for making up a fantasy in your head about your partner. Rather I wish you clarity in basing your relationship on the reality of who the person is.