Fictophilia: Are You in Love With a Fictional Character?
“Fictophilia,” “fictosexuality,” and “fictoromance” refer to the intense and enduring emotional attachment, love, infatuation, or desire that individuals experience for fictional characters.
Many individuals, or “fictophiles,” who experience this wonder if it’s normal or healthy, often facing social stigma, shame and confusion about their strong feelings for these characters.
To better understand this phenomenon, here are three signs that you are a fictophile, according to a 2021 study.
1. You Face the Fictophilia Paradox
The researchers differentiate between mental disorders, such as erotomania and fictophilia. Erotomania is characterized by a delusional belief that someone, often a public figure or someone of higher social status, is in love with the affected individual despite a lack of real evidence or reciprocity.
In contrast, the “fictophilia paradox” refers to the idea that fictophiles are highly aware that the character they love is not real, yet continue to yearn for them deeply. They can differentiate between fiction and objective reality and acknowledge the parasocial nature of their feelings. The genuine emotions they develop for these characters can create sadness and discomfort due to the obvious lack of any possible reciprocation.
However, fictophiles may have fantasies of the character returning their feelings and consider them a real source of social support. The researchers suggest that the emotional confusion resulting from the fictophilia paradox is logical, as prior research shows that individuals who form parasocial romantic relationships perceive them as having similar benefits to real-life connections.
2. You Engage Deeply With Fictional Characters
If you have ever come across an interesting and particularly vivid piece of fanfiction, it may have been written by a fictophile. According to the 2021 study, similar to a devoted fan, fictophiles enhance their connection with a beloved fictional character by engaging in daydreams and fantasies, cosplaying, creating fan art or writing fan fiction centered around the character.
Fictophiles may also get character-related tattoos, clothing, jewelry, or other merchandise, serving as a tangible representation of their deep admiration and attachment. They often experience strong emotional reactions to events in the fictional world involving their characters, becoming deeply affected by character developments, relationships, or storylines.
Another study in 2021 further explains the appeal of engaging with these characters based on one’s attachment style. It found that higher attachment anxiety leads to forming stronger parasocial emotional bonds with fictional characters, especially those who appear more nurturing and, therefore, soothing to connect with.
Conversely, individuals with more avoidant attachment styles gravitate toward characters who have traits they value, such as autonomy and independence, which reaffirms their own behavior.
3. You Prefer Fictional People To Real Ones
Research shows that individuals connect to fictional characters by judging if they are ethical, attractive, realistic, and personally relevant to them, even if they evoke mixed emotions. For instance, one may be fascinated by a character who has committed crimes they do not condone, simultaneously feeling attracted to them or even sorry for them.
Often, fictional characters can be preferred over any human counterpart due to their perceived superior emotional qualities and conventionally attractive physical appearance. Many fictophiles report that loving fictional characters feels safer than being in real relationships, as these characters cannot hurt, betray or reject them.
Fictophiles also have a high degree of control over their interactions with fictional characters, engaging with them when they choose and being able to rely on their predictability, which can be comforting to individuals who may have experienced instability in real-life relationships.
It is essential to remember that these behaviors are not inherently problematic or unusual and often serve as a genuine source of comfort and support. A strong attachment to fictional characters can be a healthy and enjoyable part of a fictophile’s life.
However, it is important to maintain a balance between one’s affection for fictional characters and one’s engagement in real-world relationships, as genuine human connection is essential for emotional well-being and personal growth.
Fictophiles navigate the complex intersection of fiction and reality with their love for fictional characters. Fictophilia provides an opportunity for emotional connection, even if it remains unreciprocated, as individuals find solace in these beings that may be lacking elsewhere. While these experiences are valid, maintaining a balance between deep fictional attachments and real-world relationships remains essential.