If you’ve ever transformed a workplace crush or failed date into an ongoing relationship in your mind that only you’re aware of, then you’ve experienced a “delusionship.”
Emerging from a viral TikTok trend, a “delusionship” is a fantasy relationship carried out with an individual you have never actually had an established relationship with.
Examples of “delusionships” include: the guy you went on one “date” with over a decade ago who is unaware that you now refer to him as you “ex,” an associate of an associate you never even exchanged pleasantries with, a promising Bumble match that faded in the texting phase, or even that parasocial relationship you developed with a celebrity you’ve never actually met.
“When my mom asks why I’m so sad but I can’t tell her it’s because my delusionship I talked to twice ghosted me,” said TikTok star Jaden in a recent video with over 126,000 likes.
If you peruse other TikTok videos discussing delusionships, you’ll see that – like Jaden’s video – most are actually quite sad, although some videos have a tinge of dark humor to them.
So why are delusionships now a thing?
On page 78 of his book, The Unconscious, Sigmund Freud said, “[…] the onset of neurosis is triggered by lack of satisfaction from the object, and that neurosis involves renunciation of the real object,” later adding, “the libido withdrawn from the real object reverts first to the fantasized object, then to a repressed one (introversion).”
Some theorists argue that the advent of social media has helped to further along the increasingly individuated and narcissistic nature of modern human interaction. Freud said that – either from parental neglect or pathology – narcissism is caused by an inability of the child to pass beyond the autoerotic (self-love) phase of psychosexual development into object-love transference; that is, the child is unable to displace the object of love from itself onto an external object, such as a potential partner.
This autoeroticism is thus a static fantasy the narcissist displaces onto his/her supply, until the supply becomes all too real (by deviating from the imagined state with idiosyncrasies and “faults,” or by inducing true feelings of attachment in the narcissist, at which point the narcissist then sadistically bites back at the supply in order to discard it).
This autoerotic state of static mirages is easily maintained with social media. That’s because people can carry on so-called “friendships/relationships” without having to actually deal with other people in real life. For instance, on Facebook, you can customize your level of interaction with people by turning off or on notifications, sending out likes, and even ignoring people’s posts. You can also search for people you normally wouldn’t encounter in your day-to-day existence, who you feel more accurately portray the kind of associates you imagine you “deserve.” And as we all know, most of these so-called “interactions” never actually come to fruition outside of social media.
Thus, a delusionship can serve as a replacement for a real relationship, either because of bad dating experiences in the past, or from an ability to imagine and customize so-called “relationships” through sparks of hope that emerge from low-investment interactions on social media, such as a direct message from the handsome superstar at your workplace that went from a short-term fling to a long-term text-only relationship.
Delusionships arise because, in some cases, fantasy may be better than reality. Freud said that there are two main drives in each of us, first, the will to survive, and second, to propagate in order to maintain the longevity of the species. Survival of the individual takes precedence over that of the species; so, if one finds that entering into a relationship involves a lot of investment with little return and high risk (such as betrayal, abandonment, disease, or an inability to find a suitable partner), then one may revert to a “delusionship” as a replacement for the real thing.
Another great attribute of this societal regression that began with the internet, is that the anonymity it provides allows one to not only “e-maintain” an autoerotic state, but to further regress to the unconscious by permitting one to remove their mask and spew their innermost thoughts and desires into the collective subconscious that is the internet.
“The neurotic turns away from reality because he finds either the whole or parts of it unbearable,” Freud said in The Unconscious (page 3). “The most extreme type of this turning away from reality is exhibited in certain cases of hallucinatory psychosis where the patient attempts to deny the event that has triggered his insanity (Griesinger). Actually, though, every neurotic does the same thing with some fragment of reality.”
For those in a delusionship, that “fragment of reality” is social media and/or brief encounters.