Let us be frank: Being both a romantic, and possessing an overactive imagination, or a propensity to daydream, is not a good way to become a “grounded” human being.
Those two traits feed off of each other, in endless cycle rhythmic as the beating of a heart: our imagination fuels romantic fantasies, whilst our desire for romance offers the perfect playground for our imaginations to play in like overexcited children.
This phenomenon, which occurs frequently in the brain of Yours Truly, has caused me much grief during my short life. What happens, more often that not, is that I begin to build a fantasy relationship, entirely in my head, based on an individual I see around but do not know, or usually have exchanged nary a word with. If the person I have declared my “soul mate” (foolish as that might sound) acknowledges me, or showers the slightest attention, I immediately convince myself the poor boy is besotted with me, only he is too shy or embarrassed to admit it, as I would be.
With the person I have set my heart on, for whatever reason (usually indiscernible – love just springs up, doesn’t it, like flowers after it rains?), I mistake ordinary friendliness for concealed affection; I mistake embarrassment for, uh, concealed affection; I mistake avoidance for, once again, concealed affections; I begin to twine my psyche in spiritual fantasies, believing the two of us are destined to be together, joined by the strings of fate, hearts interlocking like gears, like puzzle pieces, like Yin and Yang, like the Moon and the Sun.
I idealise them to the point where, in my eyes, they are the kindest and loveliest human being under the sun, and can do not wrong. Excessive avoidance on my part, out of shyness, does not help matters: the fantasy character in my head only grows more lush and detailed, using the various glimpses of the boy in person as a blueprint for constructing his being.
In other words, when it comes to love, I am delusional, to the point, probably as a therapist might attest, of unhealthiness.
The cloud of delusion tends to solidify when I have not seen the person in question for some time – absence, in my case, makes the imagination grow stronger – and fade away when I do, whereupon their own individuality is painfully thrust upon me, the character in my head disintegrating in the face of the reality, leaving bereft, and, most of all, ashamed that I could have been such a fool, that I’ve “done it again”.
For those who perhaps cannot relate to this, here is an analogy: it is like falling in love with a painting of a man or woman, hung in a stately room, which you pass by each and each day; you begin to invent stories, wonder what he or she is like on the inside, who they are, what their life story is – only for the entire daydream to come crashing down when you meet the handsome man or woman in person, and find them crass, boorish, arrogant, egotistical, or just plain dull: a far cry from the Prince or Princess you envisioned. It is disappointment. Cold, cruel disappointment.
For the longest time, when this would happen (so far, thrice), once either the object of my affections jolted me out of my delusion with his presence, or through more direct means, I would crumple with self-disgust at the extent of my obsessiveness and delusion. As I tend to feel most emotions to the point of excruciation due to heightened sensitivity, be they positive or negative, the shame burned through my heart like acid, corroding my self-esteem.
You desperate, lovesick fool, I would think.
My darling, you delusional idiot – you call yourself an independent woman, when you yearn so desperately for love from those of the opposite sex, to the point where you have to pretend affections exists where it does not? Do you have any self-respect? You disgust me.
An obsession with another boy again, I see. Do you not have anything better to do with your time? With all the countless hours you spent thinking about an imaginary person, think of all the work you could have done, how further in life you would be, how much more successful, instead of the shy, stupid, little girl feeding on fairy dreams you are today.
He doesn’t love you – no boy, in their right mind, would love someone so defective, so delusional, who can barely strike up a conversation with a stranger without their heart pounding. That sweet, artistic kind man in your head does not exist in this godforsaken world; you know very well you’ll die alone, surrounded, at best, with some cats to mourn your passing. Like Emily Dickinson, or some other reclusive, painfully shy writer, you will die alone, leaving nothing but a trail of manuscripts rather than broken-hearts behind.
Besides, you are not lonely, you are perfectly able to occupy your own time without another human, so why the obsession, why the fantasies? Obviously you lack self-esteem, and seek to fill the void within yourself with attention from others. How demeaning.
It was a veritable torrent of self-abuse. Deep down, I knew myself to be worthy, that I was, as part of the universe, intrinsically worthy, that my Art would someday be worth something, that my writing, terrible though it might currently be, would someday be worth something, that I was worthy, Goddammit. But who among us listens to your deepest selves when the world cracks open? In moments of the greatest crisis, our Ego rears up from its dormancy like a snake to sink its fangs straight into our self-worth.
Having one or two of the boys react in a condescending manner towards me, or avoid me as if I were some crazy woman who followed them home to see where they lived (No, I was not that obsessive; I just imagined they loved me, blooming scenes of romance day after day in my mind) after I acted shyly, or awkwardly around them, only made things worse.
Then something happened.
