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I used to have a lot of imaginary boyfriends. A lot. Currently, I only have a couple. Quite honestly it became too complex keeping up with that many story lines. And the older I get the less appropriate it feels to have an imaginary boyfriend.
Each boyfriend originated from a lack. Some hole in my life, identified then filled with an imaginary white male antidote. Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot to mention that almost all of my imaginary boyfriends have been white. Yeah. Different variations of the same white guy, evolving with me through the ages. When I was 10 and addicted to The Clique books, you can bet my imaginary boyfriends included a little blonde with a bad attitude and a little brunette who liked The Cure. Then came my first read of The Catcher in the Rye and my new boyfriend Holden. We would fight at the bottom of a sweeping double staircase. Our feet slapping on the black and white marble checkered floor. Eventually, our fight would end in tears, mostly his, he was just so sad and so in love with me and his mother was dead (I don’t know why she was dead.)
I then went through a frightening phase where I learned about parallel universes and felt, with a violent assurance, that every boy I created actually existed. I feared I was using these “real” boys as accidental voodoo dolls. Instead of these stories providing me comfort before bed I actually worried that I had cursed a boy named Holden with the loss of his mother. I played it safe and only imagined myself with book characters, movie characters, and tv show boyfriends who were strictly make believe. Whose tragic narrative arcs were not my doing. Some of my long time favorites were Damon from The Vampire Diaries and Jacob Black from Twilight. I have kept Jacob Black around but have since retired Damon. You see, I like when my boyfriends can evolve with me. As a teen I found domineering and controlling men very hot in an unhealthy maladaptive way. For this, Damon was perfect. He would disobey my wishes, do something chaotic/violent and then cry about how much he loved me. A pattern. I know. It was delicious to picture a man driven to insanity by his obsession and devotion to me when my reality was…celibacy. I had a total of three people have a crush on me over the course of 10 years. I was hungry – nay, starved, for attention, affection, of any kind.
I had no access to physical touch in any real meaningful way. So my imaginary boyfriends were cuddly, always absentmindedly brushing my hair back, running their fingers through my hair, pulling me towards them in bed at night. They wanted to be touching me at all times. I imagined a world in which someone, somewhere, got butterflies over me. In every teen novel I read, there was the moment where the girl finally brushes against her crush and it’s like magic and fireworks and lightning. They both feel it. They’re hooked. I wanted that. I thought it would fix everything. I was sure that all the pain in my life would be less painful if only someone wanted me. And I wanted to be wanted by a man. I wanted love. More than I’d ever wanted anything. I wanted casual physical intimacy with a standoffish man who saved his personality for me and only me. Help.
Loving myself felt impossible. It felt like something that people say because it sounds good but no one actually does. In my mind it was impossible to imagine anyone loving me exactly how I was. So, every time I created a boyfriend I also got to create a version of myself who was worth loving. Over time, the “me’s” I create have started to resemble me a bit more closely. But they are still edited. Wildy. Each iteration of myself depicted, with alarming accuracy, the type of girl I deemed worthy. Mostly white, always thin. I remember it feeling like a huge deal when, during my college years, I finally gave my imaginary self curly hair.
When I finally got into my first adult relationship, I was horrified that it wasn’t anything like I imagined it would be. Now my first partner did suck, but I can recognize now what she was up against. My imagination. Ten plus years of it. She was inferior in all ways. But the most painful way was her distance from what I imagined the object of my love to be like. She could not measure up and she knew it. She felt me holding back. She once begged me to “be a hopeless romantic for one fucking second.” I didn’t have the heart, nor the spine, to tell her that hopeless romance would never be possible because I not only feared her…but looked down on her. A near deathly combination.
The less mentally ill I am the harder it becomes to delete myself. The mental annihilation of myself in order to imagine romance has stopped doing its job. I can feel the purpose it used to serve. A blissful escape from the discomfort of living inside my body that I deemed horrendous and unloveable. Now I wish to believe myself to be loveable. I wish to believe that I am worth obsessing over. My imaginary boyfriends are now browner and queerer, but still crying over me, of course. They’ve become less toxically masculine and more gentle. They read books and talk to me about them. They read to me while playing with my hair. They introduce me to their mom’s. My favorite imaginary boyfriend’s mom rides horses. She teaches me to saddle one while she tells me how happy I make her son. They have nieces and nephews who adore me and make the imaginary boyfriend want to get me pregnant. They hold me in front of their friends and their families. We go to concerts and they dance so hard. They laugh easily. They never yell. Some of them play instruments just so I can listen. Some of them ask me to sing and I pretend I don’t want to so they’ll beg. Some of them have wings because I’m very into fairy novels. Some of them have fangs because I’ve never kicked my vampire habit. All of them are in communication with their prostates. They are all these things and more. An improvement I think. There’s just one problem. None of them are real.
Casey Boykins is a writer and actor from Chicago. She got her BFA in acting from Syracuse University with further training from The Second City, The Groundlings and Shakespeare’s Globe. Casey’s passion is people, with a strong belief that telling heartfelt stories, in unconventional ways, is our most important job as artists. She attended Chekov at Lake Lucille as the “host of the house” and continues to be a member of the collective. She was previously a finalist for residency at SPACE on Ryder Farm and served as their Company Manager in 2019. She stage managed the cabaret “The Gorgeous Nothing’s” at Joe’s Pub. She later worked as a literary intern for The Vineyard Theatre in 2021. You can hear Casey in the audioplay “God Hates the Gay’s” presented by Invited Dress and featured on Episode Three of the ‘Theater Practice’ podcast with Miriam Weiner. In the fall she wrapped filming on the short film “The Frame.” She was recently named a finalist for Hedgebrook’s Summer/Fall 2023 Writer in Residence program, in the screenwriting category. Casey is currently a rom-com podcast writer for Meet Cute Inc.