I knew that something had to change when I took a wrong turn down the baby food aisle at the grocery store and was instantly mentally transported to a breeze-blowing, sun-glowing evening drive with my laughing, handsome husband at the steering wheel, and my wispy-haired toddler riding between us in our ’62 pickup Chevy. In the exact same moment I was euphorically happy in my mind’s eye, and miserable in reality.
It started as a lovely daydream on a lonely Saturday afternoon. There was a paper that needed writing, and some errands that needed to be run, but I found that if I just leaned back and gazed off into space – suddenly all those to-dos became insignificant as I pictured myself in the irresolute future with a man who divided all my worries by half.
So on that afternoon, and for many afternoons to follow, I found myself in the midst of a vivid, tantalizing encounter with the world’s most perfect man - Seth. There was no limit to the wonder of this new relationship. Mostly he let me talk, but when he did speak it was so fitting and poignant that I loved him all the more. He was handsome in a reassuring way, with imperfect hair and a nose that slightly exceeded the bounds of society’s preference. We would stay up long hours into the night talking about where we wanted to be in ten years, what scared us as children (and still scared us today), and the guilty things that plagued our conscience that we had never told another living soul.
When I was not in the Land of La-la, I had moments of contemplating my own insanity. I knew that this was abnormal behavior, but I also knew that there were people out there doing a lot worse things with their loneliness than keeping company with an imaginary beau. I did not see this as an act of desperation; I saw it as an extension of my independence and self-confidence. I saw it as a means of making do and keeping the dream alive until the real deal came along. He was my upgraded, adult version of an imaginary best friend.
Our romance played out like a contrived PG rated romantic flick with the curtains neatly closing on anything more racy than an elongated kiss. It was clean, and it was simple, and it was what I wanted in my own life at that point. I craved simplicity: a rising action that opened and developed as one expected, a climax that managed to shock and yet still reassure, and a conclusion that put everything back together just as one had hoped.
Just like any other relationship with an imaginary best friend, there comes a time when you become aware of its social unacceptability and either discard it all together, or hold on to it even tighter. I was caught in the crux of these two options. I had become ashamed of my reliance on my imaginative powers, and I was terrified of the prospect of becoming the topic of shared whispers and conspiring glances.
When I realized in the middle of aisle 7 that I had just had an imaginary baby with this imaginary man, I knew that I could not continue my inventive rendezvous. Next week I would be potty-training this pretend child, then getting him/her ready for his/her first day of school, losing his/her first teeth, buying his/her first car, then watching him/her walk across the stage at graduation. My fake existence had become too real, and reality had become too tragic to come back to, so I had to make a change. The next day when I thought about Seth, I thought about homework instead – or cupcakes, or shoes, or politics, or anything other than Seth. A week later I thought about getting a cat. If imaginary lovers are an upgrade from imaginary friends, cats must be the upgrade from imaginary lovers.