How to Know if You're in a Pretend Relationship and What to Do About It


How to Quit Being the Basic Groupie

By Mary R. Dittman, M.B.A.

In The Rules 2”, the sequel to the best-selling relationship book, The Rules, Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider advise the reader not to “Waste Time on Fantasy Relationships.”

This sounds like a no-brainer, but a lot of us find ourselves in fantasy relationships all the time.

See if you recognize any of these scenarios:

  • The guy at the gym who always runs on the treadmill next to you - even when there are plenty of other ones open.  He compliments you, asks about your life, but never asks you out.  You figure he’s shy, and you’re wondering if you should suggest a post-workout smoothie.
  • The guy at work (or school) who always smiles at you, asks how you’re doing, flirts with you, and seems to make up excuses to talk to you.  But, he hasn’t asked for your phone number or suggested going out to dinner.  You think he’s afraid of things “getting weird,” so you want to take the lead so he knows you like him.
  • The guy who follows you on social media, likes and / or comments on all of your posts, and compliments you.  He probably direct-messages you and is very flirty, but he’s never suggested meeting for dinner IRL (in real life).  You’re afraid he doesn’t know you’re interested, and you’re not sure what to do to move things along.

Then, there’s the more extreme scenario: someone you’ve known for a while - perhaps as colleagues or friends - then “things happen,” and you think you’ve migrated from the friend zone to a relationship.  You still hear from him - he texts, and maybe calls.  Maybe he even wants to “hang out,” but you don’t go on dates and he doesn’t call you his girlfriend.

I’ve been there.  Actually, I’ve been in all of these scenarios.

Because you see him frequently (at work, at school, at the gym, on social media), you feel “a connection,” and you believe he must feel it, too.  After all, he’s clearly interested in you with his flirty comments and concern for your well-being.  You think he’s shy, or he’s afraid of ruining the friendship, or he’s wounded from his last relationship and he’s worried about hurting you.

Let’s lay this misplaced fear and concern to rest right now, ladies.

Men are not afraid of a women they are interested in.  They either like you enough to ask you out, or they don’t.  If a man likes you and he doesn’t want things to be weird at work, he’ll figure out how to make it not weird.

A few years ago, there was a guy at the gym who would always speak to me, flirt with me, and I really thought he was interested.  He never made a move, and later I learned he’s married.  He doesn’t wear a ring or talk about his wife - that’s not an indictment - he may be a very private person, and I know his job prohibits any type of jewelry for safety reasons.  

Another time, someone I’d gone out with a few times who “ghosted” on me used to reach out on social media, “checking in” and complimenting me.  I thought he was still interested (several years later), so you can imagine my surprise when I saw his wedding announcement in the newspaper.  Yes, he had still been reaching out after he was married.

I’ve also watched my girlfriends get caught in these fantasy relationships.  The reason they’re so dangerous is that you think this guy is into you as much as you’re into him, so you are focused on him, making it impossible for anyone else to get your attention. 

You’ll say (and believe) you’re available to meet other men, but you aren’t.  Energetically, you come across as unavailable because you are: you’re holding out hope that Mr. Fantasy will come through - as soon as he heals, he changes jobs, he works up the courage.

Now that you know you’re wasting time in a dead-end fantasy, what do you do?  Here’s your roadmap off of Fantasy Island:

1. Stop interacting with him.  Stop texting.  Stop the phone calls.  Stop the direct messaging, emails, chats, and back-and-forth comments on social media. 

The only possible way you can spark him to take action is if you become completely unavailable.  Why?  Men want what they can’t have.  If he wants to get to know you, let him ask you to dinner. 

Find a different treadmill, sit in a different seat in the meeting or class, don’t respond to any of his communications. 

And DEFINITELY don’t initiate! 

If you work together, treat him like a married coworker: be cordial, professional, and keep it moving.  Why?  This makes you more appealing in case he is interested and available. 

More importantly, it gives you the space to get over this fantasy relationship. 

Don’t say anything, don’t explain what you’re doing, just stop.  Don’t worry that you’re “being mean.”  It’s not mean to give a man space.  If he’s not interested in taking things to the next level, respect that and back off. 

