You Don’t Have to Be Anybody’s Dream Anything

Dream girl syndrome always leads to heartbreak.

One time my ex-fiance told me, “I used to fantasize about you all the time.” We’d known each other since high school, but didn’t hook up until our early 20s. His confession made me choke on my drink.

You see, I thought he didn’t like me. He was dating one of my best friends. Turns out, his disinterest was just a cover up act. He was hiding his secret little desires and trying to settle his guilt.

This is why he ignored me. Or made condescending little jokes about my writing. The truth was the opposite. “You were my dream girl.”

Many of us dream about being someone’s dream girl. We’ll print off a certificate that reads “Official Dream Girl Status,” and make you sign it. But wait a minute. Something felt strange.

Something in the back of my head told me not to believe him. And yet, I did anyway. My parents had raised me to believe that I wasn’t much to look at. Most of the time, they both acted like they could barely stand me. They compared me to my younger sibling all the time.

This makes even the most humble, introverted person hungry for attention and affection. I just didn’t know how to pursue it.

After I turned 14, said attention began falling at my feet. And I had no idea what to do with it. I collected it the way you might do with stamps or coins. Keep your compliments in a drawer, along with all the guys’ phone numbers in your yearbook. You take them out and look at them, as proof that maybe you are smart and attractive.

But you don’t call them. You don’t risk a date going bad, even at age 17. Because if things don’t work out, it undoes the magic.

This self-esteem problem makes you vulnerable to the type of person who showers you with compliments. You think that’s what you need. But here’s the thing about someone who showers you with compliments. They have their own problems. Always.

You might have dream girl syndrome.

Honestly, you really don’t want to wind up as someone’s dream girl. I’ve learned the hard way that’s a prelude to becoming a trophy wife or husband. The trophy spouse trades in their ambitions for a summer home and a box of chocolates. True, it’s flattering. But at a cost.

Anyone who’s suffered abuse or bullying can fall prey to one-sided relationships. You’ll give up anything to hear kind words. And so you make bad relationship decisions.

I’ll call this dream girl syndrome.

You swipe right on the one who sings your praises the loudest, or makes you feel the most elite, not the one who actually fits.

So I was a dream girl now. Was I going to get a plaque in the mail? It was all I could think about. After a second, it started to feel awkward.

So I laughed and changed the subject.

You can never live up to your fantasy self.

It’s a strange thing to envision yourself in someone else’s erotic imagination — especially if you’re used to thinking of yourself as a disgrace to your family. You wonder what your admirer has you do in that horny little head of theirs. So later, I worked up the guts to ask.

My fiance used to fantasize about being a student in my class. He would seduce me for a better grade. Have sex on my desk. In his locker. Under the bleachers. In the backseat of his car, after soccer practice. We were always about to get caught. How exciting for him.

The dream girl version of me was hard to bring into being.

In his fantasies, I was a lot more fun. I’d make wild animal noises. Dig my nails into his back. Let him spank me. Dream girl me could squeal. Real me can’t squeal. She can’t even whistle.

So in the end we broke up. For lots of reasons. But mainly, I simply couldn’t live up to the fantasy version of me in his head.

Real me made him unsure of himself in bed. Real me didn’t do much but lie there and sigh. He couldn’t read my body language. I was happy, but to him my signals came off as bored or disappointed. Real me also had my own bizarre fantasies and fetishes. Ones he couldn’t even begin to understand. He tried, but it never worked out. So sex led to arguments. Which led to fights. And then we broke up three times.

Only Killgraves want a dream girl.

Emotional predators love those of us with dream girl syndrome. We’re easy to control. They latch on and wreak havoc.

I’ll call these people the Killgraves of love. They share a lot in common with The Purple Man from Jessica Jones. If you’re familiar, you might detect the subtle edge to his villainy.

Sure, Killgrave can control your mind.

But he’s especially good at making you do things you sorta want to do. He doesn’t just enslave anyone. He finds the pressure points of vulnerable people to make sure they stay under his control, even when he’s not around. That’s how Jessica eventually beats him. When she starts dealing with her own problems, she becomes less vulnerable.

Killgrave can’t command her anymore. She’s emotionally healthy — I mean, for someone who drinks a bottle of bourbon every night.

The Killgraves of love don’t want a real relationship. They want a dream girl who satisfies their shallow desires.

They’re everywhere. You have to watch out.

They’re willing to smash the real you in order to get to the fantasy they think lies inside. You’re their Pygmalion. But there’s nothing inside the wreckage of real you. The fantasy never existed. So they sweep you up with a broom, and got hunting for the next one.

How I met my Killgrave.

Here’s how it begins. They tell you how pretty you are. They don’t just say it once, because you’re broken. You need to hear it three or four times. In college, I gave my virginity to a Killgrave.

He was a charming dropout who was trying to start his own company. We met at the bar where I worked. He was bold. Some jerk was flirting with me too hard, and I told him to back off.

