Home Featured The Great Gatsby Complex: When Your Perception Clouds Your Reality

The Great Gatsby Complex: When Your Perception Clouds Your Reality



“Nick you always see the worst in people!!!

“Yeah, because people are the worst!!!”

–          New Girl

This shouldn’t be funny. It could be, but it’s not meant to be. This is an epiphany I had in high school and over the years I’ve grown to see how it underpins most of our interactions with one another. This will be a fundamental critique of the human condition, and all of this came from what I believe is one the most important pieces of literature ever written: The Great Gatsby.

The novel is about Jay and Daisy. Jay is enjoying his summer when he meets Daisy. He is poor and she is rich, but he has her believe that he is the same. Summer, like all good things, comes to an end. He is off to war and she is back with her wealthy family. But that summer, that fleeting bubble, is enough to convince Jay that he isn’t good enough for her and he vows to dedicate his whole life to making himself worthy of the woman he loves. He will be rich, powerful and smart. He will be her everything, because she is his everything. Years later, he makes enough money to buy the biggest most opulent house across the lake where they first met. Eventually they meet again, but things have changed. Daisy isn’t the same girl Jay fell in love with. She’s selfish, fickle and irresponsible. But in Jay’s eyes she is still the girl he met that summer all those years ago. She is still everything. Jay’s unwillingness to see her true nature is what eventually leads to his destruction. He doesn’t see things as they are. He has what I call a Gatsby complex.

The Gatsby complex occurs when you magnify the qualities you adore in a person so much that you fail to see who they fundamentally are. There’s nothing to say Daisy wasn’t selfish, fickle and irresponsible when they met that summer. It’s very possible she hasn’t changed at all, but to his own detriment, Jay, blinded by love, couldn’t see it. Perception is Reality. But Objectivism teaches us that there is a “real” reality that exists no matter how we perceive our world. We perceive things as we want to perceive them and not as they are, and this is why we fail. Gatsby complexes, especially when it comes to relational interactions, are a big reason why we don’t succeed. We let our emotions cloud our better judgement. It’s expected, as emotions are irrational. Love is irrational. But as an adult you shouldn’t let your emotions dictate how you live your life.

You think your boyfriend is amazing. No he’s not, he’s an asshole. Wake up. “No you don’t know what he’s like when we’re alone together.” Garbage. Essentially you’re saying you’re cool with dating a schizo. Then you want to act surprised when he cheats on you. Your girlfriend is shallow and materialistic. “Nah that’s not how she usually is, she’s actually very sweet and down to earth”. Okay, just don’t be surprised when she leaves you for a guy who is always on the guest list. You know what you signed up for.

People’s problem is that they invest too much in potential. What you don’t realise is that as much as people have the potential to change, they also have the potential to stay the same. You’re dating a dancer or an aspiring rapper. They tell you how ambitious they are and you believe them. You’re an idiot. Performance is reality. Don’t tell me, SHOW ME. If you really want to make it as an actor, I must never hear about you missing an audition because you wanted to chill with the boys. If you want to be a Chartered Accountant, do everything in your power to succeed. I mustn’t see you at Pigs if you know you are facing failure.

Gatsby complexes apply to ourselves too. Most people are not self-aware. They don’t see themselves objectively.  You’re a good person, but are you willing to admit you’re selfish? Are you willing to admit you put up provocative photos of yourself because you know you have nothing else to offer? Are you willing to admit you ain’t shit? Exactly.  Having bad qualities doesn’t make you a bad person, but not recognising who you really are leads to a false sense of entitlement.  You spend no time in the gym but you want a girlfriend with a flat stomach. You look like Precious but want a man like Michael Ealy to marry you. You have no ambition but want to get married to a CEO. You want your wife to be hot, cook, clean, sleep with you on command, and still raise your kids, whilst maintaining a job. These conditions don’t exist in the real, objective world we live in, nor should they. Wake up.

As cynical as I sound, I truly believe there are more than enough compatible partners out there for everybody. We just need to recognise ourselves for who we are and them for who they are. Don’t fall in love with the idea of a person, fall in love with the person as they are.

