How do I quit wasting my life on online escapism?
February 15, 2011 6:37 PM   Subscribe

Please tell me how to break my stupid addiction to fandom and fanfiction.

The not-so-special snowflake profile: I'm in my late-twenties, very shy (few friends, never dated), BA, no money, in a dead-end job. I'm a very first-world kind of unhappy, and taking antidepressants for it. Around 3 years ago, I became interested in a particular bit of media, and through poking around online discovered the world of fanfiction and related communities, and got completely sucked in. I knew from the start that I was using it to escape real-world loneliness and boredom, but couldn't (or didn't want to) think of a good reason to quit. After all, why not take whatever happiness I could find?

Now, however, the approach of the big 3-0 has made me much more conscious of how time has flown, and how I've let my twenties slip away. More than ever, I feel like this online fandom is a waste of time for me-it's ultimately an immature and embarrassing hobby, and I've never made any real contributions or friends (somehow, my shyness extends to even the internet). It's a distraction, creating the illusion of potential friendship and community where there is none and sucking away my time and attention every day.

I can understand how this happened and why; what I need to know now is how to walk away from it all. The hours each day spent at home, online, reading fanfiction, etc. could be going toward developing real relationships, or finding a real career and trying to make something of my life before yet another decade flies by. But I can't quite convince myself to just drop it, delete all my bookmarks and accounts and so on-it's often the only bright spot in otherwise gray days, and a very unique, silly kind of fun. If I keep it up, though, I fear I'll become a very sad cliche, the frumpy middle-aged cat lady who lives entirely through fanfics. I don't even like cats.

Therapy is not an option, I've never met a therapist I liked and can't face the thought of going through another search. I welcome any advice, but I'm especially hoping for personal anecdotes: surely someone out there has gone through the same realization and changed their life for the better?

Throwaway email:, and thanks for any perspective you can offer.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry, but you need to try therapy again. You don't need to like your therapist at all - you just need to be willing to lay it all on the line with them and ask for help. You said it yourself - you understand why you are in this rut; you just need someone to help you step out of it. That's what therapists do.

More concretely: get rid of your internet connection at home. That will help a lot. I spend too much time online and the happiest I've ever been is the one year I had no internet at home.
posted by yarly at 6:47 PM on February 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

Keep a journal in which you make a point of chronicling exactly how much time you spend on it for a few weeks. In my experience just committing yourself to being aware of it, even without trying to curtail it, will lead to taper off the habit after a while if it's something you'd truly rather not do.
posted by phrontist at 6:50 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is probably going to be contrary to other advice given here, and I don't know if this even makes sense, but, is it possible to meet people who share your same interests? Like at a convention dealing with whatever the topic of your fandom is? Or, even just at a meetup of sorts?. I've met the people I've known online and new people entirely at anime conventions and have made real-world friendships that way. It's just easier talking to people who share a common interest with you...
posted by sokkupapetto at 6:52 PM on February 15, 2011 [10 favorites]

Oh, man. I am way too into fandom for my schooling's liking. So, there are things I try to remind myself:

1: Even though it is a distraction, and not "useful" in the way doing laundry is useful, everyone is deserving of a distraction. You don't have to cut it out of your life entirely, just make sure it is in balance with everything else in your life*.
2: There is value in my interactions there. Beyond the "internet friends are real friends" paradigm that I'm sure everyone here agrees with, fandom has a lot of good/interesting/provocative discussions around race, class, and gender that inform my real-life vision of the world around me. It makes me question my privilege and identity, using fictional characters as the starting point for those conversations.

* If you have nothing else in your life, use it as a branching out point. Start talking to fandom friends about hiking or biking or poetry readings or becoming a coffee aficionado. Then start exploring those things in your own community. It doesn't have to be huge, just starting to branch out beyond the online cocoon.

If it is the only bright spot in a dreary day, there is no need to get rid of it, there is though a real need to brighten the rest of your day. You can find that fun and community in reality as well. Joining a club or team can result in this, be it a running group or a pub crawl pack.
posted by hepta at 6:55 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to quit and don't want to try cold turkey, your best bet would be to try putting clear limitations on yourself on how much you can read/view a day, and then whittle it down. If you're spending 6+ hours a day on it, then yeah, you should absolutely cut back

That said, I think you may want to reconsider some of your thoughts on the matter. I would agree that fanfic is not necessarily the most socially accepted or mainstream activity, but if it's what you enjoy, you don't have to feel ashamed about it. For example, you could use it as a jumping off point to meeting people in real life. There are plenty of meetups, conventions, etc, where you could meet like-minded people, make friends, and hopefully expand your circle of interests. It won't be easy if you're as shy and anxious as you claim, but TBH, you are unlikely to magically become better at people just by trying to change your interests.
posted by tau_ceti at 6:56 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

I never got into fanfic, but I have been a good shy loner who stares at my computer way too much. I still stare at my computer more than I'd like, but I managed to move to a foreign country and set things up for myself so that I didn't feel totally alone and pathetic.

