When it comes to emotions that I can't quite articulate, TikTok generally comes through with a specific term perfectly describing it. Even if it comes a bit too late, it's always so nice to feel seen.
In this case, the term I'm referring to is “delulu", which has amassed 2.6 billion views on TikTok. The term first emerged around 2014 as a shorthand for “delusional”, referring to fans who wholeheartedly believe that they will end up with the celebrity they are infatuated with. While not gender-specific, it was, and continues to be, largely applied to young women — as anything that ventures into the ‘fandom’ realm tends to be. (Except of course if we talk about the Marvel fandom, in which case all the men who obsess over superhero movies to the point of imploding over minor changes to canon, are just cultural commentators and totally different, okay?)
I can still identify with the original meaning of the term. Did I once write at the age of 13 that one of my life goals was “to meet the Harry Potter cast and become best friends”? Maybe. But “delulu” today no longer just refers to celebrity stans — now, the term and the idea of “delulu girls" and “delusionships”, has grown to apply to dating and relationships.
The term itself is not without its issues, given that many have pointed out its ableist underpinnings. The word stands for “delusional” and there are people out there who do suffer from very real delusions that impact their lives, while “delulu” is bandied about in a casual way and was, in its original usage, aimed to mock and denigrate fans.
So what does it mean to be a delulu girl, or be in a delusionship? Basically, it’s all about blissfully (and wilfully) ignoring signs that a relationship isn’t heading the way you want it to and romanticising your situation to the point of, well, delusion. That guy who hasn’t texted you back for three days? He’s just really busy. Been ghosted? He loves you so much, he can’t stand to be around you.
If you want to narrow the trend to a single example, the most prolific is TikTok creator Isabel Timerman (@isabelunhinged), whose bio reads, “Empress of Delululand.” Timerman has made a brand out of her “delusionships", with her videos tapping into the tendency we have of getting carried away in those first bright, heady moments of an initial crush, when we analyse their every movement for confirmation of their reciprocal infatuation and fling ourselves light years ahead in our imaginations to being married with a white picket fence.
There’s a reason this trend has taken off, particularly with young women. If I can, let me expose myself for a moment here. Once upon a time, when I was about twenty, I was infatuated with a man who dumped me after several dates and then, later, decided to add me to the 3am roster, if you know what I mean. He never promised anything more than late night hook-ups, and he’d been pretty clear about his thoughts regarding us being in a relationship (by, you know, dumping me). And yet my delulu self was convinced that we would work out.
The pièce de résistance? My wild theory was that because he shared the same name as one half of a celebrity couple who had broken up at the same time as us, and then gotten back together several months later, that absolutely meant we would also get back together because it was a sign from the universe.
Spoiler alert: it was not.
I can laugh about this in hindsight, but at the time, the situation consumed far too much of my time and energy. Which raises the question — is it so bad to indulge our delulu minds?
On the one hand, we exist in an increasingly hopeless world and, as anyone out there trying to date will tell you, shit is bleak. Dating apps have created a landscape where people are perpetually holding the door open for the potential of something better to come along, caught in the thrill of swipes and matches. This makes for a tough dating game and that’s where the appeal of delulu steps in — after all, we could all use a little optimism. We need to be able to think, just for a moment, that everything is going to work out. And in sharing these thoughts online, we can realise we’re not alone and not silly for indulging in our daydreams.
But it would be remiss not to consider whether the fantasy element of the delulu trend could leave people hanging onto the idea of someone for far longer than they should, perhaps limiting their ability to move on, whether just with their lives or with someone else. It’s also interesting to me how quickly TikTok has moved from shouting from the rooftops about red flags (and pink, and beige), to entering a dreamy reality where ‘not texting back’ (once screamed from various videos as an aforementioned ‘red flag’) can easily be explained away.
So where does this leave us? Do we embrace the delulu life? Look, in this day and age, perhaps we can be allowed a little room for daydreams in our life — a spark of optimism to get us through the day. Or, at least, through the next date.