Thinky Post: Fantasy Versus Reality With Toxic Romances

The plumbers coming at 7am tomorrow and I can’t sleep, so I’m gonna distract myself by trying to write a thinky post and see if I can get my thoughts straight.

I’m finally listening to the “Dirty John” podcast, which is fascinating and amazing. Mostly in how objective it is. We hear all these people talking, and we don’t hear any analysis of what they are saying, we just get to listen and think about it for ourselves. The framework is hidden, the realization that this is a story of toxic romance and fantasy, and the way women are raised to see men.

I did a post a while back about why I think fantasies are harmless. Which boils down to “they are harmless because we know they are fantasies”. It’s a healthy outlet, a way to play with emotions we feel without acting on them. You don’t really want an over the top jealous protective partner, but sometimes it is fun to watch a movie about a hero who beats up a guy for looking at you funny. You don’t really want someone who would die for you, but sometimes you want to watch a movie about insane love that it would kill you to lose. And you don’t really want to be a heartless powerful assassin, but sometimes it is fun to pretend you can heartlessly kill people.

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Now I am thinking there is a second level to it. Fantasies can help us understand what is fantasy, and what is reality. If someone does something in real life that is “exactly like in the movies”, that means he isn’t a real person. He is a person pretending to be in a movie.

I don’t think it is the extreme fantasies that are a problem, it’s the subtle ones. When I watch Bhansali’s Devdas, I hate the movie, but I don’t really think it’s a dangerous fantasy. I mean, it’s ridiculous! You aren’t going to come out of that thinking “I should fall in love with my next door neighbor, light a lamp for him, dream about him, etc. etc. etc.”. If anything, you watch it, enjoy it, get that fantasy out of your system, and then call someone a “Devdas” in real life when you recognize that behavior.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, that is the dangerous fantasy. It’s not a fun escape for woman, to think about this guy dragging you down and making you feel bad. But it is showing us a fantastical version of the world where people fall in love forever and ever over one magical night, where you never get over that kind of love, and so on and so forth. It’s teaching a world where real life can be fantasy, where that line gets blurry.

Anyway, Dirty John! I’m about 5 years late to the party, but it’s amazing. What’s amazing is the way it digs into the way women are trained to be victimized, the way society sets it up. This guy was a terrible person, sure. But what allowed him to be terrible was the fact that women again and again ignored their guts, followed the fantasy instead of the logic.

What I find REALLY interesting is the way the women who have the gut sense are treated. That’s I think the bravest part of the podcast and the show, and what I am finding most interesting in the online discussions I am reading around it. Her younger daughter is weak, childish, living in a fantasy world, too emotional. Her older daughter is too mean, spoiled, demanding. Their words and reality aren’t softened or flattered. But the “childish” one knew something was off immediately and refused to be in the same room with him. And the “spoiled” one confronted her mother demanding that she be treated fairly, that her needs go before this new man.

It’s nothing new to say that women are punished for being aggressive. But what I finding interesting in this story, and the discussion around it, is that women are being punished for not being aggressive in the way we want them to be. It’s another fantasy, to be tough and scare someone off and do the magic thing that works right away. Reality is sometimes you come off as emotional, or spoiled, or mean. And it doesn’t work right away.

This is the fantasy I see all the time in online discussions, “Oh, I would never be so stupid as to fall for that!” or “If that was my sister/daughter/mother, I would have kicked his a– right from the start!” If someone doesn’t do the fantasy thing, it doesn’t fit the rules we have learned. You can fight back, but only in the particularly way you are allowed to fight back.

It’s not just the fantasy of the perfect romantic man that can be damaging, it’s the fantasy of the “Strong Woman” who would never fall for him along with the ideal of the “Forgiving Womanly Woman” who is saintly in her forgiveness. People are messy. Reality is messy. We need to look at these real messy unbelievable stories to remember that, to remember the difference from fantasy and reality.

Okay, that’s all I got! Now you be thinky back at me.

12 thoughts on “Thinky Post: Fantasy Versus Reality With Toxic Romances

  1. Hi there, the amount of STUFF you have organised for your moving in is very impressive, I just hope you got your bed alright so you can catch up on good rest in between plumbers etc… actually that came out a bit wrong. But rest, anyway. Sorry can’t do thinky atm, had a recurrence of lurgy over the weekend and must save thinkiness for working from home

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    • I did get my bed! And the plumber is here now, shaking his head in plumber fashion over how horrible and bad everything in the world is. 15 minutes, the painter arrives for the day, and I officially start “work”. I am actually looking forward to tomorrow, that’s my “real” move day, when my stuff arrives from storage, and I took the whoooooooooooooooooooooole day off work just for that.

      On Tue, Aug 10, 2021 at 7:29 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. I haven’t heard the podcast but watched the show. It was horrifying how he could gaslight everyone around him so much. And also, how we believe what we want to believe.

    As objective viewers, we are watching all these people fall for his lies and spin. But when you are actually in the moment, it’s very difficult to separate lies from truth.

