(Disclaimer: I have a slight bias here- because I can personally relate to this)
Before I begin this theory, I have to explain a throw back to season 4 episode 5 of Boy Meets World. In this episode, Cory and Topanga fight about what it means to be a parent. Cory wants a taco, and Topanga wants to talk.
Cory let Billy, the kid they were babysitting, stay up all night.
Topanga tells him, "You'd rather be pals with our kids than a strong, responsible role model."
Cory blows off the accusation, continuing to focus on the taco.
Topanga says, "If that taco is more important to you than our child, then this family has dysfunction written all over it."
Well guess what?
Tacos, man. Lots of them.
We only get glimpses of Riley's childhood in flashbacks throughout the show.
Before Maya meets Riley, she is alone, sitting by herself and waiting for someone to sit and talk with her. She has a baby monitor in her room: Cory's way of supervising her.
In Girl Meets Bear, we learn why Barry is so important to Riley. Topanga and Cory give the teddy bear to her on the way out the door. So let's look at that teddy bear again.
Clearly the bear represents love, and the face represents Cory and Topanga, but wait. It has no face now. Why?
Remember when Auggie bit the face off? He was trying to get Riley and Maya's attention. But this action symbolizes a truth that Cory and Topanga have denied for a long time. They may not even be aware of it.
Riley has been emotionally neglected. She never got her parents' attention and care the way Auggie has.
Need some proof? Girl Meets Friendship is a good start.
Take a look at Cory's response to Riley's Princess Campaign:
Then Topanga's response to Ava, right in front of Riley:
Riley also says something in this episode that reveals another truth:
Okay, so what does this mean? Riley was a very lonely child who would do anything to get people's attention. And she was told by her parents over and over again that she has to be happy. More proof?
Girl Meets Yearbook.
Topanga's response to Morotia M Black.
It may appear funny on the surface with Maya and Topanga trying to make Riley smile and be happy again, but Riley's fighting it, because she feels it. She's sad. She's angry. She's stuffed her negative emotions away to be the "Smiley" Riley that everyone wants her to be. The Riley that everyone accepts. So, now we know that Riley hides and doesn't acknowledge negative emotions.
Okay so that's Riley's side of the story, what about Cory and Topanga?
Well, this is a common occurrence of parenthood for new, young parents. The oldest child is the experiment, and the younger child gets the experienced and more balanced approach to parenting.
Let's talk about Auggie for a moment, and how Cory and Topanga react to him.
We'll go basic here: Cory is the fun parent, and Topanga is the strong responsible rolemodel.
Auggie's childhood involves a similar dilemma to Riley. He has a Cory and Topanga complex as well, but he's living their story: so far, anyway.
Topanga gives Auggie constant affection, emotional support and guidance. Cory cheers Auggie on.
But what about Riley? What is their response?
But wait! Cory is also Riley's teacher. Remember Girl Meets Rah Rah?
Cory was at war with himself. His two sides, the responsible teacher and the fun loving parent.
We also know that Cory is very overprotective of Riley. But he says something in this episode that stood out to me.
Cory the father doesn't want Riley to be herself? While Cory the teacher wants her to learn.
Okay, what about Topanga?
When Topanga does involve herself with Riley, she can be inspiring, and supportive. But wait . . . who is she usually supportive to? Maya.
Starting to make sense?
How could Riley feel accepted and loved in this situation?
We know that Cory and Topanga aren't perfect, but they do love their child, they just don't show it very often. But Riley loves them, and she idolizes them too. Remember Girl Meets Cory and Topanga?
If we look at psychological research, emotionally neglected children can grow into "love addicts". This means that they obsess over and imagine what an ideal relationship would be.
Riley's that way, isn't she? Let's look at the fantasy she had in Ski Lodge again.
Riley thinks that because everyone has someone, they are all happy and in love. Because they are not alone anymore. Love must be the solution to loneliness right?
But wait? Why was she trying to be Maya? Why Princess Fairy Nut Job? Why Morotia? Why The Purple Cat? Jexica?
Because Riley believes that no one will like who she truly is. She's convinced that she has to "play the part" to be accepted.
Riley is running from reality, because she doesn't want to handle it. She doesn't think she'll be accepted, loved and appreciated.
But how aware is she of reality?
I think subconsciously, Riley knows that not all is how it appears to be. This is why she and Farkle passed the science experiment in Girl Meets Stem. Because Riley, the real Riley, the Riley that she allows to come out behind that mask is smart, observant and kind.
Why? Because she knows what it's like. This is why it was so easy for Riley to recognize what was going on with Farkle.
Okay, but why can't she see him now?
Let's talk about Farkle, and how Riley reacts to him.
When they first meet, Farkle saves Riley's life. She thanks him, clearly impressed.
When Farkle promises to love both Riley and Maya the same, Riley asks him "What if you love one of us more. What if you marry one of us?"
Farkle continues to say that he'll love both Riley and Maya the same. What's more, he calls Riley day and Maya night. Riley wants to be accepted and appreciated right? So she's going to be whatever people want her to be.
Farkle thinks that she's "day", so she'll be that. Farkle cares for Maya, so she'll be Maya.
What does Maya do? Maya rejects Farkle, so Riley will reject Farkle, despite how she actually feels.
Which brings us to Lucas, the pilot episode and Maya's influence.
From the pilot episode, we are told that Riley wants to be Maya. Maya pushes her toward Lucas. So that's her destiny right? That's what Riley needs to do to be loved and accepted. She needs to find her Cory and Topanga story. That's why she's so caught up in the fantasy. It's what she believes will get her parents' attention and support.
But she just needs to be herself. Riley's one obstacle from "taking on the world" is her confidence in who she really is.
Bonus: Someone already loves her for who she is.