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[This post is a request made by Cliff Pervocracy. One person who backs me on Patreon at the $5 level or above will be randomly selected each month to pick a topic for a post or story I write.]
[content warning: murder fantasies, rape fantasies]

Is it okay to fantasize about killing your boss?

It’s definitely not okay to start researching how to get a gun license and tracking your boss’s schedule to find out when he’ll be alone. That is not fantasizing but, in fact, what is technically called “planning”.

It’s probably not okay to deep in your heart of hearts want to kill your boss, to think it would be a very good thing if he were dead and very satisfying to watch his blood spurt over your hands, and if you had a ring of invisibility you would stab him and watch him die. That is also not fantasizing; it is instead “desiring”. It is not as bad as actually planning to kill your boss, but it’s still not a very good state of affairs, and you should probably think about treating your burnout or moving to a different office.

But what if you just get chewed out by your boss, and as you sit down at your desk you think “what if I stabbed him with that pretentious gold pen he has on his desk. man, if only”– but if anybody offered you the opportunity, you’d turn it down? I mean, he has kids, and he’s a pretty reasonable guy all things considered even if he was unfair today. You wouldn’t actually want to kill him.

That’s fine, it’s normal, and everyone does it.

Maybe not about bosses in particular. Maybe it’s your ex-boyfriend, or your abusive mom, or that asshole who doesn’t know how to drive. Maybe you’re a free-speech absolutist who kind of wishes Nazis would get punched in the face. Maybe you’re not particularly prone to the sin of wrath– some people aren’t– and instead you fantasize about laying in bed all day (even though in reality that’s kind of boring) or eating 24 donuts (even though that would make you sick) or having your neighbor’s fancy car (even though you know it would stop being attractive as soon as you actually own one).

The thing about fantasies is that, in fantasies, you usually only focus on the desirable part and abstract away the parts that make the reality horrifying. You think about the good parts of murdering your boss: you don’t have to put up with that asshole anymore, and you would wreak vengeance for the injustice done you. You don’t think about the grief of your boss’s family, or your husband sobbing as visitor hours at the prison end and he won’t be able to see you for another week, or your tremendous guilt at violating your moral beliefs about murder, or the fact that there’d be a human life, a little world, forever gone.

Or think about the zombie apocalypse. Lots of people enjoy fantasizing about the zombie apocalypse. Some people like thinking about shooting zombies with their arsenals of weaponry, personally I like thinking about the details of crop rotation, whatever floats your boat. But notably I have never met anyone whose fantasies include “everyone I know and love would be dead.” Or “I would suffer crippling PTSD.” Or “no one would ever make a Star Wars movie again.” Or “I would probably not be a stone-cold badass, actually, I would probably get chewed on by a zombie while I was taking a shit and die thirty minutes into the apocalypse.”

This is why fantasies about the zombie apocalypse are cool, and the actual zombie apocalypse would be terrible.

But of course people don’t usually feel guilt about their fantasies about the zombie apocalypse or boss murder. No, this guilt is usually reserved for sexual fantasies.

All of the same arguments apply. There are lots of happily monogamously married women who sometimes fantasize about fucking a cute stranger they pass on the street. These fantasies notably do not include “my wife, whom I love more than life, feels crushed and betrayed that I cheated on her”, or “I broke my promise, which goes against everything I hold dear”, or “sex with random strangers is often really bad”, or “the random stranger might have an STI or get me pregnant or assault me”, or “I don’t actually want sex with strangers, it takes me some time to get comfortable with someone before I want to have sex with them”. It is totally consistent to have sexual fantasies about cheating and not actually want to cheat.

And similarly for other sorts of sexual fantasies. I sometimes see the argument that rape fantasies are actually ravishment fantasies, because in many such fantasies the victim actually wants sex. This argument has always seemed problematic to me (in real life, if someone says “no” but is aroused by the sex anyway, it’s still rape) and anyway I don’t know about you but I definitely don’t only have fantasies about attractive men having sex with women who say “no” but are secretly enthusiastic. My rape fantasies have actual rape in them.

But having a rape fantasy doesn’t mean you actually want to rape anyone or be raped, any more than making a zombie plan means you want all your friends to die. It is totally consistent to be sexually aroused by the thought of raping someone and to actually have moral objections to causing people years of emotional trauma and pain, such that actual rape is repulsive to you.

There are two special circumstances I want to talk about. First, sometimes having fantasies makes you want to do the thing more than you would otherwise. For instance, some recovering alcoholics find fantasizing about beer makes them want to drink, and some people who cheat on their partners find that sexual fantasies about people other than their spouses make them want to cheat. It makes sense that that would happen: fantasizing makes the good parts more salient than the bad parts. In that case, it can be helpful to explicitly remember the bad aspects. For instance, it’s fun to drink and makes you feel less anxious, and also last time you went on a bender you lost your job. Sex with the cute girl would feel really good, and it would break your wife’s heart.

Second, sometimes people don’t want to have close relationships with people who have certain fantasies. I think there’s a certain level of emotional intimacy required before that’s a reasonable request: your boss doesn’t get to request that you don’t have murder fantasies about him, no matter how much he’d like it. But it’s okay for someone to prefer that their romantic partner not have sexual fantasies about anyone else or that their friend not fantasize about killing them when they’re pissed off. If you have those fantasies anyway, you can try to stop (if that’s something that’s pretty easy for you to do, or if the relationship is worth it), or you can choose to end the relationship.