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    • Yes! And it is so hard to believe that someone is lying to your face like that. I do collections calls sometimes for my job. And at least 95% of the time, people are sincerely telling me they never got the invoice or whatever. And that 5% when they are lying, they sound exactly the same!!!! I only know they are lying because the check doesn’t actually arrive!

      But of course once they don’t pay after lying, we put them on a little list and don’t trust them again. Which is easy to do when you are just calling about open invoices, but a lot harder to do when you are in a relationship with people.

      On Tue, Aug 10, 2021 at 12:35 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  3. Oooh! This is so interesting. I was just having a similar discussion about movies depicting healthy and unhealthy fantasies and to me, fantasies can become problematic when they come close to reality or could easily seep into reality. For example, I find psysho Hrithik from Mujhse Dosti Karoge hot. But if a man ever tried to do the things Hrithik did in that movie in real life, I would run the other way and immediately get a restraining order. And so would most other people, I would think. He was nuts in it. Same with your Devdas example. In general, if someone is acting like Devdas, people immediately see that as problematic and call him out on it.

    Yet, that is not the same with a fantasy like Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. If a guy acts like a really close friend and happens to fall in love with a girl, and the girl does not reciprocate, many guys still think it is okay to be angry, lash out, and blame the girl. This is not a fantasy when it is so many people’s reality. Same with the example you used. Women saying I would never fall for this guy’s lies or I would have kicked this guy’s a$$ is a problematic fantasy because many women who look strong and have agency are stuck in abusive/manipulative relationships. And no one helps them because the fantasy is so ingrained in their minds as a reality that they never expect a “woman like that” to “fall” for a guy that is manipulative and abusive.

    Personally, for me, I think this is also where I draw the line with many movies that makes the difference between whether I can enjoy the movie or not. I can enjoy movies with problematic heroes or a heroines if I can easily see this as a fantasy that is not even close to reality. But I don’t enjoy movies that are supposed to be glossy and fantasy-esq but start coming too close to reality with their problematic depictions of fantasy. Maybe this is why I really can’t stand KANK or ADHM.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And of course, if you do end up in a bad situation, there is the sort of judgement that you were so “foolish” and “weak” to let yourself be drawn in. Because the story we want is the strong woman who fights back, or else the pure innocent who is drawn in against her judgement. We don’t want the messy in between of folks who don’t fit either fantasy.

      On Tue, Aug 10, 2021 at 3:17 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  4. I’ve been away on vacation for so long and now I get to come back to a thinky post first thing! I love thinky posts! I haven’t heard the podcast, but it sounds fascinating. It makes me think of a brother-in-law, who has mental issues, but can cover them up when he wants to. He can cover them up so well that he convinces his therapists that his family is evil and terrible. I guess it is easy to believe people you have never met are terrible. And that is this brother-in-law’s fantasy, that all the problems in his 48 year old life are caused by the first 18 years he spent with his family.

    So my thinky tangent, inspired by your post, is how so many of us live in our own fantasies. People refusing to believe information that doesn’t conform to their world views. People so desperate to maintain their fantasy that they drive away those who love them. People believing with all their might that they are a good person even when they cheat someone else in a business deal.

    I suppose I’m not such a fan of people actually living in fantasies, but I do love watching fantasies on film.

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    • You hit another part of this particular story that fascinated people, and which I think is universal for this kind of sick person, that he sells separate fantasies to separate people in order to keep them apart. To his wife, he says that his mother and whole family were addicts and terrible and hateful, and she loves him more to make up for it. To his sister, he says that his horrible wife is so jealous she won’t let him visit and he is trapped in the marriage by the kids. To his second wife, he says that his first wife is a nightmare who keeps him from the kids and spreads lies about him. And none of the people ever talk to each other because he uses the fantasies as a wall to keep them apart. If they do overlap, they will discount what the other person says because of the conflicting stories they believe.

      I agree about living in our own fantasies. I’ll add a twist to it. there is a small amount of real life fantasy that we all need to survive. Like, my newborn baby “loves” me, even though logic says they are just a lumpy thing that is trying to get through the day. But if you don’t believe they love you, how can you get through the day? On the other hand, if you believe your newborn baby cannot possibly survive without you watching them every minute, BAD FANTASY. Does that make sense?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Define love – the newborn knows their mother’s voice and scent and they prefer her to others. Is that love?

        My own fantasy – I think nice thoughts about other people, which allows me to think nice thoughts about me, and leads me to expect other people are also thinking nice thoughts. I kinda know they aren’t, but it is easier if I just pretend they are.

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        • Excellent point! Newborns want their parents, is that love? So I guess the “fantasy” would be trying to translate your adult mature understanding of love to their instinctual ill-defined version. Same can be said about my dog. He “loves” me, but not in any way I could ever fully understand.

          But yes, I have those same fantasies. When someone zips ahead of me in traffic, I think “oh dear, they must have something terribly important they need to get to”. I don’t know of course, but why not imagine the nice thing instead of the bad thing?

          Which also means I get conned. But I would rather live life thinking nice things whenever I can than being suspicious.

          On Tue, Aug 10, 2021 at 8:18 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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