Why do I feel so drawn to escapism when my life's actually pretty sweet?
February 24, 2012 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm meeting all my responsibilities but I don't feel invested in my own life. All I care about are fictional characters.

22, female, last semester of college. I've seen this question but my life situation's significantly different.

My life would actually be pretty awesome if I could care about it. Skilled campus job (10 hours a week, all I can get) and a bunch of unpaid stuff related to the post-graduation career I want (and used to be really interested in). Only two classes since they're all I need to graduate. Gym three times a week. Solid social group (though no one I'm super close to). Good roommate. Last semester, my fandom problem was just about as bad and I got straight A's and praise at my job. So what's the issue?

I barely care about any of the stuff I'm supposed to be doing. I just force myself to do it because I know that I should, and because I am at least invested in the idea of my future. While I'm doing fine by most objective measures, I struggle with procrastination, and I could be excelling if I cared about what I wished I did. I always hear that action precedes motivation but despite all my action, my only motivation is obligation.

So what do I care about? Glee (specifically Brittana and Faberry). I'm embarrassed to even type that. I'm only specifying the fandom because it's NOT a cute, nerdy thing one can legitimately immerse oneself in intellectually. Its characters are inconsistent and its messages are occasionally even offensive. And yet I engage with it emotionally in a way that I just don't anymore with my real life. When things go my way on the show, I'm a smiling idiot for days. When they don't, I'm stomach-aching upset. I spend ~80% of my waking free time on Tumblr/LiveJournal/etc., even as I resist writing my own fic or making my own blog for fear of getting sucked in even more. Whenever I'm at work or in class, and even sometimes when I'm socializing, all I want is to get back home to my laptop.

WHY do I live for a show I don't even like half the time? Why do I feel so driven to escape a life that's tentatively going my way? I'm honestly baffled. Any insights or advice would be much appreciated.

Throwaway email: uselessfandom at gmail
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
It's just a guess, but you're in your last semester of college, which might mean that you are psychologically checking out because you know that you're in for a big transition in a few months no matter what you do. It's tough to really be invested in your immediate situation.

Maybe you're dreading cutting ties with your friends, or having to face the responsibilities of being, in some kind of formal sense, "done" with growing up. There are a lot of reasons why you might find yourself escaping into a fictional world. If you're anxious about having to be an adult, and high school was a safe place for you, it makes sense that you want to go back there at some level. If high school wasn't a safe place for you, if you have some unfinished business there, that might also explain it.

Don't worry about it, but maybe look into meeting with a school counselor or therapist who can talk you through some of these things. It's okay. You're going to be fine.
posted by gauche at 9:26 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

You are depressed. It makes you want to isolate yourself and passively consume escapist stories. I'm just the same.
posted by w0mbat at 9:29 AM on February 24, 2012 [10 favorites]

So, if you didn't have fandom or some other escape, chances are pretty good your question would be, "Why do I feel lousy about my life even though everything's great?"

And that question is pretty much the hallmark of textbook depression.

Most universities have counseling services available, which are a good start.

I think, for the record, that you're setting the bar kind of high as far as there being some fandoms that you're somehow "allowed" to enjoy and others that you aren't. When you're feeling better, then the issue is just going to be, "are you having fun", and if you are, then great. You could just as easily overinvest yourself in a more intellectual pursuit. Or throw yourself into some kind of public interest thing which would be seen as "better" by some people. But this is your fun. It doesn't have to be all of that. You just need to feel good enough about the rest of your life that your entertainment doesn't become the center of your existence, no matter what it is.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:32 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I...honestly don't see a problem here. Fandom is a perfectly acceptable escape and hobby from things that stress you out. I found college not-that-interesting and spent more time I'd like to admit in Neopets fandom(you think Glee is embarrassing...oh boy). I still have an awful lot of fandom embedded in my life, although I've certainly moved on from Neopets.

I actually think that "being sucked in even more" by writing your own fic, or starting your blog will help by changing you from being a consumer of fandom culture into a creator of fandom culture.
posted by sawdustbear at 9:32 AM on February 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

This isn't much different than falling down a video game hole. From this armchair over here, I'd guess that you have a lot of Real World Uncertainty right there on the horizon, and the escapism and emotional compartmentalization is comforting.

You may also be experiencing a little school burnout. I almost always fall down some kind of rabbit hole when I'm burned out because it takes less effort than real life.

