The movie “The Notebook” came out my sophomore year of college. At the time I saw it, I was 19, in a terribly unhealthy relationship, and desperately wanting to believe in the fantasy of my own real life, “Noah.”
By the time I started college, I’d been in dozens of relationships that just didn’t pan out. There was Duncan, the quarterback of the football team, whose locker was next to mine. Matt, the guy on the debate team who sometimes gave me rides home. Taylor Hanson. Elijah Wood. I was quite the player. At least in my mind. None of these guys, of course, knew that were were, “dating.” That’s because the entire relationship, from the “meet-cute,” to the teary eyed fight in the rain, to the perfect white rose petaled wedding, was orchestrated entirely in my mind. It was like my brain was taken over by a Taylor Swift version of Sims. Full conversations, scenes, fights, conflicts, make-ups (PG-13 promise), and perfect zoomed in camera kisses were fantasized. I’ll even admit, as embarrassing as this is, that the only way I was able to fall asleep every night, for years, was to play these movie like fantasies in my mind. My daydreams were better than my real dreams, after all. They were certainly better than reality.
To say this kind of fantasizing is unhealthy is akin to saying eating a double-down for lunch everyday is unhealthy. Major understatement. It’s really no wonder that my college relationship crashed and burned in less than a year, and that it took me almost five years to enter into another one. During those five years of singleness, I purposely stopped reading emotionally manipulative books like Nicholas Sparks’, and quit watching every Kate Hudson or Sandra Bullock rom-com. I forced myself to stop feeding my fantasy life. Like an alcoholic who calls their sponsor when they have a craving, whenever the urge to fantasize hit, I’d stop, shake my head, and force myself to do something else. Eventually, the temptation to fantasize became less strong. After a couple years, I settled into a life of contentment with just myself. No fantasy’s of my crush rowing me out into the middle of a CGI swan filled lake to confess his undying love for me (that he showed no signs of for years.)
When I met my now husband, I was far removed from this dangerous past of fantasizing relationships. I knew how to catch myself when I was slipping into “unreasonable expectations” land. By the time we got married, I had been “sober” for years.
It wasn’t until a few months ago, that this decades old itch began to tickle my brain, begging to be scratched. Only this time, my romantic life being fully satisfied, the urge to fantasize was focused on something else entirely. Now, my brain began to wonder about what my life would be like, if I got that call from an agent or publisher. My fantasy shifted from swans on a lake and a rose petal covered aisle, to Oprah’s couch and a verified Twitter account. For the first time in over five years, when driving home from work, or doing the dishes, I had to force myself to snap out of my old habit.
Because make no mistake-this fantasy was just as destructive.
Replacing Duncan the quarterback with Harper Collins the publisher doesn’t reduce the danger. The danger lies in allowing my expectations and fantasy to take over my reality. What I didn’t realize until years after I quit my bad habit, was how many incredible things in my life I ignored, while I was focusing on what I didn’t have. Instead of valuing the people around me, and spending time working on things I could actually control, I took the easy way out. I accomplished everything I wanted to without actually accomplishing anything. Instead of learning to love myself, accepting the truth that no man would ever make me happy as long as I hated myself, I instead, retreated into my mind.
It hit me the other day, 10 minutes into a fantasy involving a NYC book release party, that if I allow myself to slip into this habit again, it has the potential to rob me from any joy I might have if and when my book does get published. Because it doesn’t matter how successful I may or may not be-I’ll never be as successful as the fantasy me could be. I’ll never be as beautiful, cool, rich, funny, and loved, as the movie version of me already is. Reality never matches up to fantasy. So if I allow myself to start to desire the fantasy success, any real success will automatically be cheapened. Brushed off. Over looked.
Ironically, what has helped me most to curb this desire to daydream, is my marriage. Having a real, everyday relationship with a man I love and am attracted to, but who also is not Taylor Hanson, has made me realize that many times what I think I want, is the exact opposite of what I need. What I need, is to be patient, thankful, and determined to work hard to reach my goal of eventually getting published. Whether that’s three months or thirty years from now. What I don’t need, is to give up, instead settling for the fantasy of getting published, which requires no patience or work whatsoever. Reality might be work, but if marriage is any indicator, the more work you put in, the better and more fulfilling it is.
No offense, of course, to Taylor Hanson.