The biggest thing that helps is to find something to do away from the internet! Just one thing, with a schedule. And then go to it. Don't make excuses as to why you can't go. (NB: Making excuses is easy and thus really hard to escape, persevere!) If you find that you actually hate it, find something else. You can read fanfic as much as you'd like as long as you make that appointment once a week. You're making progress!

Eventually, you'll find something you love to do, and you'll make friends there, and then you'll do other things with those friends, and you'll pick up something else you love to do, and eventually you won't find fanfic as appealing because you have all of this other stuff to do. Make sure you don't over-exert yourself, though, or you'll just fall back into doing nothing. I think 2.5 appointments per week is about my social maximum--I've tried doing more but then I get burnt out and end up dropping more than I am happy with.

My random suggestion of a Thing to Do: Contra Dance. It is fun physical exertion, can be found practically everywhere in the United States, has a pretty regular schedule (from once a month to about twice a week given the community), and is easy to start. Contra dance groups are almost without fail entirely welcoming and fun, and since you don't have to talk when you're dancing can be a good social escape for a shy person or a person who just doesn't like to talk! Look here or search for "contra dance 'your locality'" for your local group.
posted by that girl at 7:00 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

Well, this is what I think, for whatever it's worth.

I think grand and sweeping changes work really well for some people and are completely counterproductive for others. Like you could decide "No fanfic anymore, and I am going to head out and make real life connections." But you don't have any practice doing that, so you probably won't be that good at it right away. You fail and fail, and suddenly the problem seems insurmountable and pointless, and you revert right back to the fanfic, and hate yourself. Maybe it wouldn't happen that way for you, but it just seems like doing things that way is doing them the hard way and setting oneself up to feel like a real failure.

I think you need a long, very gently inclining ladder of really slow baby steps, of learning to overcome shyness and be social. Maybe one week you go to a coffeeshop or somewhere else you wouldn't mind never going back to if you got embarrassed, and say one word to one person (I recommend "Hi."). Maybe the next week you go to a different coffeeshop and say two words to two people. ("What's up."). Maybe after a month or two of building this up you go somewhere that you could start developing connections with people you see regularly, and spend 10 minutes in conversation with the friendliest looking person there. And so forth. And read all the fanfic you want while you're in this process.

I absolutely think you can climb out of this and develop awesome skills at being social, making connections, and making friends. And I don't think you have to quit fanfic or anything else that brings you comfort, to do it. While you're developing the skills you want to develop, just be good to yourself, don't berate yourself, don't be ashamed of the things that make you happy.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:02 PM on February 15, 2011 [10 favorites]

Frankly, I don't think the fandom thing is as abnormal or as big a waste as you're seeing it. Most people would have spent all that time watching television. Same diff, really! Like you say, it makes you happy and it's not hurting anyone.

But as always, it's a problem if you think it's a problem. It sounds like you're using fandom as a refuge from the difficult stuff, not that fandom has become an addiction in and of itself. As such the best first approach is to try budgeting your fandom time.

For stuff like this, I like to set a kitchen timer. I give myself 30 or 60 minutes, and when the timer dings, I get up and leave the computer. Or I set myself a time limit - tonight it's 7PM so I'd better type fast - and I shut down the computer at that time.

If you turn out to be unable to snack in moderation, so to speak, then it might be time to take Stronger Measures.

As for wanting to make friends, meet someone special, and improve your career - that's not actually a project. That's a big vague thing that exists in your mind only to make you feel crappy about yourself.

Try picking a small, attainable goal. Sign up for a night class. Buy a book on something that will help your career. Set up an online dating profile. Choose a hobby and sign up for a class. You don't have to make a huge commitment to changing your life - just pick a small step and start there.
posted by ErikaB at 7:02 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Trade off with yourself. Agree that you'll make an effort to get into a purely social, other-directed activity, in exchange for easing up on the feelings of shame and self-loathing that go with being heavily involved in fandom. (And oh, don't I know those feelings. Every time I am immersed in sports-related chatter and find my mind wandering to fic, I curse myself.)

Myself, I have received remarkable intangible results from being involved in fandom and internet communities, including continuing friendships that no longer have anything to do with the original catalyst, and years later, although I can concede that I might have gone dancing some more, I certainly don't regret the time I spent in old fandoms. I hope that you respect your hobby as well as love it.

When all else fails, at least you can put on "Trekkies" and reassure yourself that you're not the guy who mispronounces "plethora."
posted by Countess Elena at 7:03 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have you considered going to graduate school? You've been honing your research skills, why not put them to better use. You'd meet a lot of people who share whatever interest you pursue there and it should lead to a more satisfying job.

Living without internet at home for a while sounds good to me too, it will force you to get out more. Start with regular forays to a neighborhood coffee shop, bring a newspaper, sit for a while, sip your coffee, read. Repeat several times a week, say hello to people who've become familiar. Join a club, take an evening class, volunteer.

