Has there ever been a time when you woke up from a dream so bizarre it ruined the rest of your day? Maybe it was a nightmare. Maybe you dreamt you cheated on your partner or just thought about a person who isn’t your partner. Now for the first option, you can blame the nightmare on some horror movie you watched last week. But it’s the other two that could make you reconsider your entire relationship

You might wonder, “Why would I dream about another person unless I am subconsciously unhappy with the one I’m with?” However, dreams aren’t that simple to dissect. We’ve been trying to unravel the mystery behind them for centuries, and still, we’ve been told that they don’t really mean anything. Dreams are merely electrical impulses in our brain that pull random thoughts and visions from our memories. Very rarely do they reveal unconsciously repressed conflicts or unfulfilled wishes. 

While it is difficult to accept that dreams are meaningless, it’s an entirely different ordeal when you have a dream about someone who isn’t your significant other. However, dream cheating or seeing another familiar face in your dreams doesn’t always define a secondary attraction. The truth is far more complex.

Priti, an engaged 27-year-old woman, tells me about the time she dreamt of her ex and how it made her feel. “I recently had a dream about my ex, but the next day, I realized that you can’t control your dreams and your past. Some feelings will always linger. I knew he was in the country, so that’s probably why I had a dream about him. I didn’t feel guilty about it because I know you can’t cut people off completely, and there’s so much I learned from that experience.”

It’s not easy for everyone to dream about a person other than their crush and move on as if nothing happened. Jessica, 21, tells me about the time she dreamt about her friend: “I thought I was crushing on a guy in my class, but then I had an intimate dream about a close friend of mine. It made me reconsider everything because I had never seen my friend in a romantic way, and it just felt bizarre. I do believe that our dreams hold some kind of truth to them…no matter how strange they are. It was a confusing experience for me.” 

Interestingly, the people in our dreams represent certain aspects of ourselves. Licensed psychotherapist and dream analyst Dr. Carder Stout shared in a feature for Goop that dreaming about the people we know doesn’t mean we’re actually dreaming about them. “If you dream about a close friend, then think about their strongest character traits. If you think of them as being humble, then you are dreaming about the humble side of yourself.” 

If you’ve dreamed about cheating on your partner, it could mean that there is something missing from your relationship. Lauri Loewenberg, a certified dream analyst and member of the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD), says that “cheating dreams are rarely about sex but are, more often, a brutally honest reflection of the dynamics within the relationship.”

If you’re dreaming about cheating on your partner with someone you know, it could also mean you’re prioritizing something (and not someone) over your own relationship. Loewenberg discussed with Bustle, “It may also mean that there is some sort of confusion in how and where you distribute your energies. You may be going into too many directions and, as a result, are spread too thin.”

Cheating dreams also signal deceptions in your own life. For instance, cheating on someone in a dream could represent cheating on your diet. Lowenberg pointed to clients who experienced such dreams when breaking rules they had made for themselves. “Interestingly enough, experiencing that particular guilt in their dreams helped to reinforce their resolve to stick to their diet or recovery,” she noted.

Having an erotic dream about another person can be an upsetting experience, but it can also teach you something valuable about yourself! And these dreams don’t always mean that you desire someone who isn’t your partner.

You’d be wise to take these dreams with a grain of salt, and hey, don’t blame yourself for anything you did while you were dreaming!

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  • Fatemeh Mirjalili

    Fatemeh Mirjalili is an entertainment writer based in Mumbai, India. Her work has appeared in publications such as TheThings, Film Companion and Times Knowledge among others. She loves writing about pop culture, watching Disney musicals and re-reading Pride & Prejudice for what may seem like the millionth time.