• Do you have dream guilt? (Digital Vision/Getty )
Ian Rose reckons he’s not to blame for what he gets up to in someone else’s dreams, but wishes he could do something about it. Lucid up, maybe.
Ian Rose

7 Sep 2017 - 3:17 PM  UPDATED 8 Sep 2017 - 12:20 PM

Just as I’m about to leave for work, on an absurdly early start, my partner of 13 years, co-parent of eight, wakes, sits up in bed and frowns in my direction. She emits a sustained grunt, a venomous kind of ‘Hmmmmph”, that doesn’t bode well.

“You were horrible to me in my dream again.”

This means I have either slept with one of her friends and, on being found out, laughed in fiendish, triumphant defiance in her grief-contorted face, or maybe come home in a stupor from the pub with no memory of where I left the children, and then laughed in fiendish etc at her anguished reproofs.

Dreams can be sweet or sour and leave us feeling elated, ashamed or appalled, besides suspicious of our blameless loved ones.

I always play a cold-hearted bastard in these dreams, a deplorable character of whom I am nearly never jealous.“I’m sorry,” I reply, even though it wasn’t me. “But it wasn’t me.”

Her eyes hurl scimitars of accusation from the bed as I head for the door (I can’t miss the train). “Hmmmppph,” she snarls.

They can have a strange potency, our dreams.

Whether they are the product of brain-stem activity being synthesised and repackaged as fragmentary narrative, a side-effect of our long-term memories getting shuffled and filed, or a dumping ground for the excess sensory minutiae of our days, they can be sweet or sour and leave us feeling elated, ashamed or appalled, besides suspicious of our blameless loved ones.

I rarely remember my own dreams these days, and when I do, most are like obscure and unremarkable films I’ve wandered in on halfway through. I play only an observer and recognise none of the actors. I wake from these bleary and bemused, and have forgotten them by the time I brush my teeth.

Virtual reality may help you control your dreams
Research suggests people dream more lucidly after they’ve immersed themselves in virtual worlds.

Very occasionally though, I’ll have a belter, a dream that siphons latent desire and fear from my seething subconscious, and fashions it into a haunting and vivid little gem, with cameo appearances from television celebrities and my old school-teachers.

One of my closest friends claims to have deeply cathartic dreams that are comprised purely of texture and colour, no figurative visual element. Charged with emotion, these babies, real psyche-cleansers. Of course, he could be making this up to make me feel inadequate (that’s what friends are for).

Then there are the lucid dreamers. These highly evolved buggers get to control their own dreams, mould their scenarios and respond consciously within them. Some neuroscientists have been getting excited of late over what such lucid dreaming might tell us about the still murky topic of consciousness.

I’ve always found lucidity to be a tall order at the best of times, let alone when I’m asleep.

What would really help me now, in my ongoing quest for a quiet life, is to be able to control my behaviour in other people’s dreams. Namely my significant other’s.

I can certainly see the appeal of being able to stage-manage my dream-life. Apart from all the flying and fantasy fulfilment, I could engineer more catch-ups with my departed mum. In ten years she’s turned up in my dreams just a handful of times, and neither of us seems to grasp the significance of the occasion when she does, though waking up still breaks my heart. 

What would really help me now, in my ongoing quest for a quiet life, is to be able to control my behaviour in other people’s dreams. Namely my significant other’s. But, unlike for your regular lucid dreaming, there’s not an app for that just yet.

By the time we both return home in the evening, my partner has realised that resenting me for something I did in her dream isn’t totally reasonable, but she still feels aggrieved. Later that night, she gives me a look loaded with daunting significance, and demands, “You would never do anything like that, would you?”

Which is when I start to sweat and stammer in a show of unwarranted guilt.

“Because you know what would happen if you did, don’t you?”

Of course, if Freud was right, and our dreams are the expression of our unconscious desires, my partner actually wants me to do these terrible things. Couldn’t that mean she’s looking for a reason to leave me? Maybe it should be me that’s all affronted and insecure.

I decide not to bring this up before we turn out the lights.

Love the story? You can follow Ian Rose on Twitter

What do you say to your half-Asian child who doesn’t want to be Asian?
When Ian Rose’s son voices his disquiet about being half-Vietnamese, a parenting opportunity opens up.
Remembering grandad: how estrangement can cloud family history
When families splinter, and members are cut off, secrets, half-truths and sentiment can fill their absence. Unless the questions are asked, and answered, the stories told and understood.
Another school holiday, another epic dad-fail
Exhausted stay-home dad Ian Rose screws up big-time while trying to squeeze some errands into school-break mayhem - judge for yourself if he’s evil, lazy or just human.