“Idea Infatuation” Explained.


5 Signs you’re only in love with the “idea” of a person. Why it happens, and how to avoid it.

Me: “He sounded perfect, why did you break up?”
Friend: “I realized I was more in love with the idea of him, but it wasn’t actually a good fit.”

Often unrecognized, and rarely admitted to, idea infatuation is all too common. Idolizing the idea of someone creates a dynamic similar that of a firefly and the person catching the firefly in the jar; one person is mesmerized by the bright shiny object of their affection, while the other feels trapped and unable to spread their wings. Having been on both sides of the idea coin at one point or another, below is my best interpretation about how it works.

A Tale of Two Trees

At the exact moment someone captures your romantically interested eye and heart, two seeds embed into your brain. The first is the “reality character seed,” and the other is the“idea character seed.” In early stages of uninformed optimism and  puppy love, the idea seed naturally grows faster—sort of like the feet on a puppy. The more you get to know a person, each seed grows proportionally to the nourishment given.

The reality character seed thrives when watered with meaningful conversations, quality time, and even healthy conflict. With vulnerability, patience, and intentional weed whacking, the roots grow slowly over time and eventually bear some sweet fruit. In stark contrast, “idea character seeds”  multiply with obsessive thoughts and shoot up like bamboo in environments of speculation, attractive facebook photos, empty text promises or hidden personal agendas. Choosing to go shade bathing under the leaves of the idea-tree, while participating in reality tree deforestation, not only deceives you, but it also forces your significant other to live in the unfair shadow of who you wished they were.

Top 5 Signs of Idea Infatuation

  1. It’s more about you than about them: When you fall in love with the idea of someone, that love is seldom about the person, or their unique personality or character. Instead, idea infatuation typically mirrors a reflection back about yourself. Inside of each person’s heart are doors unopened, needs unmet, and desires gone dormant. When something about someone else awakens a long sleeping desire, it’s easy to project that excitement directly onto them, as though it’s actually about them. However, in many cases, they are not necessarily your heart’s desired romantic destination, but rather a vehicle for the fulfillment of a personal goal—especially the ones you felt most inadequate in attaining.
  2. You’re looking for a role and not a relationship: Some people get so caught up in the idea of a relationship, that they will eagerly cast anyone for the “role” of the missing character in their life script. Hypothetically, let’s say you imagine your future relationship reality looks like spending every Friday night roasting miniature marshmallows on toothpick skewers over flickering candles with inquisitive couch cozy conversation. While that does sound quite nice, make sure you place more value on the person, and not just an actor who will play a role inside of a pre-written, closely controlled script. By default, a script sabotages a person’s ability to unfold as who they truly are.
  3. You frequently feel like a koala hugging a cactus: If you feel painfully disappointed over and over again by a dissonance between expectation and reality, yet insist on hanging on anyway, you are probably clinging to an idea tree. Now, I’m not talking about preferential differences—such as how he might prefer to drink tea and watch “Breaking Bad” while you would rather drink coffee and watch “Jane the Virgin,” for example. I’m referring to discrepancies where you make excuses for someone, about something, that causes you pain.
  4. You fantasize and catastrophize: If a seemingly faultless flash in the pan Peter Pan person captures your heart before you see the reality of the whole picture personality…buckle up for an emotional roller coaster. “Idea characters” by default have an unknown component, and because humans tend to dislike uncertainty, odds are you will try to fill in the gaps. For example, subtle smirks on Saturday could leave you high with hopes of perceived potential. Or, a bubble bursting piece of information the very same day could cause you to suffer the 5 stages of idea death grief because the person is not who you thought they were.
  5. You have an inability to articulate the infatuation–  Fixating solely on the idea character leads many people to premature idea attachment. A long time ago, I asked a friend (out of innocent curiosity) what she liked about her new boyfriend. “I don’t know,” she said trailing off, “we just have this like…chemistry. I can’t really explain it.”  Hmm. While I admit to standing speechless in the hot seat before, I now take an offbeat 10th-grade literature class approach on the matter. My personal rule of thumb is 300 words, minimum and preferably with a few good quotes or examples ;-). See, even if you express your love language in 95% silent hugs, most of us  speak over 15,000 words daily. If a significant other is truly as special as the “unexplainable chemistry,” they deserve at least a little positive verbosity.

Scripts, Soulmates, Solutions, and Stories

In my opinion, the number one reason for idea infatuation is rooted in a subconscious and self-serving belief that people can indeed act as solutions to missings part of a personal script. Easy to spot, a single person with this belief system will treat members of the opposite sex as though they each a multiple choice question. They attempt to make a snapshot judgment to determine whether the other will play a role of   A) Perennially plutonic friend B) Soulmate solution or  C) Associative acquaintance.

I have always had a particular dislike for the restrictive and categorical nature of the multiple choice test, and for reasons beyond the history of my score reports. The word “category” can be traced back to its greek origin kategoria, meaning accusation. Quickly categorizing a person relegates personalities and souls into boxes and paves a road of premature idea judgment and accusation.

A person is much more than an idea, a script, or a solution. People are stories. So the “answer” might not be A, B, or C. Much of the time, it’s delightfully D) Not enough information to determine. Dare to be different and circle D, allow stories to unfold, and picnic in the shade of the reality-trees.


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