Bunnies, Butterflies and Care Bears Too

It was our nightly conversation about relationships.

"Have you never had a fantasy relationship," my friend in Inwood who has been through a series of relationships with men on the Internet, and just broke off her second one in the last year. "Have you never met someone on the Internet and fallen in love? Have you never fantasized about a summer romance continuing even though you knew it wouldn't?"

"No," I said. "When I was kid, I fantasized about being the executive officer -- note, not the captain -- of a ship. I was there on the couch, falling asleep, on call for when we ran into the submarines and battleships. My fantasies have always related to work."

I'm not sure which one of us was more sick. Today's topic, suggested by my friend in Inwood: Fantasy relationships as a way of escaping, and, so I can relate, steady as she goes, we'll include fantasy relationships with care bears, jobs and 48,000-ton ships.

Fantasy relationships can be more exciting than real ones. They can end with less of a crash, especially since they really only involve one person (although my journeys - affairs? episodes? ordeals? - with Folie à deux haven't been that bad either). Fantasies can be healthy distractions. They can also be ways of starring at the butterflies floating by your window as the house burns down. John Mayer would call that Slow Dancing in a Burning Room.

I use fantasy in my work, particularly in guided imagery. On a recent trip with a client who was feeling depressed, we visited an island that was so beautiful and waters that were calm. We noticed that there were people floating around her boat in the water -- they were close and none of them were talking. That made her feel good. I don't think any analysis is necessary. We also realized that as beautiful as the island was, she did not want to go to it (no analysis necessary there either) and that her worst fear was to float far in the opposite direction, where she could not see the island (hmmm, wonder what that could mean?). Fantasy can be a tool for all of us, whether we are a 14-year-old high school student in Virginia writing stories about Pretender-like prodigies or my friend in New York with her online "boyfriends." They help with our anxieties; they help make our dreams sweeter and they help us sort through complexities and get a glimpse at what we really want in life.

Sometimes, however, those fantasies reach a tipping point, and, by that, I don't mean the generally good ones that Malcom Gladwell writes about. Those fantasies can take over your life and impair your functioning (like the teenager I know who once told me that everything in her life would be alright if she could just marry an amine character). Or even worse when you are like my friend in Inwood who begins to see and turn those relationships built on fantasy into something real, something that can never live up to the magical expectations. Or, you could be like me, or my other friend from Ashburn, who just skip the fantasy part and try to make every ridiculous thing that happens in life real.

Fantasies can be your friend. They can help guide you, calm you and see paths to happiness in real life. But, well, when you begin to believe you can fly -- or, at times, in my case -- never really thought the idea of human flight was all that ridiculous, you might want to pause, and take it easy (And if you actually see a Knight in shinning armor galloping toward you on his white horse, with his sword and his shield, runnnnnnnnnn ...)

Update: Christine asks, "What if its not a knight in shining armor but Aladdin on a magic carpet who wants to take you for a ride?" The Knight Rule applies to boys on magic carpets, beasts who walk on two legs and think you are a beautiful brown-eyed belle, talking teacups and little mermaids who sing about being a part of your world. Unless, of course, you are at a Broadway play. Speaking of which, I've got to run ...

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