Hold Me, but Don’t Touch Me
How to find closeness in a time of social distancing.
Posted March 17, 2020
Social distancing is hard. As a species, we are mimickers and meaning-makers, and those things can be difficult without direct interaction with other human beings. But the truth is that even when we aren't with others, we are never truly alone. In the spirit of Viktor Frankl, a man who knew better than most about staying mentally sound in a time of external chaos: While our bodies are in a form of quarantine, our minds are always free.
As we are turning in from the outside world, we can use this as an invitation to expand our inner world and connect with our parasocial relationships, otherwise known as fandom attachments. Fandom attachments refer to our one-way relationship with the characters in the stories we love and the public figures with whom we feel a kinship. While these attachments often receive a negative reputation, just like all relationships, they can be either healthy or unhealthy depending on the circumstances. And attachment to our fandom favorites feels very needed right now.
While FaceTime, Skype, and WhatsApp are great ways to stay connected remotely with friends and family, there’s only so much worrying together that we can tolerate. Also, because our loved ones IRL are experiencing the same stresses that we are, they might not be able to hold the space for our feelings right now. You might also be tired of talking and thinking about all this too, and that's okay. Taking a break from analyzing the efficacy of social distancing and logarithmic functions (we promise they do help to explain the rate at which the pandemic spreads) is both necessary and restorative.
Since you have some more time on your hands than you do ordinarily, you might want to start a new show and build some different fandom attachments. And if you get emotionally filled up by making new "friends," then that might be just what the proverbial doctor ordered. But if you are someone for whom "meeting" new friends can take more energy than it gives, or if you just want to feel immediately safe and loved, then you might find more nurturance with a return to old and familiar friends. Consider revisiting the fandom attachments with whom you have tried-and-true positive experiences. Depending on your particular fandom attachments, you might want to: rejoin the Scooby Gang of Sunnydale—for the uninitiated we’re talking about the ol’ WB series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer; take a ride with your favorite crew of the USS Enterprise aka Star Trek (OG, TNG, DS9, DISCO); or hop in the impala and take a ride with the Winchester brothers on their Supernatural adventures.
If your attachments are more literary, why not return to a favorite book or comic book series?! Who’s ready to kick up their boots and take a tour of Mr. Darcy’s ancestral home, Pemberley? That estate had some truly epic statues. Revisiting your old fandom stomping grounds allows you to connect with the places, characters, and feelings that provided you comfort in the past. Engaging with these stories can feel very much like the emotion of getting a hug. And we could all use more hugs right now.
Perhaps none of those ideas resonate with you, and that's okay. Fandom attachments aren't just with characters, but also with other people who we know, but don't really know. Celebrities and public figures can also be very comforting in these times and engaging with them can also feel like a hug. Perhaps you would feel hugged through hearing the dulcet tones of your favorite podcaster talk about true crime or watching YouTube makeup artists go through their innumerable palettes. These reassuring voices can also offer up feelings of normalcy and familiarity.
Unfortunately, this crisis isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It is difficult and scary, but we must emotionally prepare ourselves for the equivalent of a marathon, rather than a sprint, of social distancing. With this in mind, our fandom attachments are more important than ever in maintaining our mental health and our feelings of connection. We need a lot of support from our friends, all of them.
Frankl, V. E. (2000). Mans search for meaning: an introduction to logotherapy. New York: Houghton, Mifflin.
Garski, L.A., & Mastin, J. (2019). Beyond Canon: Therapeutic Fanfiction and the Queer Hero’s Journey. In L. Rubin (Ed.), Using superheroes and villains in counseling and play therapy: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals. New York, NY: Routledge.