The supportive idea behind being delulu is that being able to envision the positive future of your dreams (however big those dreams may be) is the first and necessary step to making that future your reality. It’s the same general concept behind manifestation or intention-setting: You have to make clear to the universe what it is that you want in order for that thing to eventually happen. On TikTok, one user claims that being delulu took her from being homeless to owning a seven-figure business. And another TikToker explains how she quit her full-time job with no other job lined up because she was just “in delulu land, thinking everything would work out.”
The meaning of a delusionship hinges on the same idea of visualization but in a relationship dynamic: A person in a delusionship is imagining that they are in a relationship with someone (without any indication of that being the case) in order to manifest an actual relationship with the person (or one of a similar nature), or just because it seems to satisfy an internal need.
Under the hashtag #delusionships, which has garnered more than 43 million views, TikTokers are sharing stories about such imaginary relationships and connecting with others who’ve taken similar paths (with varying degrees of success). “Me rejecting every guy who tries to hit on me cause I want to stay loyal to my man who ain’t my man but will be my man,” reads one TikTok. Another TikToker explains how she played with delusion to get into an entirely new relationship.
However relatable the delusionship might be, it isn’t always the most supportive thing for your mental health to forge a relationship in your head. Below, dating experts break down the meaning of a delusionship and the key signs that you might be in one, as well as the potential harm such an imaginary relationship can cause, and how to break free.
Delusionship vs. crush vs. situationship
According to dating coach Connell Barrett, the meaning of a delusionship is like a crush on steroids. “It’s that imaginary one-sided romantic fantasy about someone that you’d love to date, at least in theory,” he says. “Think of Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber, imagining a blissful life with Lauren Holly’s character. Or Laura Linney and her bespectacled office crush in Love, Actually.”
“It’s that imaginary one-sided romantic fantasy about someone that you’d love to date, at least in theory.” —Connell Barrett, dating coach
To be sure, a delusionship is different from a situationship. The latter involves two people who are mutually attracted to each other and have expressed interest in each other, but the status of the relationship hasn’t been defined. This may be due to a lack of commitment or effective communication between them. In a delusionship, however, there isn’t even a situation, simply because the relationship only exists in one person’s daydreams.
4 telltale signs that you are in a delusionship
1. You’ve never met them—but are super into them
“If you start imagining a future and envisioning a life with someone whom you’ve never met or been on a date with, that’s a clear sign of a delusionship,” says couples therapist Kendra Capalbo, LICSW. “These fantasies might feel intense and elaborate, but they exist only in your imagination.” To similar effect, if the person’s friends and family are completely unaware of your existence, Capalbo adds, your connection with them is probably a delusionship.
You may, for instance, have a romanticized notion of a future with that celebrity whom you only see on social media or your Tinder match whom you just started chatting up a few days ago.
2. You’ve met the person, but you rarely interact with them
While you may have met them, if you seldom interact with them and yet believe that there’s a profound connection between you two, that’s another sign of being in a delusionship, says Capalbo. She gives the example of believing that you are in a relationship with that barista who has chatted you up a few times as you were ordering your coffee—but you don’t even know their full name.
3. You’re always putting in more effort than they are
In other delusionships, you might have some level of a real-life romantic connection with the person. But while you view it as a relationship, they see it as nothing more than casual friendship or a friends-with-benefits situation, if that, and rarely initiate communication.
“A common sign of a delusionship is when you’re always the one texting them, asking them out, and generally putting in the effort,” says Barrett. “If someone likes you romantically, they’ll let you know.” Meaning, a real relationship will involve active communication on both ends.
Relatedly, if your messages to them are always left on read or they never include you in their plans, there’s a high chance that your connection with them is mainly in your head.
4. You want a full-fledged romantic relationship, but they only want sex
Sometimes, you might just be delulu about the nature of the relationship you’re in—and not the entirety of the relationship itself.
“An advanced form of delusionship is when you’re sexually intimate with someone, and you think that you’re starting a long-term relationship, but they only see it as a casual hook-up,” says Barrett. “If you’re telling yourself that it’s the start of something serious, but you only hear from them when they want to hook-up, then you’re likely in a delusionship with the person.”
Are delusionships harmless?
In many instances, a delusionship is relatively harmless—particularly if it’s short-lived (consider the future you might dreamily envision with someone whom you’ve only just met), or simply a fun daydream surrounding a love you know full well will go unrequited.
However, when daydreaming escalates into an obsessive fixation on the person, a delusionship can become harmful to you and in some cases, the other party involved.
