Over a pasta dinner date, a med student planned a trip to Paris with me. He wanted to go to all of Hemingway’s favorite spots during Thanksgiving. “You should ask your family if you could miss dinner,” he told me. Meanwhile, this summer, a long-distance college crush texted me from a film festival, promising next year we’d go together, detailing the type of suit he’d wear to the parties we’d attend. “Do you have a gown?” he asked.
Sometimes, the gestures were smaller: They’d offer to teach me how to drive, to go to a museum or maybe embark on a creative collaboration. More recently, a hookup crafted an under-$50 local plan to get drunk together in line for Howlin’ Ray’s chicken in L.A. What a cute date, I thought. Something trendy but with a non-serious approach. It wasn’t Paris, but we could do it tomorrow.
Did any of these things happen? Did they even get close to happening?
Of course not.
In the world of being on five dating apps at once, a simple drinks-and-dinner date will get you a long way, but it often doesn’t create the stimulation and excitement we crave. You aren’t an old married couple yet, right? Instead, don’t you want to be that person who at 10 p.m. on a Friday decides, “Fuck it, let’s drive to Vegas”?
If you can balance day-to-day consistency with surprise, romance is at your fingertips. Even if you can’t actually pull off the surprise, it sure is fun talking about. Fueled by fantasy and delusion, there’s a sense of instant (albeit manufactured) intimacy, excitement and, obviously, better sex.
Thus, the Fake Plan.
Women on Twitter tell story after story of falsely promised, usually unsolicited shopping sprees, stargazing sessions and road trips. Hell, even Robyn sang “all of the plans we made that never happened” on “Honey” this past October.
Psychologist Elise Franklin chalks up fake plans to deeply rooted gender stereotypes. Men have been conditioned to think that women always want commitment. And what better way to set the tone of commitment than by making a fake plan? It’s “just-add-water” instant intimacy. “On an unconscious level, I see men doing this to maintain homeostasis of this perception. Or, to put it bluntly, guys are manipulating women into commitment-hungry roles,” Franklin explains.
Ben, a 30-year-old publicist and manager from L.A., admits to recently making his first fake plan — a trip to Art Basel in Miami — with a girl he’d been sleeping with for a couple of weeks. “It was one of those things where you wake up and you’re talking to somebody during that post-sex glow,” he says.
He couldn’t coordinate or afford to go on this trip, but it didn’t matter, because he knew it wasn’t going to happen anyway. Her, not so much. “She took it really seriously,” Ben explains. “Right away, she was looking at flights on her phone.” He adds, “I wasn’t trying to create intimacy with this girl. I knew from the beginning that it was a casual thing. It was just something fun to talk about.”
In the end, it never came up again, positively or negatively. The hookup itself stopped weeks later after the woman expressed that she and Ben were on different pages.
Leigh, a 28-year-old fitness instructor in New York, had a long-distance romance based almost entirely on fake plans. Her L.A.-based crush made elaborate plans to fly her out, and when she was too busy with work, he offered to bring her to Chicago for Lollapalooza, which also never happened. Even after those false promises, the two continued to wax poetic about a romantic weekend in Big Sur. “It’s easier to make fake plans when it’s long distance,” she says. “The daily realities of a relationship aren’t in your face, and you can romanticize it more.”
Erin, a 29-year-old producer and artist in L.A., admits to being the primary initiator of fake plans, though typically with her partner’s knowledge. “Making my fantasy more attainable is the motivator,” she explains. “Creating a clear idea of what you want, even if you’re not quite ready to follow through with it. It’s a balancing act. I have potential lovers I keep at an arm’s length who I can make fake plans with. The in-between area is where it gets tricky. You’ve either got to know the person inside-out, or you’ve gotta have a safe distance between the two of you so the fakeness of the plan is implied.”
More largely, though, the fake plans serve as a vessel for her dream of living in a rural area, quitting her day job to work on art and having children sooner than she likely will. “I’m at a crossroads, and my life sometimes seems to be moving in a non-traditional direction,” she says. “There are so many different paths we can take in life that fake plans help ease a bit of anxiety about the life I may feel like I’m not planning for — or missing out on.”
Not everyone, though, thinks they’re good for a relationship. Emily, a 26-year-old model and director, believes that even when the plans come from a positive place (the excitement at the beginning of a relationship), they do more harm than good. “It’s harmful in that it strips two people of the chance to get to know each other in the now, without thinking too far into the future,” she says. “When a relationship expires quicker than one or both parties thought it would, a person can be left feeling like the element of fantasy was used in order to expedite feelings of attachment.”
This is why Franklin suggests walking away from relationships where fake plans are being thrown around, especially if you keep falling for fantasies. “You’re not someone’s video game that gets to make them feel all the squishy lovey feelings,” she says. “They’re using you to feel something good, and if you feel bad when people do that, walk away.”
After all, however good it may feel to make a fake plan, when you inevitably never bring it up again, you’re leaving someone more confused, embarrassed and skeptical of dating than you found them. Plus, remember: It’s a big world out there, so there’s always someone who will go out on a date with you or hook up with you without being fed delusions of grandeur. So instead of crafting a fake trip to Art Basel, Paris or a fancy film festival, take the time to find that person instead.