I stumbled across several articles on Psychology on the internet which described the tendency of girls who have lost their fathers (through a painful divorce, in my case) to seek more attention from their male counterparts, or be more sexually promiscuous than their peers who still have both parents. It is a subconscious way of filling the absence of a male figure in their lives, whom they so adored and revered, and have now lost, rather like a pious woman or man, upon losing faith in their particular God or Goddess, desperately seeking out another entity to worship and find comfort in. Though I was never physically involved with any of the boys (it is hard to accomplish that when you run in the opposite direction upon spotting them) I did seek attention. And this desire for attention, coupled with my natural reservedness, caused much internal conflict, a subconscious tug-of-war.
This realisation slammed into me like a meteorite. Gradually, it occurred to me that every single one of the boys who I had “fallen in love with” were very tall, very thin, arrogant, overbearing, egotistical, commanding, yet laced with an internal vulnerability and insecurity behind the confident veneer – just like my father. And the way those boys had rejected me, either through complete obliviousness or avoidance, echoed the crippling rejection I had felt from my father since my childhood.
Subconsciously, I was repeating patterns with these clueless teenage boys in an effort to reconcile my broken heart with an awful reality: that my father neither loved, nor cared for me, and had cast me away as a child, when I loved and respected him so, and when he should have loved and protected me.
Though I would have developed into quite the romantic regardless, the absence of a father destabilized my self-esteem in ways that I am only now beginning to understand, and strengthened a hundredfold my innate daydreaming tendencies. I grew up with very little confidence. I retreated into fantasy, partly because I was a imaginative little girl, partly to escape from the pain of my home life. I felt uncomfortable and wary of boys whilst yearning for their attention, because my father, who was the first man I had encountered and loved, had cut me to my core, and now, subconsciously, all boys and men in my eyes became untrustworthy.
Sure, I did talk to boys, but just the shy, friendly ones, while desperately loving and desiring yet avoiding only the arrogant and confident men waltzing through the school halls – all tall and skinny – which reminded me of my missing parent. Eventually I opened up to my therapist about this, and she concurred with my analysis, and over the course of several sessions, she tried to show me that I should not feel any shame for my obsessions (which were normal among teenage girls, though perhaps to a lesser degree), and that it was not my fault my father had abandoned me when I wanted nothing more than his love.
My shame evaporated. For the first time in years I started being kinder to myself, to love and care for myself, rather than feeling horribly defective and inadequate, foolish and ashamed of my foolishness, and abusing myself with negative self-talk.
This is not to say I am completely healed. More delusions are likely to pop up in the future – but it is also likely they will be less intense, tempered with a degree of realism. Armed with my new found knowledge, I will be wiser and more level-headed, and realise the only people who actually exist are those that live and think and breathe beyond the confines of my mind. That I do not need the attentions of a man to feel good about myself, and that, though what happened to me was painful, I can still go on and live a happy life, as a confident, and happy, if albeit still a little shy, woman.
The daydreams will never disappear, I think, only I will put less stock in them, and see them for the fantasies that they are. Daydreams are fun; it is only when we begin to confuse them with reality, and to act in alignment with a fantasy, that causes trouble.
And I am also making an effort not to swear off all males of the human species. Yes, my father did have a great psychological impact on me, but this does not mean that I cannot change or learn or work on my subconscious thoughts; it does not mean I cannot slowly realise that not all men are terrible, arrogant human beings who will leave me and reject me; that there are plenty of nice blokes out there, who are much less inclined towards abandoning their wives and daughters.
It is not going to be easy. I still distrust other people, male and female (the old cliched “trust issues”, eh?), always afraid they will hurt me in some way. When friends left me or I was rejected by my peers, these occurrences layered upon my initial experience of abandonment, thickening my distrust of people. I am frightened of people – of trusting them, loving them, and of letting myself love them, for I didn’t really love those boys; I barely even knew them: instead, they allowed me to comfort myself, to re-create love that was denied to me long ago.
If someone were to want to start a relationship with me, I will wonder if they will leave me also, eventually, I will wonder why they would want to be with someone like me, I will wonder if it is too good to be true – for life has taught me so far that love is not a right, but an instrument of pain to make you feel lost, alone. Discarded.
What I must do is remain optimistic, and do my best, even if I fall back into old, unhealthy thinking patterns. Like all of you, who deal with your own insecurities on a daily basis, I must work on maintaining good self-esteem. I must consistently reminding myself that just because my father left me does not mean I am an unworthy person; that I am beautiful even if I am a little strange and shy and aloof and have trouble with conversations; that am lovable because of these traits, not in spite of them; and that someday, there is always the possibility I will meet someone new, who will share these truths with me.
But I do not need another person to validate my existence or worthiness. Even if I never meet that “special” person who wants to walk down the beach with me, who loves me in all my quirky glory, who watches the stars with me and cries with me and understands my sensitivities, my quiet agonies, I will still be okay, because, not only do I have my books and my writing and a big dose of Hope, I have myself to believe in myself and encourage myself and comfort myself and love myself – and that is something that will, until the day I die, never leave me.