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Dream Lover

I’ve got a new girlfriend, and I’m just delirious about it. We met over the summer, and she’s gorgeous and talented, intelligent and caring. It’s just wonderful. I’ve never met anyone with whom I’m so effortlessly compatible. Oh, and the sex? Well, I’m not one to tell tales out of school, but man, oh, man . . .

What? Oh, um, no, she lives in Niagara Falls—you wouldn’t know her. Shut up, she is too real!

If you grew up in the Northeast, you know this routine by rote: the defensive virgin’s summer-camp girlfriend routine. (I can only assume that other regions have their own analogous vacation-spot hotties: the Steamboat Springs sirens, the Myrtle Beach Lolitas, the precocious vixens of the Baja Peninsula, and so on.) Somewhere around the end of grade school or the beginning of high school, the pair- partnering madness that will likely dominate the rest of your pre-senile-dementia days gets hold of you, and the mere possession of a relationship is freighted with status value: A loner is a loser. And so some of the more desperately insecure resort to the fictive girlfriend. (As a heterosexual male, I can only speak from that experience; this is perforce a narrow perspective. But at the developmental stage we’re discussing many homosexual students are scrambling to deny completely their orientation—or, at the very least, to prevent its widespread publicity among the group we’ll refer to as homophobic violence addicts—so they duck out of the perceived competition to attend different concerns. And if I remember correctly, the less-popular straight girls either develop close relationships with their drama teachers or take up horseback riding. But I suppose there may well have been as many imaginary Brads as imaginary Lisas.)

This scheme turns up from time to time in popular entertainment, too, and it’s always used to reinforce the point: In our society, it’s better to be two than one, and making your “one” up is supremely lame, as—if caught—it works as evidence of your absolute inability to ever get one. But this time-honored stigma may not obtain forever. The wholly imaginary girlfriend is making great strides toward the mainstream.

Rumor has it that the October issue of Playboy is going to feature Rayne, a character from the video game Bloodrayne, in a series of softcore shots. According to a Web site dedicated to the game, the pictorial presents Rayne “100 % topless and smokin’ hot.” Devotees are all a-twitter in masturbatory anticipation, which admittedly is pretty freaking weird when you consider that Rayne is the product of not genetic but binary code. Binary code in the shape of a wasp-waisted and stacked, PVC- and stiletto-clad goth-chick superbabe, true—but still, dude, it’s Ms. Pac-Man in bondage gear (a phrase I’m now frightened to Google).

So, the first thought at this news could, in all fairness, be: ewww. But it takes only a moment’s consideration to see that Rayne is perfectly well-suited for the pages of Playboy. She’s no less real than the phony bombshells traditionally depicted on those pages—with their elective surgeries and Photoshop fine-tunings, these are casemods of the highest order, albeit fleshy. It’s been decades since that mag featured anything human. So, Rayne’s appearance is hardly news, and by the way, probably will involve not many more keystrokes to produce.

By extension, any and all of your entertainment-industry crushes are a little loony, are they not? Given the artifice of the presentation, the Halle Berry you fantasize about (with or without cat suit) is no more or less real than Rayne or the Fabio-like portrait on your well-worn paperback cover of Trampled Passion.

There’s some pretty sophisticated science being used to animate, externalize and embellish our fantasies. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that, though innovation can take some getting used to. A healthy fantasy life is a good thing, and I suppose one could argue that overreliance on these props could diminish the imaginative capabilities of consumers; but, on the other hand, if you’re life-partnered with something/one you whipped up at home on your Dell, can you fairly be called “co-dependent”? (Couples counseling in the future is going to be, if nothing else, weird.)

And, at any rate, the underlying dynamic of these fantastic infatuations is ages-old: All romance and desire relies on a certain suspension of disbelief, the disregard of the plain evidence of your senses in assessing a love object.

Yes, hugging Rayne—in either her print or her PC incarnations—will prove difficult and, one would assume, less than fully satisfactory. You’d have to overlook some real downsides if dating a computer- generated gal. But then how accurate, how objective, after all, is the vision that you have of your real-time, real-world squeeze? The one there on the couch picking at her toes, or scratching his belly, or walking to the kitchen, inexplicably dressed in a turtleneck, underpants and Tevas, to drink directly from the carton of milk. Clearly, you’ve developed the ability to overlook. You’ve developed a selective focus in the name of love, which, frankly, is pretty heroic—however addled.

So, cheers, all you gamey Rayne-iacs and you fraudulent Resort Town Romeos. I hoist a flute of non-alcoholic sparkling cider to toast your deluded unions.

I myself am heading back to Niagara Falls at the first chance, to the house where my imaginary girlfriend lives—my imaginary girlfriend with her paint-spattered jeans and her thin cigarettes, or her chalk-striped powersuit and her Blackberry, or her tank-top and her javelin, or her burkkha and her five daily prayers. Given the choice between romance and realism, I’ll gleefully choose the former, even if it gets me banished to the far, sorry side of the lunchroom.

—John Rodat

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