“If you find yourself stalking their social media, constantly thinking about them, or getting upset if they don’t notice you the way that you want them to, then the delusionship may be harmful,” says Barrett. “In some cases, a person can go as far as to stalk, harass, menace, or worst of all, physically harm the object of their obsession. At this point, the delusionship has escalated into something downright toxic.”
“You may end up having a romanticized notion of them, disregarding any potential flaws that could arise in a relationship with them.” —Kendra Capalbo, LICSW, couples therapist
You may also be putting the other person on a pedestal. “You may end up having a romanticized notion of them, disregarding any potential flaws that could arise in a relationship with them,” says Capalbo. That could lead you to set untenable expectations for future (real) relationships. When they inevitably fail to meet these romanticized expectations, you could wind up disappointed, frustrated, or with a constant sense of dissatisfaction, adds Capalbo.
If you’re too fixated on your fantasy of a future with someone you aren’t actually dating, you might also bypass opportunities to deepen your connections with friends and family members and date actual romantic prospects. That means you could be missing out on a real relationship with someone who may even be a better fit for you because you’re too mired in your delusionship.
To ensure a healthy approach to relationships, it’s essential to recognize the difference between fantasy and reality. Here’s how you can do so and break free from any unsupportive delusionship in the process.
6 steps to break free from a delusionship, according to relationship experts
1. Acknowledge its existence
While it may not be easy, becoming aware that you are in a delusionship is an essential first step to leaving it behind.
“It may be helpful to get perspective from someone else who can also provide valuable insight,” says Capalbo. “Ask trusted friends for their honest input on the dynamics of your relationship [or would-be relationship] with the other person.”
2. Understand that it might not be as meaningful as you initially believed
Once you’ve identified and acknowledged that the delusionship exists, it’s important to allow yourself to see it for what it truly is without embellishing or adding undue importance, Capalbo notes. In taking a step back to clarify what connection (if any) exists between you and the other person, you may feel better able to emotionally detach from them and move forward.
3. Analyze what need you may be trying to fill
The next step is to get clear on why you’re engaging in the delusionship in the first place, especially if you find that you’re spending ample time obsessing over this person.
“What emotional need are you trying to fill? Maybe you feel lonely, or perhaps you lack human connection, and your delusionship lets you feel a sense of connection,” says Barrett. “Loneliness hurts, and a delusionship can [temporarily] heal that wound…but at a certain cost.”
4. Assess what the delusionship is costing you
Ask yourself: In what areas of my life is this delusionship having a negative impact? For example, it might be costing you time and energy or keeping you from actual love with someone who is willing to enter a real and reciprocal relationship, says Barrett.
“Notice the toll [the delusionship] is taking, so you can confidently say, ‘Enough! It’s time to live in the real world, not in my head,’” he says.
5. Go on real-life dates (including friend dates)
“Daydreams have their place, but as scary as it can be, it’s much more fulfilling to find love in the real world,” says Barrett, who suggests scouting out real-life dates (on dating apps or in-person). “Spending more time in-person with some good friends can also help you to feel more connected to people in general,” he adds.
You can also ask friends to set you up on dates, or attend meetups for singles. At the end of the day, a real romantic connection, flawed as it may be, will be healthier and more fulfilling than a delusional one—and it’s worth putting in the additional effort necessary on the front end.
6. If need be, take a break from social media
“One significant challenge in the digital age is the temptation to constantly engage with the person through social media,” says Capalbo. “The internet offers endless opportunities to feed our obsessions.” In turn, it can be tough to disengage with the object of your delusionship when their pictures and whereabouts and activities are right at your fingertips—even if you understand that the imagined relationship isn’t actually supportive or helpful.
“Giving yourself a chance to disconnect can reduce the intensity of those lingering emotions and create space for healing and self-reflection.” —Capalbo
That’s why Capalbo suggests taking a break from social media. “Giving yourself a chance to disconnect can reduce the intensity of those lingering emotions and create space for healing and self-reflection,” she says.
If and when you eventually return to social media, try to avoid impulsive investigations into their activities or frequent scanning of their accounts. That way, you can gradually diminish the power of the delusionship and redirect your energy toward healthier relationships and personal growth.
The bottom line
Fantasizing about being in a relationship with an imaginary partner isn’t necessarily harmful, but if you’re spending more time focusing on this delusionship than you are finding and maintaining real connections, then it may be time to take steps toward detaching and moving on.