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When Fantasy Crosses the Line

When Fantasy Crosses the LineFantasizing about another person may seem like a harmless indulgence, but it actually draws us closer to temptation and can increase the risk of being unfaithful. In the same way that dwelling on worries and possible catastrophes fuels anxiety and makes fears more vivid, immersion in fantasy can enhance, rather than quench, our longings. Dreaming provides a familiar example of how imagination has the power to cross the line and blend into real life. We all can relate to having an intense dream about someone, and finding the feelings from the dream temporarily spilling into our waking experience of the person.

Our Inner Dialogue Affects Our Thoughts and Feelings

How we manage our thoughts when they come into our mind (our “inner dialogue”) directly affects how we feel and what we do. If we use this to our advantage, we can have a potent tool to manage our state of mind and have more control over ourselves. Alternatively, we can give in to “natural” instincts and thought patterns and see what happens when they take over.

Jeremy, 42, was bright and outgoing — though as a boy he was shy, insecure and lonely. In high school he was convinced that any girl he liked would be out of his league and would not like him. He coped with these painful feelings by using his imagination, comforting himself with sexual scenarios in which any girl he liked would fall in love with him. Jeremy was never inappropriate with anyone and kept these fantasies a secret.

As an adult, Jeremy was active socially and happily married with a satisfying sex life. Still, he continued in the vivid fantasy life he had as a boy, habitually imagining scenarios about various women who crossed his path,Though Jeremy’s self-image seemed positive, unconsciously he carried with him the deeply ingrained, buried sense of himself as rejected and unlovable, and continued to use the power he found in his mind to abolish this perception of himself. Jeremy never sought help for this issue, since he believed that fantasizing was harmless, and that he was no different than other men.

Jeremy frequently fantasized about Zooey, a single co-worker at the same firm. He had made a commitment to himself never to let on t her about these fantasies, knowing that doing so could put him at greater risk for acting on them. Jeremy described his relationship with Zooey as neutral. There had never been any flirtation between them and Jeremy never felt any special connection with her other than a private attraction.

Eventually, Zooey decided to leave the firm for another job. As the two of them were saying goodbye, Zooey suddenly confessed to Jeremy that she had been fantasizing about him over the last several years. To his surprise, Jeremy found himself excitedly blurting out that he had actually been fantasizing about her too. At that juncture Zooey reached out to him to say goodbye, kissing him on the lips. Despite having breached his own boundaries, Jeremy rationalized to himself that he was still safe, since he had informed Zooey that he was happily married.

Previously, Jeremy’s fantasies had seemed safely compartmentalized. However, Zooey’s unexpected confession instantly dissolved the fragile line separating fantasy and reality, making Jeremy’s fantasy suddenly come true. In this confusing zone where the two worlds blend, acting in ways previously contained to the fantasy world can feel instinctive. After all, one has already “been there” in one’s mind.

Jeremy found himself drawn into in an excited, infatuated state that felt irresistible. Following the farewell incident, he and Zooey exchanged various texts and phone calls, a new occurrence. Jeremy said that he didn’t want to have an affair, and had no intention of doing so. Nevertheless, he was reluctant to follow his therapist’s recommendation to cut off contact entirely and make the ending of his relationship with Zooey final.

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When Fantasy Crosses the Line

Lynn Margolies, Ph.D.

Dr. Lynn Margolies is a psychologist and former Harvard Medical School faculty and fellow, and has completed her internship and post-doc at McLean Hospital. She has helped people from all walks of life with relationship, family, life problems, trauma, and psychological symptoms including depression, anxiety, and chronic conditions. Dr. Margolies has worked in inpatient, outpatient, residential and private practice settings. She has supervised others, and consulted to clinics, hospitals, universities, newspapers. Dr. Margolies has appeared in media -- on news and talk shows, and written columns for various publications. Dr. Margolies is currently in private practice in Newton Centre, MA. Visit her website at

APA Reference
Margolies, L. (2018). When Fantasy Crosses the Line. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.