And don't be embarrassed about the time you've wasted on your hobby. sometime you'll be able to tell friends about it and laugh.
posted by mareli at 7:04 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can I ask a question?

What if you were a 29 year old guy, and you spent all your free time watching sports, reading sports stats, playing fantasy football, finagling the occasional set of tickets for the local game, etc etc? Would you still be so ashamed of your behavior and down on yourself?

In other words, what exactly is the problem here? Are you not able to live a normal life? Have you lost jobs, betrayed loved ones, pissed in a KFC bucket under your computer desk to avoid going to the bathroom because you can't pull yourself away from the fandom to take basic care of your immediate needs?

Or is it just that you're a shy person with a commonly disparaged hobby and some self esteem issues? Because, personally, I'm more worried about how down you are on yourself than what your hobbies happen to be.
posted by Sara C. at 7:08 PM on February 15, 2011 [62 favorites]

Also just want to say:

Remember that you have no idea what other people's lives are like. You cannot tell AT ALL just by looking at them. So don't compare what you do with your time to your fantasies about what everyone else is doing.

My most conventionally attractive friend, who guys go gaga over, has never had a relationship last longer than a few weeks, and literally spends many weekends cleaning out her apartment drains. I found out the lecturer at my law school with the hardest-to-get-into classes, whom I was totally intimidated by and feared massively because I was worried he'd think I wouldn't measure up, actually engaged in a, frankly, KOOKOO scheme 30 years ago, was prosecuted for it, and found not guilty by reason of insanity!

Don't worry at all about what everyone else is supposedly doing, you have no idea what skeletons are in anyone's closet, what facades they have, or what goes on behind closed doors.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:23 PM on February 15, 2011 [17 favorites]

There are other, real, awkward, shy people who are into the same fandom that you are into. I bet you like other things beside that fandom too... and there are other, real, awkward shy people who are into all those other things.

There's nothing wrong with having a nerdy, weird hobby. If you're lonely, go find those other people who are also lonely. Are they at cons? Do they meet at a club night at a local college? do you know where I met my current Long Term Partner... we were members of the same Fencing club. we made friends. He invited me to join him and his friends at table top RPG night. We played D+D and Vampire the Masqurade and I made LOTS of friends who now, years later, I still talk to. and they were all as nerdy, shy, awkward and weird as I was at the time.

When I'm bored, I go to SCA events. TONS of other, weird, nerdy people looking to just have fun with others who "get it".

No one is judging you. You're not fucked up and you're not out of the norm. BUT, you have to make the move to break out of your shell yourself if you're unhappy. You don't need a therapist to do this, but you do have to do it. Start talking to people, you don't have to be bestest friends right away, you can pick and choose who you like and who you want to hang out with, you can start slow with short converesations about stuff you like and know a lot about. And you don't have to drive the conversation, you can ask people about themselves and they'll do most of the talking if you just ask them! People love to talk about themselves, and if you ask them, and allow them to talk, they will think you're a great listener and nice. And you'll know more about them, and they won't seem so intimidating.

And you don't suffer from any inborn lack of apptitude for making friends, being likeable and meeting people, you just haven't practiced.
posted by RampantFerret at 7:26 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

Reinforcing two things that have been said: First, there is nothing wrong with being a girl nerd with girly nerdy hobbies in and of itself. Second, if you want to spend less time in front of the computer, pick an activity you like and commit to doing it (preferably with an expenditure of even a small amount of money and/or an agreement to meet people to get you to go).

There's also no reason you can't engage in fandom stuff in real life. I've gone to girl nerd night that involved knitting and watching Doctor Who! So if it's the antisocial/computer-only aspect that's an issue, look for fandom activities in meatspace. I have a number of friends who post meetups for this kind of thing to Facebook all the time. There's probably one for your fandom too.
posted by immlass at 7:42 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've been in all sorts of places with regard to fandom. Sometimes it's been unquestionably bad for me, mostly when my relationship with negative fan communities turned septic, or I lost interest in the original media, but was too invested in the fandom to recognize that. Other times, it's been lifesaving, an important space in my life for play and creativity without worldly pressure, and a way of making friends with "loves and hates and passions just like mine," as Morrissey said (though he wasn't the first to use the line).

I also write both fanfic and original fiction. Sometimes the fanfic strangles the original work in the cradle; sometimes I find skills and pleasures in writing the fanfic that carry over and enrich the originals.

In keeping with all this, I've held various opinions about fandom over the years, including the one that it's an ultimately immature and embarrassing hobby. I no longer believe this. It doesn't have the social cachet of, say, following a pro sports team or playing amateur soccer or knitting, but you could spin each of these in a similarly negative direction (why devote emotional energy to a corporate entity like a sports team? why do something you'll never be good enough at to do professionally, while also subverting your identity into a group's? why learn to make scarves when you can buy cheaper scarves of better quality?). People still watch and play and knit, and they think of these as passions, not distractions. Nothing is any more real than anything else.

