What If the Fantasy of Love Is All That You Can Have?

Source: Max Pixel, CC0 license

In my last post, I offered a positive message regarding the importance of trying to make your dreams real rather than resting satisfied with the dream itself. There I said that dreams may be safe while real life is messy, but we must have actual experiences to appreciate life, and the risk inherent in taking chances—especially romantic chances—is an intrinsic part of life’s experience.

The first reader to leave a comment on that post, Phillyosopher, made an excellent point:

We don’t live in a vacuum. We have responsibilities and obligations. Commitments that prevent us from exploring our desires. So, we retreat to fantasy as a salve. At least, our attention is momentarily suspended and we experience the feeling, however fleeting.

Phillyosopher is absolutely right: My earlier advice to try to make your dreams real was too simplistic, failing to recognize that, in many cases, circumstances make this very difficult if not impossible.

Consider the anecdote from Joan Crawford’s biography that inspired my last post: She decided not to pursue marriage to Clark Gable because she wanted to relish the perfection of the dream instead. However, she and Gable were also married at the time; this did not prevent them from having an affair, of course, but it may have influenced their decision not to marry, given that they would both need to divorce first. This is mere speculation on my part, but the practical difficulties with divorcing and remarrying, significant but not insurmountable, may have led Crawford to rationalize the choice by claiming the fantasy was more satisfying.

Certainly, as Phillyosopher says, there can be severe limitations on how much or how far we can pursue our dreams. Sometimes a bad relationship situation cannot be escaped, for any number of reasons—there are often many other important values to consider—leaving the promise of a better love out of reach. In cases such as these, the only respite from daily misery may be the delight one can claim from fantasy, and people in such situations should embrace that fantasy as much as they can.

I suspect there are many cases, though, in which we use circumstances to excuse our reluctance to take the chances that our true happiness and fulfillment demands. We fall back on practical difficulties or inflated moral issues to cover up our fears, saying “I can’t take the risk” when what we mean is “I won’t take the risk.”

And that brings us back to main point of the original post, which I’ll amend here (inspired by Phillyosopher’s comment). Fantasy is not enough if you have the opportunity to get the real thing. But we must also be careful not to confuse fear of taking a chance, on the one hand, with the lack of a chance to take, on the other. Out of respect for those who truly cannot pursue their dreams, those of us who can should be honest with ourselves about why we don’t—and take that chance if we can.

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