What if I sleep-talk about my secret crush?

I fear I may let slip to my lover the fantasies I've been having.

By Cary Tennis

Published February 17, 2009 11:12AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I have been in a wonderful and loving relationship for the past four years and change, with its foreseeable share of ups and downs, small and large. Right now, it's in a relatively long-distance period -- my boyfriend and I are both students (he's in med school, I'm in grad school). We live three and a half hours away from each other, and see each other roughly two weekends per month during the school year. We both really enjoy our programs, our fellow students and each other. Due to the distance, our different programs, and the normal increase in comfort in the relationship that comes with being with someone for a long time, I maintain crushes on a few people, despite loving my boyfriend deeply. I assume the same holds for him, and I'm not too worried about that -- we take the relationship as it goes, it's worked well, and we're open to changes for better or worse. Here's the thing:

I talk in my sleep. Sometimes I have romantic and/or sexual dreams about different people I'm attracted to -- and I think that this is normal and OK -- and I'm worried about, uh, saying something out loud that I might fantasize about saying, knowing it wouldn't happen (certainly not now, anyway), and the possible reaction. Really, what do you say in that situation?

This is mostly a hypothetical question -- as far as I know, I haven't done it, and for all I know, he wouldn't have a problem with it. But I know that it's hard to be honest about things like that -- if I heard him talk in his sleep about something with another woman, I know I would feel hurt, even knowing that I might do it, and that I still love him too much to do anything outside of dream world. How do you explain the difference between dreaming -- what the mind does when you're asleep -- and conscious dreaming -- what I would love to do if there were no material/emotional/whatever constraints -- since saying, "I dreamed about sleeping with So-and-So" could easily be misinterpreted!

What do you think? I don't lose sleep over this, but I think about it often!

Sleep Talker

Dear Sleep Talker,

There is the world we present to our lover. And there is the world of our unconscious. They are different.

We are not responsible for our unconscious. Often, we do not know what is in our unconscious. It is as though a stranger handed us a bag and asked us to carry it through life. When the bag grows heavy, even though we have been instructed not to open it, we open it, and geese fly out. Why geese?

We do not know. If our lover is present when the geese fly out, he may ask, Why geese?

We do not know. So we may try to interpret the geese. But we are sure the geese have nothing to do with our lover.

Or do they? Maybe everything is actually connected, and everything means something. Then what? The implications of such a belief are staggering. If we choose to believe everything is connected and everything is meaningful, we must then have a God to sort it out. So I prefer to believe that the unconscious can tell us much, but that its signs are by no means always auguries. There is flotsam and jetsam, too.

The unconscious is vast and anarchic. So we try to live in the realm of conscious decision and action. What is important is that you can make honest commitments to your lover and keep them. It is not his job to try to figure out if your dreams indicate that you are going to be unfaithful to him. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen. If you are hiding things from him, you are hiding things from him. Your dreams are not the problem. If he distrusts you, then he distrusts you. Your dreams are not the problem. The unconscious is not the problem, any more than the actions of the animals we live with are the problem. You may introduce your lover to your unconscious and see how he likes it; it may be a good sign if he and your unconscious get along, the way it is sometimes a good sign if your boyfriend gets along with your dog. But you are not going to obey your dog any more than you would obey your unconscious. If your dog tells you to have an affair, are you going to listen to him?

The unconscious is different from intuition. Intuition is a blending of knowledge and instinct, and can be an accurate guide.

But the unconscious itself? It is like we are floating together in a great sea; all that is visible is our faces; the great sea we float in is vast; we can't see everything; we can hardly see anything at all. We receive messages and can't decode them. Last night, after spending an interesting evening writing with some friends in a roped-off section of our local Lucky Penny, I dreamed I had two lids of pot in a briefcase and I walked off the porch of an old shack down South and put the briefcase on the floor of the front passenger side of an old Oldsmobile -- not a Cutlass, but the big, four-door one, maybe the 88 -- and then I walked away and the driver's side door exploded. I ran back into the shack. I came out and a bullet went over my left shoulder and into the car. Then another bullet. It occurred to me that someone was actually shooting at the car; every time I approached the car, wanting my marijuana, the rifle went off again. This I found disturbing.

I told my wife. She did not know what to make of it. She did not, however, conclude that I was in danger of starting to smoke pot again.

I might just as well have dreamt that I had affairs with all the women in Hong Kong, or that I was a serial killer of children, or that I was a right-wing fanatic poisoning the water system of Bolinas; the stuff of the unconscious is so vast and so inscrutable that only madness and cruelty would ensue, were we to base our decisions on what comes to others in their dreams. We would be living in a world, then, of diviners and sorcerers. We would be burning witches and lynching poets.

What does my dream about buying two lids of pot and putting them in my briefcase tell me? It may tell me something about my emotional state -- that, as a former addict, I occasionally have dreams of getting high, that as a sentimentalist I sometimes miss the old days, I miss the South, I miss my youth. But I don't think it means I'm going to go buy some pot and put it in my briefcase and put the briefcase on the floor of the front seat passenger side of an Oldsmobile. I don't have an Oldsmobile. No one is shooting at me.

Or are they? Again, metaphorically, it gives one pause: Who might be shooting at me, if anyone were shooting at me? What am I afraid of? It does mean something, but it is metaphorical. It may mean that I feel I am being sniped at from over my left shoulder, or that my vulnerabilities are targeted by unseen assassins, or that there is danger in hiding things, or that my desire to get high is putting me in jeopardy. This, of course, is metaphorical: the need to get high being the tendency to blot out the world, to seek lesser consciousness rather than more, the desire to regress. So it may indeed mean something. It may mean that I need to redouble my efforts to live in the sunshine.

It may also mean that I should not eat the meatloaf at the Lucky Penny, even though it was an interesting culinary experience.


What? You want more advice?


Cary Tennis

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