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Am I nuts? I’m in love with a TV character!

Fantasizing about a fictional person is OK, says Dr. Gail Saltz, as long as it not at the expense of real relationships.

Q: I’m in love with a character on a TV show. I know he’s not real, but I feel he is the perfect person for me. I’m not currently in a relationship. Am I hopelessly weird?

A: Not at all. Having a crush on a fantasy character is fairly common. You didn’t mention your age, but falling in love with fictional characters is typical in adolescence. Most people outgrow this by their late 20s.

It’s fine to fantasize about your TV (or movie or book) hero. You need be concerned only if the feeling is so intense or obsessive that it interferes with your normal life and prevents you from being able to love someone real.

Real people have qualities you love and qualities you hate. A television character has none of the latter. Even his negative traits — he’s a bad boy or he talks tough — are scripted and spun so they are positive, sexy, adorable or something else desirable. And you see all this in the context of the show. You are being manipulated — willingly — 100 percent by the show’s producers.

The biggest reason: It’s easy to love this TV guy: He’s not someone you’re really interacting with. He is present in your imagination, but not in your life.

In this non-relationship, you don’t have to worry if he is going to call or pick up his smelly socks or forgo a good night’s sleep because he snores. He voices no opinions, makes no demands. He won’t say “I hate your haircut” or “You’re a boring conversationalist.”

Falling in love with a fictional character — which I equate in many ways with falling in love with someone online — is not about day-to-day togetherness, compromise, communication making future plans. It is about admiration and idealization. Ah, you’ve never met anyone like this. Well, there isn’t anyone like this!

Since you are not in a relationship, you might be trying to fill a void, or you might be afraid of real intimacy. Loving a fictional guy is a great defense mechanism, and you would be well-served to think about what makes real intimacy so difficult for you.

To love and accept someone real, who has some qualities you are ambivalent about, is an important developmental task. And it’s way more satisfying than escaping into love for the TV guy.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Distinguish between fact and fiction, and don’t let a fictional crush hold you back from the real thing.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her new book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,”  was recently published by Riverhead Books. For more information, you can visit her Web site, .

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2004 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.