You'll be fine, and this will probably pass on its own, but it would be better for you if you make a habit of taking control of your life. When you start jonesing for an intoxicant, you need to learn how to choose to do something else instead - it's a skill you'll need all your life.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:33 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I think you're just comparing things to how you think you should feel. I'm not even sure I want to call it depression -- because at least you care about something. (I've always known I was having a depressive episode when I didn't even care about the crappy things I used to love.) But I'm not an a medical professional and I'm not you.

You're still going through the motions and getting things done. Do you really not care about those things or are you actively depressed about where you are at with them? What I'm getting at is -- what do you want from your life that you aren't getting and why do you connect your Glee fandom with not getting it? Do you want a real world connection/relationship that thrills you like your relationship with a fictional world does? Sadly, probably not going to happen. Even if you were head over heels in love or passionate about your school work, it would be different. And, as gauche points out, not as easy.

I'm not saying this isn't a problem if you think it is. But I'd also just keep yourself aware of it rather than beating yourself up about it. It may be a symptom of depression, but it may just be that you haven't found the right thing to connect to. As long as your fandom doesn't completely isolate you from the possibility, based on what you've said, I don't think there's anything wrong with letting it keep you warm for the time being, until something else comes along (no matter how embarrassing it might be...though I'm a big believer in not beating yourself up about that too)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:37 AM on February 24, 2012

This sort of dissociation is pretty normal when you're not feeling great, you don't feel in control, and there's no Great Hope on the horizon or Great Plan to follow, and especially when you have the nagging sensation that things are going to get worse before they get better. After all, post-grad life is famously angst-ridden and difficult, but on Glee, all the problems are safely encased in jokes and songs and the predetermination that comes with a scripted show.

There's nothing wrong with the security you get from the things you like, including Glee fandom. If the fandom isn't interfering with your life, then it's not a problem. But, if it is interfering with your life, or if you feel like you're wasting time by having it be your primary outlet, shut the laptop and find something else to do. Break out of the comfortable shell of having your life "really" be about Glee, with all the rest of the stuff being what you do in between sessions.

Easier said than done. Believe me, I know - not with regard to Glee, but with regard to other extracurricular activities. But, it is 100% worth it when you add something truly worthwhile to your routine.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:11 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

You're depressed, and you need help.

There is nothing wrong with your hobby, but there is something wrong with the way you're unable to get enjoyment out of the vast majority of your life.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:13 AM on February 24, 2012

Real life can be more interesting, engaging, compelling, beautiful, awe-inspiring, etc., than fantasy worlds, because, oh my god, it's happening in real life. But sometimes it takes a lot of work, and you have to put up with the bad stuff that happens in real life too, and real life isn't fair.

In any case, get help in articulating and moving towards the life of your dreams in the real world--your values, on your terms, in your own words. Your current path, as you see it now, isn't working for you. (Scary, I know. It might not look all that different when you work things out, but you'll have changed inside, and the little nuances make all the difference. Or you'll do something completely different.)

And keep having fun with your enjoyable, meaningful, compelling, engaging hobby.
posted by zeek321 at 10:24 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, except for one show (House!), I made a rule: Never watch TV alone. (Synching up and watching together via Skype or Google Voice is ok.) That's been useful for keeping me focusing on my life on my terms.
posted by zeek321 at 10:26 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not uncommon to get lost in fandom, even the stuff that's not too intellectually engaging. (*hastily shoves Hunger Games-My Little Pony-Downton Abbey crossover doodle under a stack of TPS reports*) It engages us emotionally, at low risk. It makes us feel creative even if we create nothing. And if the fanbase is big enough, it generates a whole mess of stuff to read and talk about, and it makes us feel like part of a community. So I think the first thing you need is to allow yourself to have this fandom. Ain't no shame. And if you stop viewing it as something that's stupid or bad for you, some of the forbidden-fruit allure might wear off.

As for your lack of interest in the rest of your life, it could be depression as others have suggested; if you have even the tiniest suspicion that it might be, go see a professional, because depression is sneaky and horrible, and conquering it feels great.

