A fundamental part of the way we daydream is that we make up characters. They might be completely fictional, brought in when the plot line requires them, or they might be based on someone we know or wish we knew. If these characters stick around for any length of time, it’s likely we’ll become emotionally attached to them. We can love them – and feel loved by them – every bit as powerfully as the people we love in real life.
That can be hard for normative daydreamers to understand. Logic suggests that if the person isn’t real, then the relationship isn’t real and therefore the emotion isn’t real. And if all of those things are true, a daydream relationship can never be a healthy alternative to a real-life relationship. Many people would say that daydream relationships are fantasies that we should try to let go of. But is that true? Or is it possible to have a healthy relationship with someone who only exists in your head?
Reasons why a daydream relationship may not be healthy
Daydream relationships are all about you. Your daydream partner always wants what you want and always acts in the way you think they should, so you never need to compromise. They don’t have feelings that conflict with yours. They don’t have problems of their own. They don’t turn to you for support (unless you want that). The relationship evolves completely on your terms. And that’s not good for you. Learning to compromise, learning to consider someone else’s feelings, learning to grow together with another human being is what encourages us to be the best we can be. Without that challenge, there is no growth.
We know that our characters aren’t real. Is it only possible for you to love your characters because you know they’re not real? If your daydream partner magically appeared in real life, would you embrace them and live happily ever after or run away as fast as possible? If it’s the latter, then maybe there’s something about real-life relationships that scares you, and you’re using your daydream relationships to avoid facing up to that. Alternatively, if your character is based on someone real, does your daydream relationship make you feel bad because it highlights how much more you want from your real-life relationship with that person? If that’s the case, again, you aren’t seeing your daydream relationship as real. You’re not enjoying it for what it is; you’re focussing on what it isn’t.
Sometimes you need practical support. No matter how much your daydream partner loves you, they can’t cook dinner for you when you’ve had a tiring day, they can’t help you fix your computer, they can’t make you a warm drink when you’re in bed with flu. Your physical self sometimes needs a bit of practical support, and that only comes from a real person who cares about you.
Reasons why a daydream relationship can be healthy
Your partner may not be real, but your emotions are. Loving someone is a magical thing, whether that person is real or imaginary. Our relationships with our characters can provide us with a sense of connection that is very hard to match in real life. Our characters are there for us whenever we need them, they never let us down, they always have time to listen, they reassure us that they love us unconditionally, no matter what we are struggling with. Not many of us are lucky enough to have someone like that in real life.
Your daydream partner helps you tune in to your self-love. You know that your daydream partner isn’t real, that whatever they feel and say and do is coming from somewhere in your own mind. And isn’t that a beautiful thing? Because that absolute and unconditional love that they feel for you is really love that you feel for yourself. The fact that your daydream partner exists at all is a sign that somewhere, deep down, you feel worthy of that kind of love. And once you realise that, you can tap into that feeling whenever you need to.
Your daydream partner can gently hold you accountable. When you care about someone, you don’t want to let them down, regardless of whether that person is real or only real to you. Your daydream partner wants the same things you want, their wishes for you are shaped by your wishes for yourself, so you can be sure your daydream partner will gently guide you in the direction you need to go. When things get tough, they’ll gently remind you of the commitments you made to them – to yourself. And they’ll speak to you far more lovingly, far more kindly, than most of us speak to ourselves.
Relationships with real people can be healthy or unhealthy. Your relationships with your characters are no different – except that you’re in control. If you recognise that the way you feel about one of your characters isn’t bringing you joy, then consider whether you should write them out of the plot. But if you have characters who add love, connection and meaning to your life, hang on to them. Because when you are constantly filling up on love every time you visit your daydream world, you’ll have so much more love to give the people around you in the real world.