So should you quit? If you've come to a point where it seems best, yes -- whether that means swearing it off or just doing it more consciously and moderately. When I've had to step back from fandom, I've often found that the best thing to do is not to cut myself off, but to fill my time with other things as well. I am not you and you are not me, but I often find that making fandom just one factor among several can make it recede into a more controllable and helpful role. So: reading other, non-fic things (set a page goal per day if that'll help; pick things you'll enjoy rather than things you think will improve you). Writing non-fic things (set a word goal per day if that'll help). Working on your career, which I know can be an excruciating process for word-oriented people -- I've tried seeing a career counselor, which wasn't life-changing, but did at least give me some things to consider and a sense of moving forward (and if you don't like therapy, it's a similar outlet with clearer goals and less immediate emotional investment). Whatever else you might like to do or think it's important to do.

And if you stay to some extent, or come back, it might be worth it to comment on some fics, reach out a little (I know this is easier to say than do, and perhaps you have and it hasn't done anything for you, but I'll throw it out there anyway). You seem like a thoughtful, well-spoken person who has things to say, and perhaps the real friendships you want are out there in fandom as well as real life. You know you and these writers have one thing in common, at least. But not knowing your situation, and well aware that you're looking for advice on making fandom less of a presence in your life, I say this part with some hesitation and enclose a grain of salt.

I'm a couple of years younger than you, but I've been either involved in fandom or actively divorced from fandom for most of my life from teenage years on. I don't mean to assume a tone of wisdom-from-on-high, and I'm sorry if I accidentally come off this way. We're both on the road to figuring out all this stuff and our place in it.

This is the main thing from my perspective: don't hate yourself for what you love. This will subtly poison the joy you take in it, and at times like this, when you feel that you'd like to become less dependent on it for your happiness, it will needlessly complicate your separation, -- turning it from a practical matter into a symbolically loaded and tortured one. At which point I would normally quote Giovanni's Room, Maurice, and The Left Hand of Darkness in quick succession, but I think I've talked for long enough.
posted by thesmallmachine at 8:01 PM on February 15, 2011 [6 favorites]

Another weird thing that really motivates me to get off the computer is having a clean room. Is your room messy and cluttered? Take a weekend and put on some good music and really clean. Get rid of all the clutter on all of the surfaces of your home, wash all of the dishes, clean and fold all of your laundry, vacuum--the whole works.

When that is done see if you don't feel like Getting Out and Doing Something! Or at least doing something that doesn't involve the computer. I know it does that for me.
posted by that girl at 8:02 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Now, however, the approach of the big 3-0 has made me much more conscious of how time has flown, and how I've let my twenties slip away. More than ever, I feel like this online fandom is a waste of time for me...It's a distraction, creating the illusion of potential friendship and community where there is none and sucking away my time and attention every day.

This was me, but with blogs and forums. I was very aware that I was spending uncomfortable amounts of time watching other people live their lives instead of getting out there and living my own, but reading them every day was such a habit, I didn't know how to stop even though I wanted to.

What I did was purge nearly all of them from my bookmarks, Google Reader, and Twitter stream, but before I did that, I copied all the URLs into an email in my drafts folder and saved it there. That way I had a "safety net" of sorts in case I discovered that I really did want to continue reading X blog or Y forum since I wasn't sure I was ready to part with them completely.

Within a few weeks, I'd seriously forgotten I'd ever read 99% of them. I looked at the list in my email a couple months later and laughed out loud when I realized that I hadn't thought about any of those sites even once. I did find that there's a few I want to continue reading, but I have memorized the URLs and have to type them into the address bar to do so, which makes visiting them a very conscious choice rather than mindlessly clicking through them on my bookmarks. It's freed up a lot of time, and with that time, I've developed other hobbies and interests and activities. But I had to create the free time first, and the rest then followed.
posted by anderjen at 8:08 PM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

On preview, I agree that meeting fandom people live is fantastic. I have been to casual knitting-and-Who-type events too and they kick ass.

Also, I agree grad school can be a very liberating haven for fannish minds; it can also be a really alienating experience for same (for me, it was somehow both at the same time). Depends a lot on your expectations and what you want out of it and the atmosphere at the institution in question.
posted by thesmallmachine at 8:14 PM on February 15, 2011

There's nothing wrong with silly distractions in their place; if it's your "one bright spot," that's hard to give up. If it were me, I'd try some psych-out strategies for making myself spend less time -- maybe I get home from work at 5:30; no fandom until 8 p.m. From 5:30 to 8 I have to DO something (cook, clean) or GO somewhere. Or maybe I'd say "Wednesday (hump day!) is my fan-fic night to help me get through the week; other nights it's off limits." Or maybe I'd say "Wednesday is my NO fan-fic night, when I will always at least go to a coffee shop." That's what I do: start big, start small, but carve out some spaces where I do things that AREN'T the unproductive, if fun, distraction.