My Killgrave laughed. “You’ve got a real attitude, don’t you?”

At first, I ignored him. It hadn’t been a great day so far. But he offered me a drink later, and I accepted. He was cute. I was secretly desperate. We made brief conversation whenever I passed by him.

Before my shift ended, he followed me right into the kitchen and slipped his hand into my hair. “You’re gorgeous,” he said. “Come out and talk to me some more. I can’t stand it when you walk off.”

“Well, I have to. I’m working.”

He said, “You don’t have to work so hard. Loosen up. Nobody cares around here. The bartender knows me. He’ll cut you some slack.”

The brain-washing had begun. I smiled and said, “Okay…” My exact thoughts were, “He’s good looking, and he thinks I’m beautiful. He sounds like he’s successful. Boxes checked. Let’s make a baby.”

Oh, Jessica. You naive little thing.

The silver-tongued Killgrave makes you feel special. He says he can’t take his eyes off you. Obviously, you say yes to a date. He’s a good looking guy who’s going to make you feel great about yourself.

Dream girl syndrome erases you.

Next, the Killgrave starts telling you how to act. How to dress. How to be. They want you to wear your hair up. Or down. You need to be more fun. Flirt more. Smile more. Wear more skirts.

Honestly, my first partner was such an asshole. But he was good looking and confident. He taught me how to have sex.

But he also criticized my clothes. On our first date, he wanted to know why I always wore jeans with holes in them. He also didn’t like my laugh. “It sounds so fake sometimes,” he told me.

And I believed him. So I started practicing.

On our third date he grilled me about my diet. “You don’t eat fast food, do you?” When I told him no, he nodded approvingly. “Good. I can’t stand the taste of McDonald’s on a girl when I kiss her.”

The irony? He smoked cigarettes daily. It crossed my mind to clap back. Maybe say something like, “You put cancer in your mouth every afternoon. You taste like an ashtray. And you’re worried about a greasy kiss?” But I didn’t say anything like that. I was scared he’d dump me.

Dream girl syndrome sets you up for heartbreak.

The first night we had sex, he casually inspected and commented on my body. He said, “You’re really toned. You know that? I love everything about you, except your chest. It’s a little small.”

Anyone with a backbone would’ve left that minute. Not me. Honestly, I didn’t care. My bruised ego just loved that someone was looking at my naked body and liked most of what they saw. It was like getting a B+, when you were pretty sure you were going to fail.

One afternoon, he made me wait in the car while he bought weed from a friend. When he came back, he rubbed my thigh. “It really is time for you to get rid of those jeans.” Yes. Couldn’t embarrass my boyfriend in front of his supplier now, can I?

That weekend, I went shopping with money I didn’t have. And here’s where my credit card debt was born. Trying to please an asshole, because I had low self-esteem and would date anyone. But specifically, I dated people who knew how to manipulate me with compliments.

At last, he started making fun of me to my own friends when we hung out. Because I didn’t want to give him a blow job. In front me, he asked them to convince his girlfriend to go down on him.

A real winner, this one.

We never even broke up. One day, he just stopped returning my calls and texts. Someone told me a few weeks later that his business had failed. He’d decided to pack up and move. Maybe to save face. Or maybe to avoid all the people he’d taken money from and made promises to. Nobody knows. For the longest time, I romanticized my relationship with this guy. You want your first time to mean something, after all.

But he was a jerk. Anyone deserves better than someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes every week but won’t kiss you if you’ve recently had a cheeseburger.

Break your dream girl cycle.

This becomes a terrible pattern for some of us — girls and guys alike. We accept our low self-esteem, and it makes us vulnerable to the compliments of assholes. In exchange for their so-called love and attention, we let them tell us how to live in a way that pleases them.

But their love is bullshit. We’ll never please these types. And they’ll never actually support us or what we want.

Don’t wait for them to get bored and dump you.

Dump them. Do it now. Dumping someone who didn’t respect me was the best thing I ever did for myself. The person I dumped was just the last in a long line of arrogant jerks who considered themselves gifted writers, or true intellectuals, or talented artists.

After that last breakup, I took an entire year off from dating. Well, I went on a few dates. But they didn’t feel right.

So I allowed myself to be picky for once.

There was no way for me to rewire my brain to act a different way. No way to automatically become the fantasy so many people wanted. They served a meaningful purpose, reconstructing the self-confidence my parents had burned down over the years.

There’s nothing wrong with disappointing people.

In the end, their dream version of you is just another set of bullshit expectations. Don’t waste your time on someone who wants you to be their sexy nurse, hot professor, or tomb raider doll.

Hold out for someone who likes your deadpan, snarky personality. Or whatever quirks and ticks you have. They’re worth searching for. These are the relationships that last.

Find the version of yourself you want to be, and leave the others alone. Let assholes fantasize about you all they want. Because that’s all they’re going to get. Your mirage.