Fictiophilia: The Common (and Problematic) Condition of Falling in Love with Fictional Characters

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Hello friends!  

I am back from Wheaton.  Finished with finals.  My new book proposal is out the door.  And my life is (finally) calming down.  Yesterday, we got back from a quick getaway to the beach with childhood friends—and we watched the entire 5 and a half hours of the original Pride and Prejudice movie.
It's fairly safe to say that I am one of those girls who cries and laughs and, quite simply, freaks out over Colin Firth playing Mr. Darcy.  I swoon when I hear him declare, "You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."  Mr. Darcy is high on my list of attractive book characters, followed by an array of others including Peeta Mellark (of course), Rhett Butler and Mr. Rochester. 

While it's fun to giggle and cheer as a relationship slowly unfolds, I have come to find that the propensity to become consumed by made up characters is not only common but also dangerous.

This is what I refer to as fictiophilia, being in love with a fictional character.

It's uncanny how common and widespread this condition is.  Trends show that women are becoming increasingly obsessed with fictional heroes, which can often have negative ramifications.  In her book Research and Theories of Mass Media Effects on Individuals and Society, Mary-Lou Galician writes that becoming obsessed with fictional characters causes "emotionally disabling attachments filled with anxiety, fantasy and over-dependence."  

This creates a false syndrome of love that does not really exist.

And this condition is not only found in books — but in anything that distorts or replaces our perspective of love and relationships.  Examples of this are everywhere.  The cultural obsession with forbidden love in Twilight, with the mysterious Edward Cullen.  Jack and Rose in Titanic.  Any novel (or movie) by Nicholas Sparks.

When we read books or watch movies, we open up our minds—and our hearts—to characters and situations that we feel like we have faced with the people in the plot.  Reading has always been a way of experiencing.  The danger of this, however, is that fictional feelings and experiences can very easily create unrealistic expectations and perceptions of a nonfictional reality.

Here are my two main reasons why this is a problem we shouldn't ignore.

1. Fictional characters are fictional.

Literature describes imaginary events and people.  They come from the minds of authors who seem to magically weave words together to make their characters believable.  Therefore, they seem real to us as we read narratives of their lives.

But they do not exist.  And, because their lives and personalities have been created, they can often lead us to have expectations that are not possible or realistic.
A clear example of this for me is the book Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers, which is a wonderful book as an allegory of Christ's love.  However, because the story was a romance and followed the relationship between Michael Hosea and his wife Angel, I found the novel to be potentially problematic.  This is an example of a Christian romance, meaning that Michael Hosea isn't only strong, kind and a good leader, but he is also a devoted Christian whose flaws are glossed over.  For girls reading the book, this can idealize their idea of the perfect Christian man—who doesn't exist outside of novels.

2. When the fictional world seems better than the real one, we can lose ourselves in it.

Getting lost in an imaginary world can cause us to have expectations that cannot be met.  According to the Romance Writers of America, "the three primary traits that readers look for in heroes are muscles, handsomeness and intelligence."  In that order.  The first two are strictly physical and have nothing to do with faith, temperament, respect or admirable qualities that we should be encouraging young people to seek in a relationship. 

It's clear that we live in a highly sexualized culture, where lurid romance novels line the shelves and Fifty Shades of Gray is a number one seller.  Fifty Shades (which I have no intention of ever reading) is a good example of fictiophilia gone too far, where readers gratify themselves through books and turn novels into unhealthy emotional stimulation.  

Reading is a gift and an adventure that I love!  But I have become increasingly aware of the danger of slipping into make believe too far, to the point that we become disillusioned with our own reality.  Fiction should be a way to better understand the world, not to replace it.  That book characters should show us what qualities we admire, and should not provide a way to become emotionally attached to make believe characters.

What do you think?
Is this a problem?  Can it be fixed?

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  1. Cool post! I'm definitely guilty of being in love with multiple fictional characters, and I think that it can certainly get out of hand - the same way glorifying real-life superstars might get out of hand: if you don't take the time to realize that it is a fantasy and that you have a real life to live with real people in it.

