Elizabeth Day: Man of my dreams? I’d rather have reality

An engagement was announced on Instagram the other day. The post came from Marnie Simpson of Geordie Shore – which bears the notable distinction of being the only reality TV show I don’t watch. So I’d never heard of Marnie or her fiancé Casey Johnson, but I wished them well when I saw it in the news (it’s interesting, isn’t it, the new way engagements are announced: not by notices in newspapers, but by posting online?).
Portrait: Dan Kennedy. Stylist: Holly Elgeti. Hair: Alex Szabo at Carol Hayes Management. Make-Up: Nicky Weir.

The 28-year-old called Johnson ‘the man of my dreams’. It’s a well-worn phrase and the intention behind it is romantic. But the more I considered it the more I wondered what it meant. The thing about dreams is they are unpredictable and often stressful. One moment, you’re falling off a cliff and the next you’re sitting exams you haven’t revised for, in the nude. Dreams can be bonkers and when you re-tell them, they’re boring. Why would you want this in a spouse?

Daydreams are different. You’re in control by dint of being, well, awake. In daydreams, you can imagine yourself into success and happiness. To paraphrase Gloria Steinem, daydreams are a form of planning.

But actual dreams are fickle. So it seems bizarre that we describe someone as the partner ‘of my dreams’. It is one of those platitudes that has fallen into the language of love. And it does us a disservice. For years, I wasted time searching for ‘the man of my dreams’ believing I’d find a twin soul who would, in some nebulous sense, complete me.

Coming of age in the 90s was no help. There were necklaces featuring two sides of a single heart that you were meant to give to your ‘other half’. Jerry Maguire was a movie sold on the famous line: ‘You complete me.’

For young girls, this contributed to the idea we were lacking until we found a partner. Subconsciously, it made us feel less-than. This misapprehension continued into my early 30s, when I believed that any relationship must be ‘passionate’. Passion, I was told, was the ability to be ‘swept off your feet’ (another absurd phrase: who wants to be knocked over by some sort of cosmic broom?).

But what ‘passionate’ actually translated to was me feeling anxious in a boyfriend’s company because I never knew what he was thinking and was too afraid to ask. Often these men would never commit, and we were encouraged to put up with it because the never-quite-knowing was supposedly part of the thrill. In truth, it wasn’t passionate. It was annoying and pathetic.

It was only in my late 30s that I realised what I wanted. I did not want to be swept off my feet. I did not want the man of my messed-up dreams. I wanted the man of my ideal reality, who would be stable, honest, kind and funny and make me feel safe, not hovering over the abyss of insecurity, and who would add to my life rather than complete it.

I was lucky enough to meet such a man. Last week, we got engaged. Is he the man of my dreams? No. He’s much better than that.

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Thanks @hinge for introducing me to the love of my life aka MY FUTURE HUSBAND. I was going to say ‘man of my dreams’ but dreams can be inconsistent and unpredictable, can’t they? He’s actually the man of my ideal reality, a man of such integrity, kindness and honour that I never believed he existed before I met him. Oh and he’s funny too. And, you know, not bad to look at. And he cries in sad films. And he’s an amazing father. And he pretends not to adore Huxley the cat, but he does. And he sprung this proposal and this ring on me when I least expected it, which is why my eyes are weepy in this picture because I could not stop crying. It was sunset in Tuscany and it was perfect. Zora Neale Hurston wrote that love is like the sea, it’s a moving thing but it can be still too, and it takes its shape from the shore it meets. I’ve met my shore and my sea. I can’t wait for a lifetime of movement and stillness with him. Love happens. The two of us have been on a journey to get here. But whatever else is uncertain, love keeps happening. It is the essential truth. Our wounds, our scars, our scratches and our bruises, make love more beautiful for what it overcomes, for the way it meets us in our vulnerability and for the way it helps us to be strong. Because love that is ready for you will meet the shape of your shoreline. So thank you, Justin, for our perfectly imperfect love; for cherishing all my failings and frailties; and for making me understand that this is what love truly is: acceptance. And, yeah, as I say: thank you @hinge

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This week I’m…


My hair with Living Proof No Frizz Nourishing Oil which has saved my barnet on many a drizzly, damp day.


Dear Reader by Cathy Rentzenbrink (which will be out later this week). It’s a gorgeous love letter to beloved books and stories.


After these statement 18-carat gold-plated earrings from British jewellery brand Soru. Heaven!