All of your being available hasn’t gotten his attention, and more of the same will only make you look desperate.  Or worse: you will find out he is married, taken, or some other form of unavailable, and then you will look desperate and feel embarrassed.

2. Unfollow him on social media, and block him if you need to.  If you’re a newly-sober alcoholic, you don’t keep a six-pack of beer in the fridge.  If you’re on a diet, you don’t keep a box of donuts on the counter. 

This guy isn’t your boyfriend.  Either unfollow him on social media and stick to that, or block him. 

The beauty of blocking someone is that YOU can’t see his page, either! 

Block his number from your phone and block his email.  If it’s a work colleague or classmate and you can’t do that, only respond to work-related messages.  If he asks why, you’re busy with this huge project! 

Get yourself out of situations where you will hear about him, see him, or get updates on what he’s doing.

3. Wrap your brain around the fact that he’s just not that into you.  Listen, men like to talk to nice, pretty women (which you are!).  It feels good to him to have a harmless flirtation or have you respond kindly when he asks about your day. 

If he hasn’t asked you on a proper date, he’s not interested in you.  Period. 

Anything else that you’re telling yourself is untrue. 

He may be married, you may not be his type, he may not be looking for a relationship.  Whatever.  If he’s not asking you out, taking you out in public, and pursuing an actual relationship with you outside of the gym, work, school, or social media, then he’s not interested.

Should you tell him you’re moving on?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!! 

Why?  He won’t care. 

He may feel sorry for you that you created this fantasy in your head, but he won’t be motivated to start valuing you as a potential girlfriend.

Should you “confess” your feelings to “get closure?”  ABSOLUTELY NOT!! 

Why? Again, he won’t care. 

And “closure” is just a word we use to describe how it feels when you want something from someone.  And he will not be giving you what you want.  

I was in this situation and the roles were reversed.  I had been hanging out with a group of friends and talking about the guy I had a crush on.  Later, one of my guy friends I'd been hanging with came by to tell me he was “just going to focus on work from now on.”  I looked at him blankly, and told him that was great.  It wasn’t until later that I recalled that was how he responded when a woman had rejected him, and I realized he’d had a crush on me, imagined we were moving towards a relationship, and now he felt rebuffed and was just going to hide in his career and lick his wounds.  But, realizing that didn’t make me want him.  It made me feel weirded out that he’d created this fantasy world in his head!

Closure, confession, or a “talk,” won’t change the fact that you’re not actually in a real relationship. 

You have imagined all of it, and now your “breakup” will only serve to creep him out.  That’s a best-case scenario. 

Worst-case: he tells other people (think: colleagues, classmates, mutual friends, his woman who will now become territorial to let you know “her man” if off limits).  Then you look crazy, pathetic, and out of touch with reality.  This will not give you closure.  It will give you heartache.

The movie Sabrina, starring Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart, and William Holden, is a perfect example of how to exit a fantasy relationship and win.

Sabrina (Hepburn) has been in love with David (Holden) since childhood.  Her unrequited love drives her to a suicide attempt, so her father sends her to Paris to attend culinary school for two years.  She blossoms, and returns home - unrecognizable as a worldly  and sophisticated beauty.  David falls for her, but his brother Linus (Bogart) tries to break up their affair to protect a business deal.  I won’t spoil the movie if you haven’t seen it, but Sabrina has both men courting her!

Get it?  She never got the chance to “confess” to David that her suicide attempt was based in her unreturned feelings.  Her father shipped her off to France before she could tell him!  The original movie was made in 1954 - no cell phones, no email, no texting or social media.  Making international phone calls was nearly unheard of.  

She became unavailable, and used that time to develop her own interests, which had nothing to do with men!  She learned about cuisine and fashion and culture.  She returned as a well-rounded woman who was mysterious and new.  Even if David and Linus hadn’t noticed her then, someone else would have!

Here’s a great idea!  Delete your Fantasy Guy’s contact info from your phone, unfollow him on social media, then sit down and watch Sabrina

If, after your “time away,” he finds you and wants a real relationship, he’ll lead the way and make it happen.  If not, you’ll have freed yourself from wasting even more time and you’ll no longer keep real love at bay by being focused on a fantasy.

Question: Are you currently in a fantasy relationship?

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