But maybe it's not depression; maybe you're just in a rut. Maybe you're just going through the motions because there's nothing right now that requires you to really get in the game, and if there's no motivation to keep your mind in the moment, of course it wants to drift somewhere more interesting. When's the last time you took on a new challenge, at work or school or the gym? Met someone new, tried a new hobby or activity? Bonus if you can find something new and shiny that ties in with your future plans, but it's not necessary. Make it a goal to go out and try something new every week, until you find something that captures your interest. Write a list of all the things you've always wanted to do but never gotten around to, and work on checking those off.

When you're not engaged in the stuff around you, sometimes it's you, sometimes it's the stuff, sometimes it's a little bit of both. Either way, you're absolutely not bad or weak or dumb for escaping into a show.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:41 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Because you're right at the age for a particularly intelligent and ambitious person to figure out the dirty secret of life which is that it is not very intrinsically interesting or satisfying or engaging, that self-sustenance is a chore, that the reason anyone pays anyone to do anything is that it is something nobody would want to do for free. I'm sorry about this but it is the truth. Life is worth living but it is a pain in the ass and it is work all the time and escapism is a 100% comprehensible reaction. You engage in this precisely because it is shallow and meaningless and superficial. The same reason we entertain our mouths with water that has been stuffed with sugar and bubbles. You're doing it because you can get away with it but deep down you know that in some serious senses getting away with it is not actually in your best interest: pursuing a rational life (and spending whatever time doing so leaves over engaged in valuable pursuits like building meaningful relationships and knowledge of things that have stood the test of time and hobbies that require real time and investment to master and produce real tangible results).

Cold turkey it and make a renewed commitment to your actual life and you will be making a decision that will pay you almost unimaginable dividends over the next 20 years. Or keep coasting, you can read about how that works out on Ask Metafilter all the live long day.
posted by nanojath at 11:11 AM on February 24, 2012 [29 favorites]

There's nothing wrong with fandom in the least, but it seems to be your relationship with it: your critical self-judgment about something wrong with it.

I gently suggest that you might not be getting all your emotional needs met in real life, as you mentioned friends but no one close. It's a risk worth taking to be more vulnerable in your friendships: only through vulnerability do friendships become "real."

And are you working out hard enough at the gym for a good endorphin release/rush each time? If not, you might want to step up your intensity there.

Good luck and congrats on graduating...it's an exciting time.
posted by honey badger at 11:20 AM on February 24, 2012

Fiction is usually a lot more interesting than real life, and it's less practical. Glee actually mentions stuff like homelessness, grades, and planning the future, but it's not as in depth of a worry for a show in the way that it is when it's your real life. (Seriously, Quinn got into Yale? IvyLeagueForEveryone trope! Which I am tactfully not linking on TV Tropes so we don't all fall into that hole today.) That's why it's a lot more fun than real life, and why most of us are hooked to TV shows rather than real life. God knows the kids on Glee or the people on Downton Abbey or the ponies on My Little Pony aren't spending their entire days in classes that bore them or cubicles doing TPS reports, living lives that are completely dull for 40 hours a week. We like escapism, we like living through other people and seeing lives we can't pull off ourselves. I am unashamed to like Glee because hell, I really really really really wish I could sing and I can't in this lifetime. You're damn right I live vicariously through that show. And all the sci-fi shows where witches do powerful spells and women can beat the crap out of men bigger than they are.

You think the problem is bad now in college, uh...it's a lot worse once you graduate and go to work. We're ALL doing this on some level or other.

How do you fix this? Beats me. I'd say to try to do some things in real life that you might find exciting (spring break, at least, maybe, if you've got the money?) and engaging for a change, but you might not have the time or ability. But the end of college is a scary period of time, compared with it being a giant slog because you're kind of mentally out the door and yet still stuck there. To some degree, it's just kind of how life is going for you now. If you can, try looking for weekend trips to take or something, anything, to do that might shake you up a little.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:29 PM on February 24, 2012

It seems like the main problem with this is how upset you are with yourself over it. If you were delighted and happy to be this involved you would have nothing to worry about.

I'm only specifying the fandom because it's NOT a cute, nerdy thing one can legitimately immerse oneself in intellectually.

Don't beat yourself up over this issue, you probably need some downtime from things that you can legitimately immerse yourself in intellectually at this point. You can't be "on" all day every day. Plenty of the things that people claim are intellectual aren't really any objectively more inherently virtuous to spend time doing. (As nanojath points out the cold, hard truth above...)

