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In Love with a Suspected Terrorist


A very interesting question has been submitted to me by a young woman who is concerned that she may be in love with a suspected terrorist. She has never met this man and only knows him through the news. She truly believes he is innocent and is concerned for him. She is also very confused about her own feelings and very distraught. This article attempts to help her understand her feelings better.

Dear Doctor Life Advice,

I am twenty one years old and I like to write. I am having a lot of confused feelings. I have just realized that a fictional character I have been writing about in my stories for the past few years actually exists in real life. This real man is accused of terrorism and is in the news. I can intuitively tell when someone is innocent or guilty, and I believe he is innocent. I admit that I find him attractive. However, that is not why I think he is innocent.
I cannot stop thinking about him, even though I try. Ever time I see him on the news my heart feels soft and I feel butterflies in my stomach. Although I’ve only seen and heard about him on the news, I have this strange feeling that I’ve known him for years. I feel frustrated and crazy every time I think about him, but I can’t stop. I wonder if I have fallen in love spiritually. When he’s on TV, I want to tell him I love him, but of course I can’t. I feel so ashamed, embarrassed, and insane for falling in love with someone whom I don’t even know and who is suspected of being a terrorist! I have been praying for him as if he is my husband.

I don’t think this is obsession, infatuation, or lust; it feels much deeper to me. Do you have anything you can share with me about this? I am reluctant and afraid to talk to anyone else because he’s the enemy and I do not want to be ridiculed and embarrassed even more. What should I do? What am I experiencing? Am I going crazy? Why do I have feelings for a man that I could have met but never did?

Signed: Loving Spiritually

Dear Loving Spiritually,

You are indeed in love. Unfortunately, the man you are in love with does not exist in reality, and is certainly not a man who is a suspected terrorist. You are a writer, which means you are very imaginative. There is a fictional character that you have been developing in your mind and writing about for years. Obviously, you are very invested in this character, and have grown to love him. My guess is that this fictional character is a lovely man with attractive features. I would venture further and guess that your character is accused of doing something he is innocent of. Perhaps during the past few years, as you have grown to love your character, you have even developed a wish that he could have been real, and that you could have met him and formed a real relationship with him.

Now, out of the blue, a character appears on the news that has some things in common with the character you have been writing about. You know nothing about this real man except what is presented to you by the media, which is not much. This gives you the opportunity to project all of the features and personalities of your fictional character onto this real man. Your reality has become distorted and you are confusing the man you don’t know, for a fictional man you have known and loved for years. You are literally wishing this real man into being the one you love.

Living in the United states, and growing up in a culture heavily affected by media, you are probably experiencing a bit of each of the phenomenon described below.

Falling in Love with a Fantasy Person

Falling in love with our own fantasies is very common. In fact, when we fall in love with “real” people, we are really loving what we imagine they are. The only way to find out whether the person we love is the person we think he or she is, is to get to know him or her over time. Even then, we hold on to our fantasies for a very long time.

As a psychiatrist, I work with many people who are in abusive relationships. Even when they can clearly see that the relationship is abusive, they hold on to the fantasy that this abusive person is going to turn back into the person they fell in love with. It is very common for them to tell me stories of the times things were good between them. These clients have all fallen in love with a fictional character that they had projected onto their partner when they first met. Even after years of living with the “real” partner, they are still holding on to the fantasy person they love. It is a sad phenomenon, but very common and indeed very real.

F. Scott Fitzgerald describes this phenomenon beautifully in The Great Gatsby, when he talks about Gatsby trying to turn the real Daisy into his fantasy of her:

“There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams — not through her own fault, but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.”

Falling in Love with a “Celebrity”

Imagine falling in love with a person you have never met. It sounds absurd, yet we see it all the time in our society. We see people of all ages who are in love with celebrities. Think about this person you have seen in the news, and think objectively about how much you know about this person. Then measure how much room is left for your imagination to go wild and create a being of perfection, innocence, pure goodness, and love. I know you believe you can intuitively tell he is innocent. Your intuition is looking at the character in your stories, not the character that you see.

