Once when I broke up with a man, I was struggling with getting over him. When he quickly got engaged to someone else, I was devastated. At the time, I was going to school and confided in my professor who invited me to look deeper at my grief, “Consider whether you are mourning the relationship you actually lost, or whether you are mourning the relationship you wished you had.”
At first I didn’t understand, so he added, “People are usually not missing the reality of the relationship, they are missing the fantasy of what they wished the relationship had been, or become. In actuality, they discover they are mourning the loss of an illusion.”
I instantly saw what I was doing. I was mourning the loss of a man who loved and adored me, wanted to live “happily ever after” and who was loyal and trustworthy. What I actually lost was a man who didn’t tell the truth, took me for granted, had no plans for a future with me and had cheated on me repeatedly through the years of our relationship. Don’t get me wrong, there were great aspects of the man and the relationship that I truly was sad about, but there is no doubt that the majority of what I was mourning never even existed.
I experienced another illusion of love once in a restaurant waiting for the food, while reading the want ads in the newspaper. This was back before the Internet and online dating when people posted personal ads for romantic partners in the classified section. I was perusing the ads out of curiosity about what people posted.
That is when it happened—I started feeling like I was falling in love while reading an ad. It said something like, “Come walk on the beach, build a campfire, hold hands, gaze at the stars and each other, play guitar and sing together. I’m looking for you…” Want ads had to be brief so even my memory of this must be an illusion. It probably simply said, “Sunset on beach, long walks, campfire, music, call me.” But in that moment, I felt all the feelings associated with love and started yearning something else, feeling like my relationship at that time was lacking what this mystery man was offering.
Then, I suddenly realized the illusion. I was “falling in love” with my own values and desires, and with my own fantasy of a person. The actual person who wrote the ad had nothing to do with what I was feeling.
This was a great opportunity for me to identify what was real and what I truly loved. What I loved was the idea of walking on the beach and singing around a campfire. I could enhance the quality of my life by incorporating these activities into my existing relationships and friendships. The fantasy man was not a necessary part of the equation.
I invite you to examine your own love fantasies. You may be able to lighten your load of grief by only mourning what you have truly lost while simultaneously incorporating that which you love into your life, regardless of someone else.
- When mourning a loss, distinguish the things that are real versus the illusions. While there may be real aspects you miss from a relationship, it is healthier and easier to address reality when it isn’t exaggerated.
- Identify all the things you love, and love to do, and incorporate those values and priorities, regardless of another person. This will enhance your relationship with yourself and with your life. When you are whole and happy alone, you are more attractive to others, and have more to share when the right relationship presents itself.
- Use your imagination to come up with creative solutions to your life’s challenges, rather than serving as a false belief system that causes you pain.
While illusions and fantasies may have their place, in the realm of healthy relationships—or recovery from relationships—they rarely serve us. Embracing “what is” and feeding a healthy reality will lead to happier, more satisfying experiences.