I was working online so much last semester that I'm in the habit of being at my computer basically all the time my toddler is napping, which isn't necessary THIS semester, so I'm spending time surfing to sites I don't care about and it's not like I'm caught up on housework and other life things! So the days we don't have mommy & me stuff right now, I'm saying, "Okay, during the short nap, no computer, anything else is okay." Sometimes it's even just reading a book. It's a short enough period of time that I can manage it even if I don't feel like it, and the more I do it, the more I feel like it. On days when we have playdates or mommy & me activities, I'm often pretty zonked afterwards so there may be napping or mindless surfing and that's okay. It's a little bite into my bad habit, but the house is (slowly) getting under control and I'm feeling less inclined to spend all day mindlessly surfing even during the times when I'm "allowed" to.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:22 PM on February 15, 2011

Thank you for sharing. Your concerns are NOT just "dumb problems". If it's important to you, it's important.

The way I see it, you don't have to hold yourself up to any standard of having X number of friends or helping Y people per week or making Z dollars per year. You're entitled to choose your own interests and opinion of yourself.

If you do really want to do certain things, there's lots of advice here and elsewhere on how. There's also advice on how to overcome that fear and avoidance that causes escapism/procrastination/endless-hours-online instead. I find it exciting to write down everything I want to have in ~3 months and then to try to get each thing. What would you rather do instead of fanfic reading, 3 months from now? Whatever it is, if it's physically possible, there's advice on how to do it from someone who has done it. Opinions vary about how ambitious to be-- I've had the most success with setting goals I'm 99% certain I can achieve.

The most effective therapy I've had used real numbers (from a journal, videotape, or other recording) to make me see what my status really was--not to judge but to get around my minimization/avoidance. RescueTime is a program that lets you set up categories of sites (eg fanfic, non-fanfic) and track how much time you use.

posted by sninctown at 8:32 PM on February 15, 2011

I married my co-author. Don't knock it 'till you try it.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:12 PM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]

As other people have said, I definitely don't think that fan culture and fan fiction is necessarily a bad activity! You're reading, engaging your imagination, learning how to interact with and question texts, honing your attention to detail... there are many benefits. I wrote my senior paper in college on fan fiction and fan interaction with texts (and creators/writers/actors/etc.) and I still think it's a wild and interesting subject - and to think, Twitter hadn't even been invented when I wrote that paper! (I digress.)

But at the same time, I understand where you're coming from. I still feel quite disappointed in myself for just how much of my leisure time in college was sunk into trawling around Livejournal and reading fanfic until 4 am. And there is a stigma to it; as someone upthread mentioned, no one would bat an eye at someone spending hours perfecting their fantasy football picks, but fandom? Not cool, man.

I don't have any answers because I still struggle mightily with the little glowing box and its constantly updating flow of information, but one thing that helped me: Give yourself permission to be a member of fandom. Try not to denigrate it; yes, there are ways in which you can become too immersed and obsessive, but that is more about individual personalities than fandom itself. It's okay to be passionate about something, to feel inspired to learn more and be creative; it's okay to laugh until your sides hurt at a silly post with made-up conversations between characters. It's fun, it's engaging, it's thought-provoking and it isn't hurting anyone.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 9:15 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

The biggest thing that helps is to find something to do away from the internet! Just one thing, with a schedule. And then go to it. Don't make excuses as to why you can't go. (NB: Making excuses is easy and thus really hard to escape, persevere!) If you find that you actually hate it, find something else. You can read fanfic as much as you'd like as long as you make that appointment once a week. You're making progress!

I agree with this. It helps to have something else to do!

When I got out of fandom/fanfic, it took time and different strategies. Eventually, I just had to stop and say, "I will not go to any fanfic sites today." And then, eventually, I got used to not having it in my life. It was hard, but I am so glad that I did it. I feel like I have more control over my life.

One thing I tried was making a requirement for going online. My requirement was exercise. For each x minutes of exercise, or y number of crunches, I got to go on the sites for a half hour. Or I had to be actually lifting a weight WHILE reading.

Another was letting fanfic touch the rest of my life. A friend of mine started to get into it, and we talked about stories. Or I mentioned it to friends or family. That helped me see it more in perspective. I realized that it didn't need to have a big part in my life.

I recommend finding the good things in fandom/fanfic, the things you consider to be valuable, and developing those in a way that makes you happy and makes you feel good about yourself. For example, if you want to be a writer, write your own story! If you love the stories (the adventure, romance, whatever), try finding actual books in a similar genre.

Be careful of engaging with the canon, since it could remind you of memories from fandom. Take small steps, but don't let yourself get away with anything. Delete the bookmarks when you feel ready.
posted by ramenopres at 9:16 PM on February 15, 2011

I know this sounds trite, but if you don't want to become a crazy old cat lady then you need to stop doing the things that they do. Fanfic is an endless bottomless pit of novelty going back decades, prolifically. Someone's always coming up with something new, so you can always feel like you're accomplishing something while treading water. Getting a better sense of the canon. "But the waves look different than they did an hour ago." You drown.