Instead of stopping altogether, try a few strategies to cut down on the time you spend on this. Set up something to block some of these sites, or go study somewhere else and don't bring your computer. Another approach is to schedule time specifically for this -- if you tell yourself you have to spend 4 hours reading livejournal, it might seem less appealing.
posted by yohko at 1:57 PM on February 24, 2012

If you want to become less attached to a show the best way is to stop following the fandom. Getting less involved or reading about it every day, a show easily slips from your priorities.
posted by Bunglegirl at 4:59 PM on February 24, 2012

Being a fan of something isn't a disease. We were put on this earth to care about things, wildly, irrationally, passionately. Some of us were put on this earth to care about Glee. For others, it's something else. Cooking. The internet. Fashion design!! Yes, it doesn't pay the bills-- sometimes it's too embarrassing to even talk about-- but let's face it, it can be a lot of fun!

It's worth holding on to that feeling.

As a recent grad, I feel like I should say that again! It's not fun out there! There is feeling of "home" created by being a fan, especially when it's part of a fandom, that can be pretty darn emotionally comforting. Don't beat yourself up!!!! I probably watched every season of law and order the first week after graduation.

One last suggestion-- maybe it's time to explore why this show in particular.

It's a music show, right? Maybe a part of you wants to be out there making music, or trying out for community theater. Or maybe you like that high school world. Have you ever wanted to work or volunteer with teens? True, part of the fun of watching a TV show is sitting in a darkened room, watching other people do all the hard work- but maybe the fantasy wouldn't be as compelling if part of us didn't want to get out there and try it. Trying new things is an excellent way to beat depression.

Don't a lot of life-long passions start out as things we learn from watching, observing from others?.. and yes, that would include on TV shows. Just consider it research!
posted by kettleoffish at 11:11 PM on February 24, 2012

I don't know the whole situation or how much you have TRULY enjoyed your field of study/potential career, etc., but I'm hearing:

It's "the post-graduation career [you] want..."


You "used to be really interested in" it...

-And it's-

Stuff you're "supposed to be doing" and you "just force [yourself] to do it because [you] know that [you] should..." and you'd be fine if you "cared about what [you did]" and your "only motivation is obligation."

Obligation... Yeah, we all struggle with that one.

Action precedes motivation? Maybe it should change for you to Motivation preceding action.

Maybe you did all the things we're "supposed to do" according to our parents, society, the demands of getting a job, etc.

Maybe now you need to find your real self, your real passions, and let go of obligation to find and pursue the things in life that make you truly happy and fulfilled?

You DO have all the symptoms of depression. I've struggled with it as well. There are many components to depression, but it often fades somewhat or totally the more you are true to your self and find your own path.
posted by Shane at 12:17 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

And I was lucky during my biggest period of escapism. I had Buffy, Hercules and Xena (with Bruce Campbell too!), the X-Files, a host of other B-TV including Brisco County Jr, gin-n-tonics with Tomb Raider I and II on a Playstation 1, Myst... personally I think it was just a better time to be a basket-case on the couch.

posted by Shane at 12:22 PM on February 25, 2012

Like sawdustbear, I think you should consider engaging more actively with the fandom. You mention that you haven't written your own fiction because you are worried about getting sucked in even more. My experience is that sometimes you have to allow yourself to be sucked in to something like that before you can move on. I also wonder whether you participate in the fandom community. If you are struggling to make connexions IRL it might be that you could have some better friendships and learn more about engaging with people through discussing your common interest online. Alternatively you could try writing analytic / academic papers about Glee. Are there any classes you could take on popular culture? It's a shame that you feel ashamed about this interest - there's no reason why you should.

What I can't be clear about from your post is whether yr Glee obsession is causing you to perform badly on your course and in your job. You say that you were spending the same amount of time on Glee last term but it wasn't a problem then. Is that because you feel differently about it or because it's making a difference to your life in a way it wasn't?

You do sound as if you may be depressed - but it's also possible that your feelings about your planned career have genuinely changed.

I also wonder whether you have too much free time. Your job is only ten hours and you just have the two classes. It's great that you are spending time volunteering, but I wonder if you are still left with acres of time to fill. In that case it's not surprising you've got hooked on a gateway to other lives and stories. May be worth trying to up your volunteering hours if they are low, or looking for another volunteering opportunity - perhaps something completely different given that you're feeling unhappy about your planned career. You might even be able to make some closer friends through something like that.
posted by paduasoy at 10:45 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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