Many of us retreated into our imaginary worlds because we were lonely. But it can also work the other way. In addition to loneliness triggering maladaptive daydreaming, maladaptive daydreaming can make it more difficult to make and sustain real-life friendships, leading to us becoming isolated and lonely.
There are several reasons why maladaptive daydreaming can make it harder to maintain real-life friendships:
We don’t develop or practice our social skills
If we spend too much time in our heads, we miss out on opportunities to learn how to interact with people and to develop our social skills. We might be the life and soul of the party in our daydreams, but there we can control other people’s reactions, and we can back up and replay the scene if it doesn’t go the way we want. We can also be the centre of attention all the time. Real life isn’t like that. We have to show an interest in other people, we have to learn how to move past any embarrassing moments, and we have to learn how to deal with feeling rejected by others. Those skills are hard, if not impossible, to learn in a daydream.
We have unrealistic expectations
Our daydream friends are always there for us when we need them, never ask us for support, and never let us down or hurt us. But if we expect our real-life friends to be like that, we’re going to be disappointed. Real people will sometimes take more than a few minutes to return your text, they’ll sometimes need you to listen to their problems, they may even forget your birthday. We have to accept that if we value someone’s friendship, none of that matters.
We don’t think about our friends when we’re not with them
For most maladaptive daydreamers, time alone means time spent daydreaming. The moment we don’t have anything more important to occupy our thoughts with, we jump straight into our imaginary world. Even if we bring our real-life friends into our daydreams, they then become characters not real people – they start to behave the way we want them to behave instead of staying true to their real-life roots. In the real world, we don’t spend time nurturing our friendships– we don’t think about inviting friends to meet up, we don’t send a text just to see how they are, we don’t call them on a whim just because we had a spare few minutes. And that lack of contact can lead normative daydreamers to think we don’t care.
We think we don’t need friends
This is perhaps the most significant reason of all. In our heads we have perfect friendships with perfect people, and we get a lot of joy and fulfilment from them. So we think we don’t need messy imperfect real-world friendships. Until we stop investing in them, and our friends drift away, and then one day we realise we’re lonely. And we wish there was someone in real life we could turn to.
So, how can we turn this around? How can we develop our social skills and form satisfying, lasting real-world friendships? The first step is to be aware of how our daydreaming can damage our friendships. If we become aware of all the ways we may be neglecting our real-life friends in favour of spending time with our imaginary friends, we’re then in a position to do something about it. Unlike daydream friendships, real-life friendships need us to invest effort in maintaining them. We need to actively keep in touch with our friends, make sure we see them regularly, and text or call them if we can’t see them for a while. And when we’re with our friends, we need to give them our undivided attention, be present, make them feel valued. We can’t take our friends for granted the way we do our characters. But that’s what makes real-world friendships so valuable.