I'm not saying that fanfic is bad or it's lame to be really interested in something, but those somethings don't really matter when they only lead into themselves, leading furthermore to crotchety-expert-on-stupid-shit syndrome and multiple cat ownership. More than two and you're single forever, by the way.

I think interesting stuff should be a point of departure, should lead to more connections with other stuff, not just Re5 Far-X's allegory on Duane Mr. Duane's Catwoman/Hello Kitty period piece, but what? The degree to which fanfic (just as a point of rhetoric, I'm not harping) leads to other things, say like Akira Kurosawa or some shit, some shit that other people not reading fanfic care about (while still keeping you interested in fanfic, natch), the more you will be able to avoid getting real good at removing poo-dreads.
posted by rhizome at 9:38 PM on February 15, 2011 [5 favorites]

If fanfic is the ONLY good thing in your life, the only interesting thing when the rest of your day is dull as shit... well, uh, no wonder!

But if you want off the fanfic, you're going to have to find something ELSE more interesting to do. Look for a less boring job (though easier said than done), sign yourself up for a class that gets you out of the house once a week, go to the gym, find some other life activity to do.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:57 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

You sound like you need to make your own fiction. Or fact-ion.

Live life. Go on an adventure. Sure; adventures in (fan)fiction usually turns out allright, and actual real-life adventures... might not. Real-life adventures are what makes it "real life."

Going out and doing stuff helps you discriminate "good" fanfic from "bad" fanfic. Putting yourself in an interesting situation and seeing the consequences will wean you off crappy fanfic.
posted by porpoise at 10:06 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi, my name is Phoebe, and I was once a twelve year old Mulder/Krycek shipper. Like I had braces and no social skills and went to Renaissance Festivals and had a pile of Mercedes Lackey books as tall as me and refused to hang out with my friends Saturday nights because I had to roleplay Pern.

I went through a stage of time where I was terribly embarrassed by this. When I tried really hard to be cool.

Then I went to graduate school and had a very nice mentor in the English department whose dissertation was on fan communities. Harry Potter fan communities, particularly, and the prevalence of slash fiction therein. Around the same time, I started taking classes in kids' fantasy and realized that, while I hadn't been doing any of this stuff, I sure as hell still loved it.

I write original fiction now, but it's as geeky as it gets and who I am as a writer is a direct result of who I was at twelve. I wouldn't be here without her. Most of the people I knew from fandom at twelve are pretty amazing people now--quite a few of them are writers, or professional musicians or actually make a living from crafting. And they still meet-up at Dragon*Con to drink klah together!

This is rambling, but I guess my point is that I question your assumption that people who are active in fandoms can't be amazing people, and, more, that this amazingness has nothing to do with who they are online. I think therapy might be good for your anxiety issues--it might help you be a bit more proactive in life generally, but I think you might be using fandom as a convenient excuse.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:10 PM on February 15, 2011 [16 favorites]

There's been some excellent advice given here. My two cents: take a look at all the different fan-fic activities you do and ditch the one that's the least enjoyable to you.

I used to spend too much time on the internet, and the first step I took towards cutting back was to stop reading a large and busy forum that had changed from being a group of smart, funny people to being a hotbed of drama and stupidity. It was actually a relief to ditch it, and gave me time to learn to knit. But I still spent time on the sites that made me laugh and learn new things (hi, Mefi!)

You shouldn't have to give up the one bright spot of your day, especially if you're thinking about trying to branch out into difficult stuff like getting a better job or learning how to socialise more. Fan-fic can be your reward for doing the hard tasks. But maybe you could cut the filler activities and keep the ones that are more fun and enjoyable.
posted by harriet vane at 12:00 AM on February 16, 2011

Try replacing online fandom with IRL fandom. Conventions are fun.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:37 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Do you think that your enjoyment of fanfiction has less to do with the fanfiction itself and more to do with being "very shy (few friends, never dated), BA, no money, in a dead-end job." Do you think it might be worth exploring other aspects of your life that are unsatisfactory and seeing how you can improve them?

That's a pretty vague, nebulous suggestion. My concrete suggestion is: find something regular to do in the evenings. Volunteer at a charity shop or take a class in something random or join the gym, but make sure it's something outside the house and totally unconnected to your fandom.

Also, I think you would probably feel better about everything if you were happier in your job, after all it's where most people spend most their waking hours. I know the job market isn't great, but you could try to focus your energies on getting a new job that interested you more and made you happy.

And listen, don't be embarrassed. Lots of cool people read fanfiction. I used to read it a bit too much before I realised this and curtailed my reading a lot. My interest in it petered out in a few years, but I don't regret it. I learned a lot about writing from the talented writers in that fandom.
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:01 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Do you think that your enjoyment of fanfiction has less to do with the fanfiction itself and more to do with being "very shy (few friends, never dated), BA, no money, in a dead-end job."

