Fantasies offer an insight into who we are. No more looking at inkblots to discover what makes us tick. When I took the Rorschach online, the ten images all looked like a uterus or a woman’s profile with pursed lips. I’m not interested to learn what it means. Any interpretation might do more bad than good. Life is a journey of transformation. We never step into the same river twice. Reflecting on our fantasies over a lifetime, we discover they go hand-in-hand with our circumstances and mental growth.
Fantasies are a support system that help make sense of the world, revealing our wants and needs. They can also distract, entertain, and in the case of sexual fantasies, arouse us.
Children love fairy tales and fantasies, good versus evil. Just as evil gains the upper hand, a good fairy rescues the innocent and punishes the unworthy.
Five-year-old me wanted to grow into a princess. I was an imaginative little girl who liked to hold her dad’s hand and push down on the blue veins on the back of his hand. Like the princess in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Wild Swans, I would knit sweaters for my eleven brothers turned into swans by the evil witch.
Around nine, I read Pollyanna, Heidi, etc. The shift in fantasies between early and later childhood was monumental. Instead of waiting for the guardian spirit to rescue me or give me supernatural abilities, later childhood fantasies were about empowerment. I was the hero, in control of my destiny and ability to help others.
With hormonal changes in my early teen years, my budding independence leanings diminished. My fantasies centered around an Arabian prince riding a white stallion down our street, Bústadavegur, to rescue me. This period of my life is characterized by limited awareness. I never questioned why I needed saving. Of my parents’ many worries, kidnapping of their youngest daughter by an Arabian prince was not one. Even if it happened, they had four more daughters. Then romance novels steamrolled occasional bumps of budding self-awareness. I imagined being in love. I imagined being loved.
In early adulthood, I read Fahrenheit 451 and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Analogous to present-day dystopian fantasies like The Hunger Games, these stories tell of worlds gone amuck politically and environmentally. They depict and prepare us for the journey into adulthood.
After marriage and children, my earlier daydreams gave way to a new fantasy to help deal with current realities. I would disappear without a trace. I’d take out all the money I could get my hands on and escape to the wild west—influenced by western television series. I’d take the preschoolers with me and Fed Ex them back to Tim when they reached school age. The thought was enough to lift my spirit. No more endless problems, bills, job demands, lack of sleep, spouse and children sucking the life out of me.
I fancied myself working as a waitress, renting a small ranch. The landlord, a kind woman, would babysit. Never having children, taking care of mine offered meaning to her life. (If she’d had kids, it was harder to fantasize her love for mine.) All I had to do was get the orders at Grizzly’s Steak and Eggs right, eggs over easy, fried, scrambled, or poached. I could handle that.
Of course, I wasn’t going to act on it. It was just a feel-good fantasy. And in the back of my mind was a little voice saying, you could if you had to.
As career demands heated and kids got their driver’s licenses, my disappearing acts vanished, giving rise to a new one. Never sharing my earlier fantasies with anyone, I decided to share this one with Tim. Yes, he wanted to know the details. I explained this was a recurring fantasy that usually surfaced just before bedtime. Tim poured himself a glass of wine with unexpected enthusiasm. “My fantasy,” I said, “is to go to bed alone with a great book.” He was not amused.
“Edith, do you know how depressing that sounds? Your fantasy is to be alone in bed?”
“No. Not alone. Did you miss the part about a good book?”
Descriptions of my fantasies are clues to my circumstances. Women relate. Women during the middle years often talked about the “interspecies communication” challenges of getting along with spouses. It wasn’t a conversation dressed in drama, but an expression of freedom to be ourselves. We laughed a lot and, in the sharing, learned about ourselves and each other.
Generally speaking, it’s easier for women to find a man to sleep with than vice versa. It may explain why women’s sexual fantasies are different from men’s. These differences show up in the way men and women think and behave. For women, the goal was to marry. Men’s fantasies involve many women they know or don’t, without any thoughts of love or weddings. Women limit their sexual fantasies to a handful of people they know well, and often it is the one they love.
According to commercials and movies, men’s favorite fantasies imagine themselves surrounded by beautiful young women, receiving pleasures for days. It can be challenging for men to find one woman interested enough to sleep with them, let alone four or more women at the same time. But their fantasies have remained constant through the ages. Vikings believed if they died bravely in battle, they’d spend eternity in Valhalla where, you guessed it, beautiful women attended to their every wish. No woman who has managed to gain a reasonable degree of wisdom would choose Valhalla over a girls’ getaway that included her own bed and a good book.
As we grow into our authentic selves, fantasies are abandoned. We may wish for a kinder world, but we do something to make it happen instead of fantasizing. Later, life becomes about working on ourselves, moving closer to acceptance and appreciation of what is.