Jay sold himself an idea of Daisy and he sacrificed almost everything to make his dream a reality.  That eventually led to the ultimate sacrifice. He cultivated an idea of the Great Gatsby for this girl that didn’t exist outside of him. The problem is that the world didn’t have space for both the Great Gatsby and the Real Gatsby.

Written by Lebo Sibisi (@MrImJustSayin) is an full-time student, freelance writer and full-time cynic. He’s not saying anything, but, you know, he’s just sayin.


  1. "Don’t fall in love with the idea of a person, fall in love with the person as they are."

    This could be complicated by the fact that people are in a constant flux (well, some people are). If you compare some people to who they were 5 years ago, in a lot of cases you'll find a completely different person. Different look, different attitude, different goals and ambitions, etc. Its no guarantee, but it happens often enough.

    So we end up with some combinatorial possibilities.

    1) You fall in love with the idea of a person and they eventually become the person that matches your perception = Win.

    2) You fall in love with the idea of a person, but they never end up matching your perception = Lose.

    3) You fall in love with the person they are and they never change = Win.

    4) You fall in love with the person they are, but they eventually change so much they might as well be a different person = Lose.

    So their propensity to change can have much more of an effect on your happiness and the success of a relationship than the initial reason you chose them.

    I hear a lot of suggestions to not get in a relationship with someone based off their potential. While that sounds like a safe bet, its far from a guarantee. The truth is that sometimes they actually reach that potential.

    The better criteria is, "does this person have a history of evolving?" Decide based off the market trend, not the market value.

    1. Wow. I agree with post, but I also agree with your comment as well. This is a pretty interesting take on the idea that one shouldn't date a person based on their potential. We've always been told that is not the way to go, but this comment has given me pause.

    2. I get this. But, then again, I actually don't think most people change much.

      You have to make sure they have the ingredients to get wherever you "think" they need to go. For instance, a motivated, ambitious person will most likely reach their career goal. A person with emotional problems but in therapy will most likely find a way to manage them in a healthy way. An overweight person going hard in the gym and eatting right will probably reach their weight goal.

      And, about this "people change" thing…I think what happens there is that you actually had the Gatsby complex, then had a "welcome to reality" moment and started seeing what was already there. I believe there are rare cases where people do complete 180s…def not impossible. But, I don't think it happens as often as some try to make it seem.

    3. I really don't think the core of a person changes in 5 years, with the exception of going through an extremely traumatic experience. Looks, goals, etc may definitely change, but the deepest core of who they are remains the same. It just may be exemplified in different ways.
      My recent post 3D Printing: Making Prosthetics at Home

      1. Agreed!

        In some ways, I think "they changed" is easier to say than "I put up with/ignored stuff I shouldn't have and now I can't deal with it". Keeps you from having to hold yourself accountable for who you chose to be with. Now, the failure of the relationship is all their fault.

      2. I agree, but values and goals can change. I don't have the same values and goals that I had at 21 or 25. If I dated someone at 21, I can't pick back up and date that person again at 32 without doing some serious reevaluating. I've changed. Maybe the core of me is still kind of the same, but it honestly doesn't matter if my values no longer align with that persons.

        1. I always think that if my values changed, then they were really values to begin with. I agree that you can't really date the same person at previous ages, but I also don't think that we do based on those core principles. The other person either hasn't realized them, realizes them and is intentionally suppressing them, or we ignore it.
          My recent post 3D Printing: Making Prosthetics at Home

        2. Values can and do change. I think it is a part of maturing and growing up. There are some fundamental ideas that were important to me at 21, that aren't important to me now. I am not talking about little things. My values related to religion, sex, and even marriage have changed since I was 21.

        3. Agreed. My values and views change a LOT over the years as I've matured, and it really does affect the type of person I am, or at least the type of person people perceive me to be.

