Phantasy of a Phantom Lover

It was something about having three kids instead of two, so-and-so having the ace of spades rather than the ace of clubs, hot-air balloons, and how very much “Jill” has always liked working on hot-air balloons. And then I heard my friend, “Jane Doe,” say to “John,” her boyfriend, that she really wanted to spend at least two years together before having a family and taking on more responsibilities.

All through this “conversation,” her boyfriend seemed to answer, or at least Jane was, at times, evidently responding to John. None of this really surprised me, because I’d lived with my friend in a group home for 14 months already and, thus, was quite used to her strange and  quirky “conversations,” and none of this is really unusual for schizophrenics. But Jane’s case is indicative of another condition, called “phantom-lover syndrome.”

Phantom-lover syndrome is “a type of erotic delusion elaborated around a person who in fact does not exist,”[1] yet for Jane her boyfriend (and fiancée, for that matter) is very real, indeed. In fact, he is said to be an older man, veteran of the Korean War, spiritual leader and Bible teacher, who is so close to the Lord that they communicate directly on a day-to-day basis. But this case of phantom love goes even further with Jane.

Asked where he lives, she usually answers, “up in Alaska.” Asked about how and when they communicate, (because no one has ever noticed her on the phone with John), she responds that they communicate “spiritually.” You see, John really lives inside of Jane, not in Alaska. She shared her secret with me, and explained that she doesn’t tell this to others because they would think she is crazy. (Well, that is, perhaps, quite understandable!)

And why does John live inside of Jane? Because, unfortunately, he currently has no body of his own. He will rectify this one day, finding a suitable body of his own to inhabit, and then John will come to fetch Jane away to be his wife, and the date for this is always December 31st of whatever year… Of course, many years have passed now and, obviously, John has never come to whisk her away, yet Jane continues to believe John, never suspecting that he might be lying to her or, better yet, that he might simply be an illusion.

Obviously, John inhabiting Jane’s body, (without kicking her out, mind you) sounds like some form of possession, although not malevolent, which in turn points toward some kind of dissociative disorder.[2] But possession may not be the best descriptive, as Jane experiences no apparent loss of control over herself, nor does she obviously enter into any kind of trance.[3] On the other hand, John exercises some control over her life, i.e. how she thinks and feels, what she wants and does not want, what she will and will not do, etc.

For example, although Jane presents herself as a staunchly conservative, evangelical Christian, she is apparently not allowed to attend church. As the reason for this prohibition, she claims that she and her boyfriend only like and/or appreciate “house churches.” When asked, in other words, she will simply say, “My boyfriend and I don’t go to regular churches. We don’t like organized religion. We only go to house churches.”

Of course, one could easily charge that Jane is merely using her “boyfriend” as an easy excuse for not attending church, which is something she would otherwise feel obligated to do, given her background and present beliefs. Perhaps, then, a better example would be her promise to an older friend that, after a year or so of marriage, she and her husband will bring her into their home and take care of her. Why? Because her boyfriend said so … but during their first year of marriage, of course, they have a lot of business to which they must attend.

Perhaps all of this is common with phantom lovers, I don’t know, but one fact is certain: There is no convincing Jane that her boyfriend is really illusory. I have not made the attempt, but know others who have, and Jane’s reaction is very predictable: She becomes upset, if not angry, and simply cuts off any relationship with that person. So … how would a counsellor/therapist address this problem? How can it be constructively addressed? Of course, she is on medication — she receives a shot once-a-month — but the medicine does nothing to alleviate her suffering … or so it seems to me.

Then again, maybe she’s not suffering? This is a distinct possibility, I suppose. After all, she appears to be happy, or at least content, most of the time. Maybe, then, John is more of a welcome addition to her life? I guess this is possible. Sometimes (oftentimes?) real reality can be like a living hell, which is why not a few people try somehow to escape as much as they can. And who among us has not built some fantastical world for ourselves? I know I have Point in fact, I still do, just without communicating with some phantasy lover/companion.

There is one downside in her relationship with John, (maybe more, of course), and that is that he frequently makes her itch all over. Why? She has never given a reason, but if unwanted itching is the only negative she has to put up with in her “relationship” with John, then Jane might be better off than a lot of folks with real lovers! Who knows? But at least she seems fairly happy with the arrangement… It might actually do her worse if a counsellor/therapist somehow managed to disrupt her para-reality. Best, then, to just leave it alone? Maybe so, and who knows? One day I might enjoy having a phantom lover myself!


[1] American Psychological Association, APA Dictionary of Psychology, 694

[2] American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), 300.14, although no loss of personal agency or amnesia is evident, 292 – 294; perhaps, instead, 300.15, Other Specified Dissociative Disorder, which “includes identity disturbance associated with less-than-marked discontinuities in sense of self and agency, or alterations of identity or episodes of possession in an individual who reports no dissociative amnesia,” 306

[3] Jonathan Smith and William Scott Green, eds., The Harper Collins Dictionary of Religion, 850

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3 thoughts on “Phantasy of a Phantom Lover

  1. Indeed an interesting ‘case’, dear Jonathan. It also raises the question ‘what is normal’. Because she creates a fantasy-lover, probably prohibits her from living a ‘normal’ life, does that make Jane not normal? Like you write, she seems to be happy. Happiness, something we all strive for..Although at the same time I wonder; what made it necessary for her to flee into this world? Is it geneticly a ‘malfunction or due to a trauma?

    1. You are so right, Patty, and I’ve asked myself the same question about what initially caused to her to flee into this fantastical, alternate “reality.” Perhaps childhood abuse? A tragically ended relationship? I just don’t know… Blessings to you!

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