One of the recent examples in the news about loving a celebrity is the story of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. I remember when they first met, had a spectacular relationship, and within a few months were married. Katie Holmes was quoted in many magazines and interviews, saying how she had loved Tom Cruise since she was a child and long before she had met him in person. I remember thinking how odd that was. Nevertheless, she was so happy. She said was marrying the man of his dreams. Unfortunately, she really was marrying the man she had created in her own dreams. The man she married in reality ended up being a completely different man, and now their marriage is broken up.

The less you know about a real person, the more opportunity you have to imagine them as being what you want them to be. You are not in love with a typical celebrity that is glamorized by the media. You are, however, in love with someone you’ve seen on the news and have projected your imagination onto. Perhaps you are more attracted to the type of man who has a “bad boy” side to him, although underneath you believe him to be all good.

A Writer Falling in Love his or her Fictional Character

This phenomenon is also very common. Fictional writers often create characters that are their idealized version of what a romantic or lovable person should be. I have read many books in which I can palpably feel the love of the writer for the character in the book. I am sure you are well read too and have experienced this in your readings.

One famous example I can use is the case of J.R.R. Tolkien’s books, Lord of The Rings. Tolkien fought in the trenches during World War I. He lost his best friend in the battles. The friendship of Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee is based on his own friendship with his best friend. Also, every time I read these books, I felt that Tolkien was in love with one of the characters named Legolas. Legolas is depicted as the perfect creature; laughing when faced with adversity, running to “fetch the sun,” and immortal to boot. This love came through even in the movies as the audience fell in love with Legolas, played elegantly by Orlando Bloom. I am in no way implying that Tolkien was homosexual; I am his fan, not his confidant. I am simply stating that Tolkien’s love for his fictional elf was very real and easily felt by the reader.

To use a more classical example of this phenomenon, we can look at Lucie Manette, the famous heroine of the Tale of Two Cities written by Charles Dickens. Lucie is another example of a character that is raised to the level of perfection by the author. She is the picture of compassion, beauty, and innocence. She is almost angelic. Charles Dickens’ love for her is so real that he marries her off to a man named Charles in the story! Lucie, of course, is the best wife; remaining loyal to the very end.

You have already known and loved your fictional character for a few years now. It makes sense that at some point you began to wish that he was real, and when presented with a possible candidate, you decided that he is indeed real. Your imagination is getting carried away and telling you that you have known this person spiritually and have been writing about him. You are both intuitive and spiritual. Neither of those qualities can make this man in the news the same as the character of your stories.

My Recommendations for You

Not all is lost. You are obviously a very loving person and very dedicated to a man when you fall in love. You will one day find a good man whom you can get to know over time, and hopefully with fall in love with.

You are trying to forget this person, but you are not successful. You can’t make your mind stop thinking about him, however, you can change the way you think about him. Let go of your intuition and stick with facts. When you think about this man, instead of getting frustrated, allow yourself to think about him; just more objectively. Make a list of his characteristics. Write down what you “know” about him in an itemized format. For each item, mark it as an “assumption” you have made, or a “real” fact about him. I am going to tell you ahead of time that if you do this objectively, you will find that almost everything about him, other than the facts that he’s a suspected terrorist and an attractive man, are the assumptions you have made.

There is nothing wrong in praying for this real man, depending on what you are praying for. If you are praying for him to be innocent, then you have to accept the reality that you can’t change the past. Pray for true justice for him instead. Pray that he will face consequences that are appropriate for his actions, and leave the justice part to whatever Higher Power you believe in. Since you are spiritual, surrender him to your spirituality and believe that whatever happens to him is meant to happen.

I wish you the best. Your heart is in the right place, it is your imagination that is running wild. I hope this article will help you sort out your feelings.

Doctor Life Advice

Sayeh Beheshti, M.D.