Saturday, November 18, 2006

Real Men and Imaginary Lovers

I imagine at one time or another you’ve developed a crush on some TV character (as I recently have done for the umpteenth time), one of those intense infatuations that sets you off madly googling the actor who plays this person. You feel like a stalker, in spite of the fact that you’re pretty sure you’re not a psychopath of any kind. The feeling worsens when you see your idol photographed with his wife or girlfriend, most likely someone gorgeous, and you find yourself jealous. You know you will never meet this guy, so what difference does it make that he’s in love with someone other than you? Be that as it may, it still tweaks your heartstrings.

I’ve had a number of women over the years correspond with me over this problem. The first thing I do is tell them they aren’t crazy or sick. The feeling is really quite natural, and it doesn’t really mean you resent the fact that your idol has a life apart from you. The problem is that you feel desire for him of one sort or another, and the reminder of his real life just makes him seem less attainable than ever.

The cure for this problem isn’t always easy to manage. With some infatuations I’ve found it a snap; with others, nearly impossible. However, I’ve found it gets easier with practice.

The whole key is distinguishing between the Real Man and the Imaginary Lover, and believing confidently that each one exists quite apart from the other. I’m venturing into some good old Jungian psychology here, but you don’t need a doctorate to get the gist. I’ll do my best to explain, and use my current situation as an illustration.

In watching “Battlestar Galactica,” I fell for the character of Admiral Adama. This guy doesn’t exist in “reality,” of course. He is a concoction created by the writers of the show and the actor, Edward James Olmos, with help from directors, costume designers, hair and makeup people, and so on. Adama also has origins in some timeless archetypes that have inspired artists and authors for millennia: the soldier, the father, the paternal god.

There’s one more person involved in creating William Adama: me. Because he is “fictional,” he depends upon the imagination of viewers of the show to give him “reality.” Each individual will view this character a little differently, and because of what he or she brings to the situation, will react to him in a unique way. This archetype has always been powerful to me, so my psyche imbues Adama with more importance than the actor or writers could manage on their own.

So, what about the actor himself? Well, I can certainly say this: he looks exactly like the guy I’m in love with. And intellectually I recognize the part he plays in bringing this character to my senses. So it’s hard not to give him credit, as well as to sort of confuse him with my Adama.

I admit I have googled Edward James Olmos. Why? Because, well, it’s exciting to do. He reminds me of the Admiral, what can I say? In his particular case, matters are somewhat complicated by the fact that the Real Man is quite remarkable. Not only is he a brilliant actor, director and filmmaker, but a tremendous humanitarian. I watched a video of him doing some motivational speaking about the unity of the human race and it brought me to tears, without seeming much at all like it was Commander Adama saying the words.

You may have had a similar experience reading about the actor who portrays your idol. If the Real Man also inspires you in some way, the entire affair may become even more confusing to you.

Occasionally too, we become attached to celebrities who “play themselves.” My recent affection for Survivorman Les Stroud, and my longtime admiration of NHL player (now coach) Guy Carbonneau are good examples.

Still, I recognize that even for these guys, I create my own concept of their personalities and characters, distinct from the reality. I don’t know either of them personally, nor will I ever. If I did, I’m sure their human flaws or individual characteristics would rob them of the magic imparted by my imagination.

So, there are a number of things to keep in mind to help separate the Real Man from the Imaginary Lover, and I’ll set down a few here:

1. Don’t feel that the Imaginary Lover is “just pretend,” “not real,” or “a figure of your imagination,” and therefore doesn’t exist in a valid way. It would take a lot of words to cover this topic, but suffice it to say, the Lover is an independent extension of your psyche, uniquely yours and very real. Most importantly, although “imaginary,” he can fulfill your psychological needs better than you think.

2. Don’t suppose that the Real Man is who you really need or want. He may share some traits in common with the Imaginary Lover (most especially, physical appearance), but he is probably very different in many key ways, or at least not so perfect.

3. If the Real Man has many qualities you genuinely admire, to the point that you covet him in a painful way, work on separating him from the Imaginary Lover. It truly is possible to admire and like the Real Man while recognizing that it is the Imaginary Lover that truly inspires and excites you.

4. Focus on the fact that the Imaginary Lover is truly, completely, and uniquely your own, utterly devoted and faithful to you. You will never compete for him with another woman, or his work, or any other distractions. Whoever it is who is with the Real Man will not be quite so lucky with him, since he isn’t perfect!

5. When the day comes that you find the shine of the Imaginary Lover tarnishing, don’t feel sadness or regret. The nice thing about him is that he will seek out a new form to touch and inspire you, one that addresses another facet of you, or a newly developed need.

I wish I could impart to you everything I’ve read and experienced on this subject—this is a ridiculously brief treatment of the matter. If you want further explanation, I recommend my book Living Beyond Reality. I say this not to turn this column into an infomercial, but honestly in the interest of sharing with you what the good doctor Carl Jung had to say that applies so aptly to the subject of celebrity crushes.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the man. Thanks to him, when I spend three hours googling some actor, I am able to feel perfectly sane. Even when I see the photos of him kissing some other woman.

(He kisses much better when he’s with me, if you catch my meaning.)


Jennie said...

Dear Diane,

I have to print this entry out and read it. I think you were reading my mind! :)

Diana Laurence said...

I know you really get me on this topic, Jennie... :-)

Con said...

Great Advice, Diana.
I can tell you that a few years ago I was madly in love with Alan Rickman and it was Diana who helped me overcome my shame and confusion. I highly recommend her Jungian Primer; Living Beyond Reality. Extremely helpful!

Diana Laurence said...

Thanks for the endorsement, Con! I'm always so glad when the book helps somebody...


Con said...

One thing I forgot to mention about this whole "imaginary lover" scene is that YOU are as imaginary as the man you are fantasizing about. I mean, when I am in arms of that ideal man, I am ... idealized as well. I am single ( the prude in me won't allow for adultery!), prosperous, beautiful, slender (Duh!) and pretty much the best version of myself.
Once I am freed from the nasty "realities" of me,I am freer to experience the love and romance I need from this fantasy man.
Strange but true.....

Diana Laurence said...

Excellent point, Con...I haven't brought this up but it's definitely true. In the fantasies I'm single, young and pretty enough to attract the guy in question. (It has been very refreshing crushing on Edward James Olmos who is actually a decade older; I only have to be single and prettier. LOL)