          And what makes up the "core" of a person is at least partially influenced by those values. Those life-changing experiences really do change ya life. lol

        4. Good points, I can respect that. When my friends and I talk about things like this, none of us could really pinpoint core things that changed about us. I mean those things have matured and become more defined, but even things that we thought were unrelated we could always find a path back in time to.
          My recent post Make Smaller Groups? Make More Scientists

        5. How can your core change between 21 and 25? That kind of thinking will lead me to believe you are someone who doesn't have conversations with themself…and thus doesn't know who they are.

  2. Wowsers. Awesome read. Lots of truth. Potential is a great mask to ineffective behavior and complacency (in some cases). In others, it is just enough to get another to cheer for them and push them to the next level. All depends on the hand you are dealt.

  3. Hey, thanks for the feedback.

    @Buck: I get what you’re saying and I agree to an extent. I’m of the belief that whilst people can change to an extent, FUNDAMENTALLY they stay the same. It’s like value investing, you look at a company’s core business and processes to see if it’s worth it. Whilst it may have high sales, it doesn’t mean it’s profitable so to speak. I agree when Yoda said “do or do not, there is no try”. If people wanted to change they would, none of this “getting there”, “I’m working on it” etc. You would just do it. Stop cheating, take responsibility for your life etc. I just think it’s more to do with willpower more than anything, which is why I disagree with the idea of investing in potential. If you’re average now and want to be better, you would make the sacrifices NOW and get better.

    And this idea of being totally different from how you were 5 years ago is something I personally can’t ascribe to. Should a person wait for you to change all that time? What if you don’t change/regress? Would that mean they wasted their time? Was it worth it? There’s a difference between shooting with you in the gym (something I agree with seeing as you’re actually performing, making tangible progress) and you constantly telling me how we’re gonna be great once your mixtape blows up. You get me?

    People generally don’t wanna cut their losses and move on when it comes to matters of the heart. Something I completely understand. It’s just a view I don’t ascribe to. Life’s too short

  4. @cynical you illustrated my point perfectly:)

    People don’t fundamentally change until they reach what Malcolm Gladwell calls a Tipping point. There has to be something drastic that happens to/around you that will totally shift your mindset. And that makes sense, because logically speaking, why would you change from a state you’re comfortable in unless an external force MADE you?

    1. Glad I could help! 🙂

      "There has to be something drastic that happens to/around you that will totally shift your mindset." YES! And, I mean drastic like culture shock, a close death, prolonged negative circumstances (ex. unable to find a job for 3 yrs), etc.

  5. Very real post bro. "Having bad qualities doesn’t make you a bad person, but not recognising who you really are leads to a false sense of entitlement."

    The statement above is the TRUTH!

  6. Well, anyone you meet for the first time, you not really meeting that person, you are meeting their representative (Chris Rock, 1992). The theory of Imago says we are attracted to the person who is like the parent or caretaker we had the most difficulty with… at first, you will only see the good character traits, but then, after those hormones wear off (Dopamine, Oxytocin, Vasopressin, and Ephinephrine: DOVE) all those little cute things they did in the beginning relationship are now going to get on your last f’n nerve! Now, at this point, that representative is going bye-bye and the real deal surfaces. Please, keep in mind that this isn’t just happening to the other person… it’s happening to YOU AT THE SAME TIME! Yeah, that’s right, you’re in just as deep as the person sitting in front of you! So, therefore, the question becomes: how do you wade through all the bs and get to know the real deal quicker? Simple… you have to know YOURSELF first… now for many people, getting to know yourself is a scary place, however, if you know yourself first, you will be able to see the bs coming from another person a mile away and redirect your attention elsewhere.

  7. @Len my sentiments exactly!

    Self-realisation is the most important part of your development. “Are you willing to admit you ain’t shit”. I think you only become cognisant of your impact on others (ie develop empathy) when you become cognisant of who you are.

  8. I've been saying this forever there is a difference between knowing you aren't perfect, and being self-aware. How many of us can admit the aspects of our lives where we need serious work. In order solve a problem, you must first be willing to admit that you have one in the first place. People do a lot of projecting, because they fear facing their own demons so they emphasize others flaws


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