Grar, sorry, I should have previewed... what I meant was: Do you think your enjoyment of fanfiction is a way for you to not have to think about your other problems? Do you think it might be worth exploring other aspects of your life that are unsatisfactory and seeing how you can improve them?
posted by Ziggy500 at 3:08 AM on February 16, 2011

It seems to me your problem is existential. You don't need less community that entices you, you need to open up your door to other fans and writers. Why not hold a meet-up in your area. You know each other, so meeting up will only be awkward because you have to look each other in the eye. You know, people on Metafilter have gotten married through meet-ups. It could happen to you :D
posted by parmanparman at 4:22 AM on February 16, 2011

From the OP:
Thanks to all for your responses-I hadn't expected more than one or two! It's heartening to be reminded that I'm not the only person with this dilemma, and the different perspectives on the value of fandom are interesting. Rhizome's "treading water" analogy feels unpleasantly true for me, but I also like knowing that other people have managed to make it a positive part of their lives and keep it in balance with other activities. All the same, I don't think fandom will lead to any social opportunities for me beyond the casual acquaintances, for various reasons.

I'm definitely going to block out some "no-fandom time" at home each day as recommended by some, and try Anderjen's suggestion of deleting bookmarks but keeping a .txt with all the links. From there, we'll see. After reading all the replies, I pretty sure that I'd feel less anxious about this hobby in general if I just had other more tangible activities/accomplishments in other spheres. It may be a matter of looking into other (simple, stress-free, non-internet-based) interests and cultivating those.

Thanks again to everyone for your thoughtful advice!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:34 AM on February 16, 2011

I see that you've responded, so maybe you're done reading the thread, but I just wanted to offer my two cents. If you take anything away from this thread, take what thesmallmachine said: don't hate yourself for what you love. You deserve to have your own interests.

Obviously if you feel that your time spent in the fandom is interfering with your real life, then you should try to curb it back some. But don't feel like you have to "grow up" and stop reading fanfiction just because society thinks it's weird.
posted by ashirys at 8:44 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Reading your response, I feel even more concerned about the way you're pigeonholing your troubles on these activities. It reminds me of overweight individuals who refuse to buy themselves clothes that fit, date, socialize, or eat in public until they achieve their goal weight. But when they do, they still have all the social anxieties that kept them from being an active, happy member of society before.

It's easy to blame your problems on something like fandom. But all of your insistence that nothing good will ever come out of your fandom activities, that you can't socialize with other fandom members because you're shy, that you need social activities that are stress-free, really make me concerned that you have deeper anxiety here that needs to be addressed. I know you open your question with a poo-pooing of professional mental health, but I fear that's what you really need here. Time spent in isolation outside of fandom because you're afraid to make yourself a part of the world isn't any better than time spent in isolation in fandom for the very same reasons. Instead, it sounds to me like you're going to cut yourself off, very deliberately and artificially, from the one thing that tenuously connects you to other people right now. And that's a very bad thing.

If you've ever been to a con, you'd see that fandom communities are incredibly welcoming to the differently-abled, the shy, the weird, the idiosyncratic. That's not to say that these communities aren't without flaws, but these are places where you'll undoubtedly be welcome if you try! Avoiding fandom is just a band-aid--and one that, in the long run, might actually make things worse.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:33 AM on February 16, 2011 [5 favorites]

The only thing that works to keep me away from the computer when I'm bored or depressed is previous engagements, This means making plans with people, inviting them over for dinner, saying yes to even half-hearted invitations from collegues and every random, non-scary person in line with you at Peets, showing up for performing artists who put their flyers up on the corner telephone pole, taking any classes that strike your fancy, no matter how silly, committing to a volunteer position, etc.

YMMV but I don't have the willpower to sit at home lonely and depressed studiously NOT going online. It's just not going to happen.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:34 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Reading your response, I feel even more concerned about the way you're pigeonholing your troubles on these activities. It reminds me of overweight individuals who refuse to buy themselves clothes that fit, date, socialize, or eat in public until they achieve their goal weight. But when they do, they still have all the social anxieties that kept them from being an active, happy member of society before.

YES YES YES. I was also reminded of Kate Harding's Fantasy of Being Thin.

Removing fandom from your life won't make you less shy or enjoy your job more; you have to take active, positive steps to work toward what you want, and if that means less time for writing fanfiction, that may be part of your evolution, but just quitting fanfiction isn't going to make anything else happen.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:45 AM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your reply cements it for me - what you have is a self-worth problem, not a fangirl problem. I know you don't want to hear this, but therapy therapy therapy.
posted by Sara C. at 10:59 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been in the same place as you, only with trashy romances. I've Thousands of them, 90% of them absolute dreck, worse than the bad fanfic I've read. But they were my escape, my way of not dealing with my anxiety, my weight, my loneliness, my low self-esteem, my own desperate need for the love I was reading about Other People having.

One of the big steps that got me out of that escapist spiral was that I started going to the gym. Getting fitter gave me confidence (I still struggle with my weight, but I'm stronger), and eleven years later I'm making friends at the gym. Therapy was my other huge help.

