The Rise Of Women Who Love Fictional Men

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Woman in awe

Editor's Note: This is a part of YourTango's Opinion section where individual authors can provide varying perspectives for wide-ranging political, social, and personal commentary on issues.

Sheila* hasn’t been feeling like herself in recent months. She’s been quieter, a bit more depressed, and even a bit cloistered. I knew she had a bad date or two, but it seemed like something just changed in her — something almost on a cellular level.

Normally, I’d assume it’s because she hasn’t gone to a party in a while and she’s overworked. However, this just didn’t feel like a normal change. I decided to pull her aside at the last party I was at with her and asked what was up.

"Ossiana, can I be honest with you?"

"Yeah, always."

"I … I don’t think I’m attracted to men anymore."

"Okay? So, do you need me to help you swipe on Her?"

"No, no, I don’t think you get it. I don’t like women either. I’m not into non-binary people, either."

"Are you asexual now?"

She paused and said, "I don’t think so. I’m attracted to men in movies, but in real life, I can’t get into them at all. What’s wrong with me?"

I had to assure her that nothing was wrong with her and that she didn’t have to be into men in real life to live a happy life. You don’t need to feel sexually attracted to people to be "okay," after all.

The more we talked, the more I realized that her lack of interest may be a result of one too many bad experiences. I told her that much, too. However, it was up to her to decide whether or not she even wanted to address this in therapy.

After a small chat, she paused and said, "Honestly, I was more upset about thinking that there was something wrong with me than I was about losing attraction to men. I think I should just stop dating."

RELATED: What Finally Pushed Me To Quit Dating

Sheila’s not the first woman who I’ve heard say this in recent years.

When I was a library page/junior librarian, I knew a woman who bragged about having an entire bookshelf wall of Japanese romance mangas. She had mostly Yaoi, which was gay romance but also had classic Shojobeat-style romance novels.

If you’d ask her about specific characters, oh, she would go nuts. Her eyes would light up and she’d gush like she was in love. She’d talk about how this one character was a dreamboat with his powerful, quiet, but loving nature. Or, she’d squeal about how funny yet sweet this other guy was.

Reminder: these were not real men. They were drawings done by a mangaka in Japan.

I have seen what happened when an actual man approached her for a date. She blinked at him, laughed, said no, then walked away. He was a good-looking guy, too. She just wasn’t having it.

This was back in the early aughts, so this is far from a new phenomenon. It is, however, a trend I’m noticing picking up steam — especially online, in confessional posts.

This is actually the female version of a Japanese phenomenon known as having waifus.

The term waifu is a Japanese Anglicization of the term "wife," and it originally was supposed to be about a female fictional character you have a great affinity for. Over the years, the term waifu started to mean something more along the lines of a substitute girlfriend.

You might also recognize this as a "pillow guy," or the term used to describe men who have an unhealthy obsession with a particular anime character. The term waifu pillows is a result of a growing market of body pillows featuring full-length pictures of scantily-clad women.

Among anime fans and Japanese culture fans like myself, waifus have become a point of derision. It’s seen as a sign of being a failure in the dating scene, often as a result of bad social skills, delusions, or psychological issues.

A male waifu is not called a waifu. For people who have a "guy crush" in anime, the term isn’t waifu. It’s husbando.

RELATED: Men Are Buying Tiny Holographic Wives To Avoid Marrying Real Ones

Believe it or not, there is a medical term for an attraction to fictional characters.

It is not considered to be a legitimate sexuality, but it is considered to be a paraphilia. The name for this is fictophilia, and the waifu/husbando phenomenon fits the bill to a tee.

It’s considered to be a form of a parasocial relationship. These are relationships that are one-sided. One side is passionately involved and feels like they truly know the other person. The other person might not know they even exist — and in this case, it’s because the other person is fictional.

Contrary to popular belief, fictophilia is not always a bad thing.

This is not a new phenomenon. We’ve all heard about tawdry romance novels that got people going. In many cases, having a crush on a fictional character is actually totally normal and healthy. (I mean, who hasn’t swooned thinking about a movie character?)

In many cases, having that fantasy character is a way of exploring what you want in a partner. It can also be a way of exercising a romantic crush that you don’t act on — which can be ideal when you’re in a relationship.

RELATED: 5 Subtle Signs You're Lithromantic & Prefer Unrequited Love

The problem arises when it starts to interfere with your life, or when it causes you deep distress.

A woman who has a crush on Edward from Twilight isn’t harming herself. A man who just doesn’t want to deal with dating and prefers fantasizing over anime characters isn’t really hurting himself.

Sometimes, turning to a fictional character is the easiest way to escape or daydream. It doesn’t complicate real-life relationships, and no one gets hurt.

It stops being healthy when that love turns into a full-blown obsession and you start believing that you are actually in a relationship with that character, or when it becomes a reason for others to avoid you.

Among certain circles, we’ve all heard of people whose obsessions with a waifu have made it impossible for them to have a normal social circle. That is a legitimate issue that seems to be growing. It’s a form of toxic escapism.

I can’t help but wonder how many women are turning to fictional men as a result of the trauma they experienced in dating.

If you’ve read my writing a bunch, you already know that I’ve written at length about how many women are dropping out of the dating scene. When I first started writing about it, no one was saying anything about it.

Today, that’s not the case. It’s now common knowledge. The stigma of women walking away from dating is starting to die down now that more and more of us are talking about it.

While we do talk about the (often very healthy) decision to cease dating as a result of the terrible experiences women have had, we don’t talk about other ways women cope with it. We also don’t talk about the effects that dating-related trauma can bring on women.

Trauma has a way of changing people, and how they adapt can change, too. Losing that dream of marrying a great man and having kids is a trauma all of its own, and we aren’t really discussing that.

Among anime fans, it’s believed that waifuism is a form of extreme escapism. Dating becomes too hard, or a person just collapses into themselves, and then a waifu becomes a lot more comforting.

It says a lot when a woman actually stops finding real human beings attractive and starts to prefer fictional ones. To me, that suggests the women in that situation have been hurt so many times that they no longer feel safe being around men they actually know.

I’m not sure if most men realize that this is starting to happen to women as a direct result of how bad dating men has become. What’s sadder, I don’t think most of them care.

So, what should fictophiles do?

This is just my opinion, so take that as you may.

If a woman is okay with eschewing dating in favor of a husbando, then that’s fine by me. They shouldn’t try to force themselves to keep trying considering how traumatic it’s been.

If they don’t want to date or the thought of dating fills them with dread, it may be more damaging to try to encourage them to date. Besides, it doesn’t make sense to subject yourself to something that you no longer have an interest in pursuing.

On the other hand, if they do feel a deep grief about the way they feel or it’s actively caused problems in their lives, then it’s likely that therapy may help. Whether or not it’s worth it, though, I can’t tell you.

RELATED: How To Know When You Should Stop Looking For Love

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.