Just saw Inception, Can it teach Teens about the dangers of an obsessive relationship?


I just saw Inception and I really liked it. It was action packed, and really did a good job keeping your attention and mixed in a few surprise twists. (although I was a little confused as to why every dreamscape seemed like it was from a James Bond movie, and no flying people, or matrix style kung fu.. but I digress)

I haven’t seen a lot of comments about this, but what I really liked was how well the whole story seemed to capture the feeling and danger of being in an obsessive relationship. Maybe it wasn’t on purpose, but the whole deep level that he and his wife were stuck in, where it was just the two of them, and only them. their own little world, where they lost track of what was real, and in the end what was important. It seems to me to be a perfect metaphor for the type of unhealthy relationships that I so often see teens (and extended adolescents who should know better) get involved with.

Obsessive Relationship?

You know what I am talking about, even if it wasn’t you. Everyone I think has seen this happen at some point. You have a friend, a really great friend that you do everything with.

and it is awesome. Then something happens.

They start dating someone.. and you NEVER EVER SEE them again. They drop off the face of the earth for the entire duration of the relationship. maybe it’s 3 months, maybe it’s 6.. and then just one day out of no where they are back, acting like nothing has happened.

I understand why this happens.. I imagine every day they wake up thinking, man I miss my friends.. I should see them today.. and this happens–

Dude: I was thinking, maybe we should hang out with my friends today.. what do you think?

Yoko: What? Hang out in a gross smelly garage, listening to loud music and playing video games? You can go, but I won’t.

Dude:….. but you’re cool with that?

Yoko: Sure if you like them better than me.. I dont care.

Dude: *senses a trap* …Oh you know I love you, more than anything. thats not what I was saying. I want to be with you.

Yoko: well then we could hang out here and make out..

and you can guess which option dude picks. Or if you swap the gender roles, Yoko would say.

Obsession takes over.

And this goes on day after day. And the days add up to weeks, and months. And you define yourself as one half of this whole. And you forget about the other things in the world. And all you want to do is spend everyday with that person. It is a dream.

In the movie Inception, this state is literally a dream. It is the sandy beach, and the city that they have to themselves. They are alone and lost, and everything revolves around them and the other person. They want to grow old together, they swear they will never leave each other.

In the movie they talk about wanting to go deeper into the dream land. in real life it is often deeper into the physical relationship that people tend to retreat. They cross lines they promised they would never cross. But it seems to be good, so they cross another one further away from the place they started. They get lost.

Lost together in their love for each other. Lost in the physical. It is all consuming. Some might mistake this 100% consumption for something romantic.

But it is not healthy. It is not romantic. It is dangerous and it cuts us off from the fullness of life that is going on around us. It robs us, it cripples us. And we lose the ability to function outside of this dream world.

The Crash.

But like a dream, relationships often come to an end when you least expect it. One person decides it is over. And you are forced to wake up from a dream that you didn’t want to leave. In the movie, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character does the breaking up. He decides it is time to wake up, and go back to the real world. 

Here, her reaction is the one to focus on. She cannot deal with the change. She cannot come back to the real world. And Like how many prior Shakespearean stories of jilted lovers, does she become. Is she Juliette? Robbed of the one thing that had totally consumed her, she cannot go, she wants to get back to a place where they can be together, and she think death is the only way out.

And she succeeds. And he is left in the aftermath.

The Lesson.

And that is the dark side of these all consuming relationships. You risk giving the relationship total power over you. And when it ends, and so often especially as teens, they end in ways that are cruel and sudden. And you dont have the support of your friends you need, because they have been cut of for months. Maybe your parents have tried to help you by confronting you about the relationship.. but sadly when you need them now, you have already pushed them away too.

Steps to fight.

Everyone who ever has dated has faced the challenge of working out what their identity is in a dating relationship. How much is about me, how much is about the other person? Where do I draw the lines to protect myself? Love is a give and take.. but how much give and how much take? And being in love is wonderful. Finding someone you can trust, feel safe with and just love on them is amazing.

But is has to be in balance. There are lots of names for getting lost in the wonderful feelings of love and belonging and oneness that a relationship can provide. It is easy to get lost or stuck, but below are some of the steps that can help avoid getting stuck in limbo.

  1. Keep your core routine weekly. If you have a Sunday night youth group you always attend, keep doing that no matter who you are dating. If you have a regular thursday night basketball game, or go to meet with your friends and play Halo. In the movie they used a totem, spinning top or Dice to help keep connected to the real world even when deep in the dream. Keep those regular appointments and you will not get lost as easily. You won’t break up over one or two evenings a weeks. and if you do, then the relationship would have failed eventually anyway. Never sacrifice your long term family and friend relationships for a short term dating one.
  2. You are probably only dating this person for the short term anyway. Yes, it is true. Odds are you are going to break up with whoever you are dating right now. In the movie they are only asleep for a very short time in the real world, but it feels like 10 times longer in the dream world. Dating can often feel like this, you may only have been dating for a month, but it feels like forever, and it feels like it will never end. But that is not real. Most people date dozen of people. And figuring out people you can’t be in a relationship, is one of the core functions of dating (the other is figuring out how not to be an insensitive idiot, but that I will save for greater detail in a later post). So keep that in perspective if you can. which you probably can’t. There are developmental physiological reasons fro this in teenagers, so you need the next steps too.
  3. Don’t go it alone. Since you know that you will have trouble telling the dream world from the real world, just like in the movie, travel with a support team. Not only does bringing friends along usually make things more fun, and help avoid the isolation we are trying to prevent in step one. They also can help provide boundaries especially in the physical area. Crossing physical lines often takes some degree of isolation and darkness and if you have other people with you on your dates, in your car, in the rooms you are in, you are statistically much less likely to make bad choices. BUT even more than that they can also help wake you up when you need it.
  4. Work out a secret code with your friends before hand. There are some things that your best friends and your parents can see that you wont be able to. In the movie the character played by Juno gets to know all of Leonardos secrets prior to going into the dream world. She can see the dangers that he is not willing to admit are there. And when the time comes she is able to help him break free from the projection of his wife and go deeper to help find the other team member. Your friends can spot someone who is bad for you way faster than you can. Work out a system or a code in advance of dating people. Maybe review it during your regular routine get togethers from step 1. Make sure they are people you include in step 3. (even if it is your parents) But be sure that you have a way worked out in advance for them to tell you that you need to “wake up from this dream”. In the movie they had a big planning meeting to coordinate the “kicks” and they had a musical tone that when they heard it meant that their friend thought it was time for them to leave.