Now? I'm in fandom! And it's great, but I don't read much fanfic, because I don't have Time for it, what with all of the awesome other things going on in my life, including fantastic friends I met through fandom. We barely talk about shared fandoms anymore, we talk about our own lives, mostly, because they are fascinating.

tl;dr: Don't just block off time at home away from fandom. Turn off the computer and go outside, even if it's for a walk by yourself. Maybe on one of those walks you can start envisioning, planning, and living, the live you want to live.
posted by ldthomps at 11:29 AM on February 16, 2011

Then I went to graduate school and had a very nice mentor in the English department whose dissertation was on fan communities. Harry Potter fan communities, particularly, and the prevalence of slash fiction therein. Around the same time, I started taking classes in kids' fantasy and realized that, while I hadn't been doing any of this stuff, I sure as hell still loved it.

FWIW, this anecdote is exactly what I meant by my "points of departure" rant.
posted by rhizome at 12:22 PM on February 16, 2011

After reading all the replies, I pretty sure that I'd feel less anxious about this hobby in general if I just had other more tangible activities/accomplishments in other spheres. It may be a matter of looking into other (simple, stress-free, non-internet-based) interests and cultivating those.

OP, you might want to consider a bucket list project (101 in 1001 is the canonical one, but 15 in 150 is more manageable) to help you get out and do some things you want to do that aren't fandom-related.
posted by immlass at 2:03 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

The hours each day spent at home, online, reading fanfiction, etc. could be going toward developing real relationships, or finding a real career and trying to make something of my life before yet another decade flies by.

I'm going to be blunt, because I think you need to see this: you're so shy that you've never made "any real contributions or friends" inside fandom, yet you think you're going to "develop real relationships, find a real career and try to make something of my life" if you quit fandom? Why? What's that got to do with the shyness, a problem which is hurting you and holding you back even within fandom?

I agree with those who've said that the way you're using fandom is a symptom for you, not the disease. The disease is low self-esteem, and the problems which are driving you to spend all your time with fanfic are still going to be there when you're not reading fanfic.

You need help with the underlying issue, and that means reaching out in some way. That can mean therapy (I agree with others that this is what you truly need), or it can mean making a special effort to go outside and sign up for things, or it can mean going to a con and making yourself talk to 3 people per day, or it can even mean creating a fic/picspam/discussion post in your favorite LJ comm each week... but please, please don't just expect light to flood in if you cut yourself off from your "only bright spot in otherwise gray days".

You've got to generate your own light, and as others have pointed out, as many folks do that within fandom as without.
posted by grey_sw at 4:35 PM on February 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Cary Tennis answered a not dissimilar question in his advice column on a few years ago. I've always found his advice compassionate and humane — maybe that one will be helpful for you.
posted by cirripede at 4:46 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is an erudite, geeky corner of the internet, so it doesn't surprise me that much of the hive mind seems to have had mostly positive experiences with fandom. Which I assume is why many of these comments are of the "but there's nothing wrong with it in moderation!" variety. That's not incorrect, necessarily, but as someone formerly way, way too invested in fandom (though I was "actively" invested through writing and RP'ing) who made a complete and total break three years ago, I have absolutely no regrets about leaving it behind.

Why? Because for me, and I suspect for you, fandom was a substitute for social interactions, not another type of social interaction, as it would be for a "casual" fandom participant. I had a real social life, but I was so hyper-sensitive and riddled with insecurities that I preferred to retreat into my safe, controllable world of someone else's characters with predictable behavior. RP'ing was the worst of all: it was a place where everyone was happy and interesting and liked or loved one another or at least interestingly hated one another. It was an idealized real world, one that can easily come to replace the real one, and that former world prevents you from having realistic expectations about the latter. I partially withdrew from the real world because when I ventured out into it things were scary and unpredictable and had real consequences: the internet satisfied my need for social interaction with none of the risks. I could be the kind of person I wanted to be with a few articulate keystrokes, instantly, with none of that messy trying and failing and trying again business.

And I understand where people are coming from when they say that that's not so bad. But really, it is. The internet can never know or reflect you, regardless of how active you are in a fandom, and even feedback on your creativity working with other people's characters (which, as a non-writer if I read you right, you're not even getting) doesn't really have anything to do with you as a person. Real social interaction provides reflexive relationships, not just bonding with others but knowing yourself in the social world, which you'll really never get in fandom.

It's going to be tough, but it's endlessly rewarding to have someone know you and not a handle or username or favorite fic of yours, and the only way you're ever going to have that happen if you get out of the damn internet for good. I don't mean off it, but out of it: stop treating it like it's a real community, because it's a "kind" of community and a great supplement to real communities, but it isn't a community that suffices for life. Get out of other people's fantasy worlds—no matter how attractive and comforting they are—and explore the one that's all around you. I promise you that you won't regret it either.
posted by libertypie at 4:50 PM on February 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

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