Who Would Date an Imaginary Partner?

Believe it or not, some people prefer imaginary paramours. Here's why.

Posted Aug 11, 2020

Image by Stefanie Reichel from Pixabay
Source: Image by Stefanie Reichel from Pixabay

On the dating scene, most singles meet prospective paramours through friends, professional colleagues, common activities or interests, or online dating services, which have become very popular. Yet there are some markedly unconventional exceptions to the usual routine.  

Imaginary Lovers

A 35-year-old Japanese school administrator made headlines in 2018 when he married a hologram. His selection of a bride, portrayed by a small doll in the ceremony resplendent in a tiny white dress, was modeled in the form of the Japanese pop star he fell in love with. He explained that he “distrusted women” after he was bullied at work.[i]  According to an article by Jessica Miley in Interesting Engineering, the ceremony included rings and the signing of a marriage certificate (at least for one of the parties, we assume).  

Christian Gollayan reveals in the New York Post that the man spent about $17,600 on the formal ceremony to wed his two-dimensional lover, able to move and talk through a $2,800 desktop device, who is modeled after a 16-year-old 3-D pop singer with blue pigtails.[ii] Gollayan states that the marriage certificate came from the company that produces the holograms, Gatebox, which has apparently issued over 3,700 such certificates to what are described as “cross-dimension” couples. 

Is it legal? Unsurprisingly: no. Writing for CNN, Emiko Jozuka reported that the Japanese school administrator’s marriage was not legally recognized, but in terms of public appearances, the wedding ceremony to the “cyber songstress” took place in front of 39 people.[iii] If you think this crowd sounds like a group of enablers (the groom’s mother did not attend), you are not alone.  

What would motivate someone to do this? Jozuka quotes Neil McArthur, director of the Center for Professional and Applied Ethics at the University of Manitoba, who explains, "When you look at people who've had difficult sexual experiences, they often find trouble having human partners." He describes a love affair with a hologram as "passive," and explains that “having a partner who is safe and predictable is often very helpful therapeutically."

How many people actually have “relationships” with fantasy characters? The answer may surprise you.

Falling For Fiction: Fantasy Flings

Apparently, these seemingly unimaginable (pardon the pun) parings sometimes appeal to individuals who do not have time to invest in the real thing. Miley notes that Japan’s brutal work schedule often does not afford people time to date face-to-face, leading to the growing popularity of games and apps that provide virtual companionship.

But this phenomenon is not confined to Japan. Miley describes several other services that offer digital partners, such as Invisible Girlfriend, which offers “a digital version of a real girlfriend without the baggage,” allowing users to embark upon an electronic, texting-only relationship with an ideal partner. Interestingly, the site promises interaction will be with an unseen but real partner, not with a bot. There is a similar site for the ladies called, you guessed it, Invisible Boyfriend.

This phenomenon appears to be bigger than a few isolated stories. Jozuka reports in CNN that in 2017, Amazon's Alexa received over one million marriage proposals. Is there an explanation for this apparently common desire for imaginary companionship?  

Public Penchant for Fictional Romance

Researchers have corroborated what most people recognize instinctively: Many people are enamored by relationships between fictional characters. Romantic character development in movies and romance novels make certain books and films rise to the top of the charts. Elizabeth van Monsjou and Raymond A. Mar explored public interest in fictional romances.[iv] They note that “shipping,” which they define as “emotional investment in fictional relationships,” is an established phenomenon, which has been existed for decades. In their research, they found emotional investment in fictional couples to be somewhat a common phenomenon that occurs across a variety of different media platforms. 

Choosing a fictional partner for oneself, however, is very different—although it can apparently be designed to lead to the real thing. Miley notes that one game maker explains their goal in allowing men to date their anime characters is geared to assist young men to build confidence, and that by offering weddings, they aim to portray marriage and family as a “logical and a necessary step in a relationship.”  

Perhaps for some, that virtual experience will become reality, and lead to a healthy, happy, human relationship.

Facebook image: SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock


[i] https://interestingengineering.com/japanese-man-marries-doll-of-virtual-singer.

[ii] https://nypost.com/2018/11/13/i-married-my-16-year-old-hologram-because-she-cant-cheat-or-age/

[iii] https://www.cnn.com/2018/12/28/health/rise-of-digisexuals-intl/index.html.

[iv] van Monsjou, Elizabeth, and Raymond A. Mar. 2020. “‘Interest and Investment in Fictional Romances’: Correction to Van Monsjou and Mar (2019).” Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, Aesthetic Appreciation of Visual Art, 14 (2): 249. doi:10.1037/aca0000311.