Long, long ago, when one was required to use a phone limited by the length of a cord attached to the wall, one of my roommates called out to me, “Lori, your dream man is on the phone.” Had I heard correctly? I was confused because my boyfriend was across the country and not able to call me. “Who?” I squinted at her. She sassed, “Your dream man—the ONE guy you said was cute the other night when we were talking about all the guys we met at the opening social. I’m sure this is him!” My roommate was teasing me because she knew I had no interest in meeting new guys.
A few days previous, I was sitting listening to my roommates holding a powwow about who were the cutest and most dateable guys they had noticed at a social event. I was not an active participant, but after several minutes of discussion, one of my roommates turned to me, “What about you? Who would you want to date?” I hesitantly said, “Well, I don’t want to date anyone, but there was only one person I met that I thought was cute—it was this tall blonde guy named Steve, I think.” “Oh yeah, he was cute,” my roommates chimed in, and one pointed to a door about 20 yards beyond our kitchen window, “I think he lives right there with a bunch of other cute boys.” “OK, well, it doesn’t matter because I have a boyfriend,” I said, and left it at that.
The “boy named Steve” was the one on the phone asking me on a date, and I went, seeing casual dating as a more viable option than staying home every weekend. The “dream man” moniker became a bigger joke to my roommates when, after a few dates, he was convinced he wanted to marry me, sending me into active avoidance.
My roommates shortened “Dream Man,” to “D.M.,” and went into hysterics after finding out another girl in the apartment complex made a list of “Dream Men,” of our apartment complex and my husband was on the list. After that, every time he made efforts to go out, I equivocated between rejecting him and agreeing to go as friends, because he was one of the nicest guys I knew, and I didn’t envision it going anywhere romantically, but my roommates seemed to enjoy watching my distress when “D.M.” stopped by or called me.
Six months later, when I finally allowed myself to feel any feelings for him, I attached to him quickly; now I tell him that he was, indeed, my “Dream Man,” which is usually met with his skeptical, “Yeah, whatever—took you long enough to decide that.”
Despite his skepticism, I do consider him the man of my dreams. I have been fortunate that his behaviors and attitudes have been consistent with my predictions and daydreams about the future family I had imagined. I admired him as a person and had the sense that he would always love me, even when I was less than lovable, and he so far has exceeded my expectations.
When Dreams Clash With Reality, People Question Their Choices
The term “dream man,” denotes an ideal which precisely no one meets unequivocally in real life. All of us at some point are required to practice “radical acceptance,” when we don’t get everything we want in a close long-term relationship. There is always negotiation. Sometimes when people are feeling loss about unmet expectations, they question their marital decisions and compare currently flawed partners to “dream partners,” which existed in the past or can even be in the present in relationship fragments, as with affairs.
Dreaming (night or day) about an ex is not a confirmation that you made a bad choice in marriage
It’s not uncommon to have dreams about exes, and not particularly damaging to a relationship if they are viewed as is: dreams, plain and simple. The damage comes when people create meaning out of this phenomenon. I remember attending a training by Scott Stanley, a highly regarded marital researcher. He pointed out that we are built to be attracted to many people. He noted that it’s not uncommon to see others we find attractive, or to miss parts of past relationships, but people in committed relationships who want to protect the union and keep it healthy will engage in self-talk to remind themselves of the virtues of their current partners.
This might seem obvious, but it’s not uncommon for me to see clients who are distressed by unwanted dreams or thoughts about previous relationships. They can feel disloyal and bad for grieving glimpses of old flings. It’s important to understand that what we are missing in these situations are usually the feelings we had at the time associated with the individual, rather than the individual, and they are different. For example, I might remember a past relationship with fondness and feel a little sad about the loss, when I’m really missing the carefree feelings and attitudes associated with that stage of life. We also idealize past relationships. There is no way to view a past relationship entirely accurately.
In a recent episode of the popular Poldark series, Ross Poldark’s wife had a brief fling with a young man who passed away, which seemed to some like a possible “revenge affair,” for her husband’s infidelity. Most familiar with the story line know about the ongoing tension between Ross and his old girlfriend, who became engaged while he was in America fighting for the British and was presumed dead. After he returned to England just in time to see her marry someone else, they both experienced powerful feelings of loss which eventually led to a one-night extramarital sexual encounter and of course, a pregnancy, forever connecting the star-crossed lovers and ensuring plenty of ensuing drama.
Ross questioned his wife about her ability to rejuvenate her feelings for him after her fling died off and stated accurately, “I cannot compete with a ghost,” to which she replied, “No more than I could compete with an ideal,” referring to the fact that his image of his old girlfriend was fashioned from his best memories of her, and was several deviations shy of reality. That’s why it’s dangerous to attribute too much meaning to memories.
Dreams are Dreams are Dreams
We all have inexplicable dreams from time to time. I worry when people try to make sense out of their dreams without supporting evidence. Sometimes dreams can elicit all kinds of emotion, and we are meaning-making creatures and want to generate understanding, but dreams can have multiple meanings for multiple reasons and are often unpredictable.
One morning I woke up from a rare but disturbing dream in which my husband had been unfaithful to me. It was an awful feeling, and when I awoke, I looked over at him asleep and still felt contaminated by the residual negative emotions. I nudged him awake and explained, “I just had a dream that you had an affair and you were a really big jerk, and I don’t have good feelings at all toward you right now. It feels real.” He mumbled, “Honey, it was a dream. Go back to sleep.” It colored my feelings toward him throughout the day, even though it was just construct of my imagination. It had nothing to do with reality. I still can’t tell you why I had that dream, because fidelity is important to him in all aspects of life.
With similar randomness, my husband began his day recently by sharing the dream he had about me in which I was “naked in the backyard helping barbecue when (a certain ecclesiastical leader neighbor) walked back there.” “Hmm….so I’m guessing your own ecclesiastical persona is conflicting with your worldly desires?”
I knew, however, it was just a weird, random dream.
On the way out the door that morning, he turned to me and said, “Oh yeah, I forgot one thing from the dream. You were also covered in bacon grease.” “You forgot? That seems like a pretty important detail to land on the periphery,” I joked. “Also, that’s just….ewwww!!!! I hope that’s not one of your weird fantasies, because that’s not happening. Also it’s unsanitary.”
He laughed and added, “Well, you are my dream girl.”
There you have it: Dream partners—with a huge side of reality. Heaven.