I had a fling with a guy this summer. My best friend introduced me to him. We were hot and heavy for about three months. I spent every spare moment with him, even putting up with his family and all their drama just so I could have some alone time with him later. It didn’t bother me that he had taken a vow of chastity or that he, you know, isn’t real. His name is Jon Snow, bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark (or is he?), and he was everything I had ever wanted in a man. Then he did what all my fictional boyfriends (and fictional best friends, mentors, so on) do—he left me.
I have a slight problem with becoming too emotionally invested in stories, whether it be a book series or a television show. This is sort ironic, because I tend to be cold and distant in real life relationships. I could not tell you the last time I cried over a guy, but I was a blubbering mess when Dumbledore met his end. I have read thousands of books and watched thousands of television shows and movies in my lifetime, and there are a handful of characters that I fell completely, stupidly, childishly in love with. I already mentioned Jon Snow and Albus Dumbledore. Some others who stole my heart are: Harry Dresden, Frodo Baggins, Sam and Dean Winchester, Rick Grimes, Hermione Granger, Eric Northman, Finny from A Separate Peace, Lyra Belacqua, Odd Thomas, Andy Botwin, and Percy Jackson.*
The relationships I have with these characters are unhealthy. Sure, it’s great while it lasts, but it always ends. My love always goes unrequited. Because unrequited love makes for great writing inspiration, even that fact isn’t the main reason these relationships are toxic. The problem with all these relationships is that they are severely out of balance. You can love a fictional character, but he can’t love you back. These relationships are completely void of reciprocity, and they ultimately cannot fulfill any of your needs other than your need to love someone.
Wait a second. Shouldn’t the problem be that none of these people are real?
These characters are, in fact, real. They exist within the fictional world, and, let’s face it; most writers at least have a summer home there, and some of us make the daily commute. The natives of this land I’ve aptly named “The Imagined-Nation” are all the people we wish we could meet in real life. We know these people better than we know our friends because we can see inside their heads. We really know them—what kind of people they are, what they fear, what motivates them, what they will do when their backs are against the wall. They are what is absent in the real world. They are honor and nobility, courage and integrity, kindness and loyalty, strength and humility. They have never let us down, unlike so many people in real life. It doesn’t hurt that they also tend to be at least somewhat attractive, but usually have some sort of endearing flaw, like a scar, that reminds us that nobody is perfect. The real world contains so few good-looking people who also have values that it is not surprising that fictional characters can be so appealing.
These relationships are not completely negative, though. We can learn things from these characters. They teach us how to be brave, how to overcome adversity, and how to do the right thing even when it is the hardest thing. They set an example of selflessness, protecting the weak and fighting for the oppressed. Their lives are full of adventure, danger, and romance–all the things we wish we had more of in our lives. Could it be possible what I feel for these characters is not love, but, in fact, envy?
It is both. I love these characters, but I must be careful not to step over into obsession. As long as I keep fiction separate from real life, why not enjoy a tryst with one of my favorite made-up people every once in a while? The Imagined-Nation is a place nice to visit, but you can’t live there forever. I will always love you, Jon Snow, but it is time to break up. I hope we can still be friends. I will keep on watching Game of Thrones and reading A Song of Ice and Fire, but this time I will keep the heartbreak at bay by not letting myself develop feelings that you can never return. But, if you ever break your vows again, I swear I will…oops. This might be harder than I thought.
*When I say I fell in love with these characters, I do not necessarily mean romantic love. I am not a lesbian, not that there’s anything wrong with that.