“Speak into my good ear,” I asked daughter Sophia. We were out for our usual Friday night dinner. She passed me a water glass. “Give it to my good arm,” I said. My right arm is so sore. “It’s because you go around holding it up, linked through the arm of your imaginary boyfriend.” My younger man isn’t real, apparently. He is a figment of my imagination. “And I’m getting really sick of you making me sit in the backseat of the car,” she complained. Sophia was just messing with me – she does this a lot, changing my ring tone to a recording of me snoring, etc (if I’d bought her a pony that time she might not be such a monster) – my boyfriend is totally real. Either that, or I am sleep-eating loaves of bread and own a Terrano. If my boyfriend isn’t real, I am great at DIY and throw myself surprise parties, which is a whole ‘nother level of weird. Plus, just whose house have I been staying at, then? Imaginary boyfriends don’t live anywhere except the depraved recesses of your mind. Maybe it’s an airbnb. If so, why do I keep doing the dishes and hanging out the washing? Why is it so badly decorated? So: real. Hahahaha.

But it did make me think. A woman is nothing without a boyfriend as accoutrement, spider killer and excuse to get out of things, “Sorry, we can’t come to the christening, Graeme’s allergic to children.” Problem is, a decent man is near-impossible to find, most commitment-phobic or so mind-bendingly horrendous you’d rather die of spinsterism (suffocated by crochet and potted succulents and eaten by your cats). With all the good ones taken and adultery passé, an imaginary boyfriend is totally the way to go. An ex bull rider and mountain climber, my younger man is funny and charming, has an enormous willy and thinks everything I do is amazing. He laughs at all my jokes and the first thing he says when he opens his blue eyes every morning is “I love you.” When he smiles at me over a candle-lit dinner his teeth are so white it hurts to look directly at them. He rubs my feet when we watch The Big Sick.

Of course he sounds too good to be true.

My feet are horrible.

What impresses me is the elaborate nature of the fantasy (and it’s NOT a fantasy, he really does exist, I’ve met his parents. Or simply rocked up to a random North Otago farm at dinner time and scared the hell out of an elderly rural couple). The younger man lives in Oamaru, where, for the last nine months, if he doesn’t, I’ve just been wandering the streets chatting away to myself, searching for penguins. “Look! A penguin.” “No, Lisa, it’s a tom cat.” I guess people thought I was on hands-free, or bonkers: easy to hide in a town where every second person is dressed like a Victorian toting a laser gun and penny farthings and dirigibles are common-place.

With an imaginary boyfriend, you can appear, in the eyes of your friends, family and co-workers, worthwhile and not the least bit sad. Sure, you’re going to have to invest some time crafting a back story, remember details about his family, appearance, where he went to school, his car, the restaurants you go to and so forth. This will add texture, quality and believability to your ‘relationship.’ You might as well give him an awesome job, since real, in-the-flesh boyfriends are usually accountants, yarn artists or vegan activists. Imaginary boyfriends tend to be slashers: lumberjack/underwear models, paediatrician/violinists. His demanding life as a crown prince or the former head of a major New York crime family now in the Witness Protection Program is why he never accompanies you to anything. He has good reasons for his near-constant absences – he was busy rescuing stranded freedom campers while panning mountain streams for gold to make you an engagement ring. Don't hold back. Make him sound noble, kind, trustworthy and brave. Deflect any suspicion with sarcasm: “Sure, I just sat in my bedroom and made him up…” Imaginary boyfriends are there for you, they’ve got your back, can satisfy your every need. Well, every need but one. You'll have to take care of that yourself. But as we discussed above: you’re secretly great at DIY.

“Are you real?” I asked the younger man as we strolled around Oamaru, arm in arm at dusk. I have to admit; my night vision isn’t super.

“Look! A penguin!”

“No, Lisa, it’s a rubbish bin.”

He just stared deep into my eyes, kissed me and held me like he’d never let me go.

I bloody knew it.

AuthorLisa Scott