    Alexa Skrywer

    1. I definitely have been guilty of this, too. The more I realized it in others, the more I recognized it in myself.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. Wow. Yeah. See, I kind of knew I was doing this, ever since I was young. And it's been getting really bad. Sometimes it's difficult nowadays to actually pull myself out of whatever I'm reading or off of the computer and into the real world, where I have responsibilities and assignments for classes and a con to prep for. I know you posted this a while ago, but lately I've been looking up fictiophillia a little bit more often. I know I have a problem, and it's like an addiction, being able to let myself fall into this fantasy world. I never ever want to leave. And that just makes it really, really hard. It really has gotten out of hand for me. It's not like I think or believe any fictional characters are real, I don't pretend to talk to them while I'm all alone, but... Well if I start I think that would be a breaking point. I'm worrying myself now enough as it is...

    1. Thanks for sharing, Kristen. It's always so important for us all to realize potential areas for growth. I think that, to some extent, most people face fictiophilia at some point in their lives in one way or another. This could just mean a disillusionment with the world or a desire to escape from it and fall into the fantasy that seems much more idealized. Find strength in knowing that you're not alone. You will be in my thoughts :)

      John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

  3. I've dealt with this a LOT, actually... I had no idea it was even possible to fall in actual love with a fictional character until I experienced it myself.

    I first fell in love with Gray from Fairy Tail... The obsession/crush didn't last as long as I thought it would, however, and that's probably because I began watching more cartoons and eventually fell in COMPLETE love with Raphael from the 2012 Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show. I'm still in love with him, actually. I barely even watch the show anymore since I despise the newest season, yet I still fantasize and think about him EVERY day. Almost every minute. I did begin to watch the newest season of the show, but a new female character was introduced and became a love interest for Raphael, so I immediately shut off the episode and I sat there feeling terribly broken hearted and crushed. I cried for a really long time and I'm still sad/infuriated about it. I haven't had the guts to continue the show since then because I don't want to face the reality that he is fictional and that he's in love with another fictional character. I'm also falling hard for Bokuto from Haikyuu, ever since I had a really vivid dream about him. When he was first introduced on the show, I immediately took a big liking to him, but I wasn't really in love until he appeared in my dream and now I can't stop thinking about him.

    I'm afraid that I'll continue falling in love with fictional characters forever... I'm afraid that I'll have so many visions of the "perfect" significant other and "perfect" relationship that I won't be able to accept the fact that no one can meet up to anyone's perfect standards, so I will inevitably end up rejecting everyone until eventually I'm alone and it's too late. I'm already dealing with intense depression and social anxiety and I don't know what to do anymore. I have sexual attraction towards fictional characters, and the idea of sex seems okay, but when I imagine myself having real sex with a real person, I'm a little disgusted.

    I identify as bisexual, and while I'm attracted to both genders in real life, I'm ONLY romantically/sexually attracted to MALE fictional characters. What does this mean?? I haven't had a crush on a real guy in a while, but I've had 2 crushes on real girls recently and I currently have a HUGE crush on my best female friend at the moment.

    Can anyone help me?? I know that was a lot and it's probably confusing, but I was just wondering if any of that can be deciphered. Thanks!

  4. I Don't think that it's not only happens for fangirls because I'm so sympethic with mary magdeline (Davincy code)

  5. AnonymousNov 7, 2016, 8:11:00 PM : don't worry I feel exactly the same. Reading your words actually made me feel comforted as I felt an understanding and can relate - I started with kaiba from yugioh and currently on dtk from soul eater. I have a bf etc and happy in my life but I do think I fall into my daily imaginary world due to family problems in for past and not feeling loved enough. I thought I had a problem for a long time until I realized it's just my coping method. I feel it's fine to do, it's hurting no one and as long as you are still motivated (full time job and hobbies etc)

  6. Oh man I have this exact same problem... only it's a little different. I role play a lot and my role playing parntner's character is the one I'm in love with. A fictional non human character and I'm in love with him.... What makes this different is the fact that he actually has conversations with me... I've already opened up and told him... the character... everything... my deepest darkest secrets my untold mental issues my biggest fears and when he *virtually* puts an arm around me and comforts me as I have *both in real life and fantasy* have a emotional break down from PTSD I actually feel comforted.... how does one handle with this??