Where do I find real people with quirky yet destructive obsessions?
February 19, 2014 2:47 PM   Subscribe

I'm working on a project at work about "unique or unexpected obsessions" related to technology, competition, health and fitness, animals, hunting, gaming or anything that is non-sexual or substance-related. I'm especially interested in how these so-called obsessions/addictions have impacted the subjects' relationships, careers, finances, etc. Where do I find people with weird yet intense obsessions that affect their everyday lives? I feel like I could use some inspiration, so any feedback would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance.
posted by Lillitatiana to Society & Culture (33 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe watch a few episodes of Hoarders?

Or look at Pro-Ana (pro-anorexia) websites?
posted by brookeb at 3:09 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would personally start by looking for your local RPG group. In my teens, I knew one gamer who was in his thirties, already had one bachelor's degree, was pursuing his second while delivering newspapers for a living and still living with his mom and basically his life revolved around gaming. I think he didn't get a girlfriend until his forties, possibly after his mom died and he inherited the house and continued to live pretty much as he always had. He was into computers well before computers were cool. He was quite the nerd. I knew a number of ...not very main stream characters in gaming land. So I would likely start there.
posted by Michele in California at 3:10 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

I thought of hoarders too (or people obsessed with storage units), and people suffering from pica. I imagine the urge to eat a bicycle or a shopping cart might affect one's relationships.
posted by carsonb at 3:10 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

TLC's my crazy obsession
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:11 PM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

I know it's frowned upon to not answer the question, but I just want to warn you that, from a research background, there is a slew of ethical concerns with this type of project. Granted, if you don't have a research committee or an overzealous HR department, you should be fine :)

Also, there is a huge subculture online (on tumblr) about, generally age 13-20 females, who are in love with the Columbine shooters, and other teenage murderers. Oh, and they are obsessed, to be sure.
posted by jjmoney at 3:11 PM on February 19, 2014

I should mention that it's actually an original anthology docu-series for TV, so subjects from other shows aren't good, though I could get an idea of what else is out there.
posted by Lillitatiana at 3:22 PM on February 19, 2014

New Yorker article on British collectors of endangered bird species eggs who go to extreme lengths to pursue this illegal and seemingly pointless activity.
posted by canoehead at 3:30 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Literally anyone who's worked in comics or animation for more than five years without burning out.

Particularly comics artists and animators.

Even more particularly, self-published or self-employed types who work their own insane hours, or people who do things like updating daily webcomics while holding down a "day job."

No one does this work for the money. We do it because we can't help ourselves.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:34 PM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Horse people can get pretty obsessive, even ones who are not serious competitors. There's a saying that you only quit playing polo if you go broke or die. Obviously a hobby this expensive is going to have an affect on finances and relationships, plus the time commitment is not small.
posted by sepviva at 3:40 PM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Horse people can get pretty obsessive

Two years ago, I knew a homeless woman who owned two horses that she was unwilling to give up. They had housing. She did not.

So, I will second that as a possible avenue.
posted by Michele in California at 3:45 PM on February 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

For gaming, you might want to talk to some of the larger guild/clan leaders...it can be very much a second career (and in some/many cases can be a very, very expensive hobby). You also might consider Cos-players that spend large amounts of money and time obsessing over costumes that will only be worn/used for hours. Large gaming/movie/comics conventions would definitely good places to get specific contacts.
posted by AnneShirley at 3:46 PM on February 19, 2014

I've seen some astonishing stashes of yarn, fiber, and fabric from crafters, sometimes rooms packed full of $20 a skein yarn, and they're not all rich. Ravelry would be the place to go searching.

I also know a guy who is very clear on the fact that World of Warcraft killed his marriage.

I think that Tumblr has sufficient patience for obsessive squee that it might be a handy place to go looking.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:03 PM on February 19, 2014 [5 favorites]

There have been a lot of stories recently about the woman who videotaped the news for 35 years.
posted by radioamy at 4:21 PM on February 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh and yes, horse people get totally obsessed. They spend a *lot* of time at the barn and a lot of money on the hobby.
posted by radioamy at 4:22 PM on February 19, 2014

The horses reminded me - cats. I knew a woman who would take in any cat who needed a home. She was barely making ends meet, but somehow feeding and caring for over 20 cats.

Religion is another possibility. I know lots of weirdly religious people who practice their religion like an everyday thing, and others who are quite zealous. You might be interested in the zealous types.

Performance. I know a few people trying to be successful in acting, and it seems to require obsessive overdrive from them.
posted by bunderful at 4:26 PM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

Orchid hunting.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:31 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Birders, I know marriages that have nearly broken up over birding.

Animal rescue. A lot of people lose their damn minds when they get into animal rescue. Develop a real paranoia about other people's ability to care for animals as well as they can, start hoarding, quit their jobs, bankrupt themselves, break up relationships etc. They genuinely feel that they must personally save any animal they hear about and suffer genuine anguish if they can't but often take shitty care of the ones they have already. It's like a bizarre very specific mental illness.

And yes, horse people are definitely in the same league as surfers and back country skiers as far as being willing to organize their entire lives around a sport/activity but only a small percentage are truly obsessed, to the point of harming other areas of their lives. There are a couple at every barn though!
posted by fshgrl at 4:51 PM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]


posted by bunderful at 4:56 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ultramarathoners and other extreme runners! There are a lot of interesting articles, books (and another and another), and other media about how running affects their relationships/lives.
posted by bonifate at 5:02 PM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Robert "Raven" Craft

Streak runners in generally, really.
posted by fireandthud at 5:31 PM on February 19, 2014

It sounds odd, but some treadle sewing machine or vintage sewing machine enthusiasts get pretty intense.
posted by christinetheslp at 5:49 PM on February 19, 2014

I've heard that some people are obsessed with their internet "communities", e.g., community members seek guidance/give advice regarding everything from potentially life-threatening medical conditions and legal questions that might have stumped William Douglas to whether or not they should marry/divorce and what to name their children. The community may even become their primary source of info about the outside world. Clearly, this activity can affect a person's relationships, career, finances—really, every aspect of life.

Finding these folks might be difficult since they don't have the "tells" of the above examples, i.e., no horses, orchids, or bird eggs. They're just sitting at the computer, minding their own business, the very definition of "normal behavior".
posted by she's not there at 7:37 PM on February 19, 2014 [10 favorites]

orchestra musicians. Hard to say who seems more obsessive - the pros who practice 6-8 hours a day, or the avocational musicians (who comprise a lot of second-tier orchestras) who teach or work a "regular job" for 6-8 hours a day THEN practice 3-4 hours a day.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:26 PM on February 19, 2014

Oh, and:

Metafilter: community members seek guidance/give advice regarding everything from potentially life-threatening medical conditions and legal questions that might have stumped William Douglas to whether or not they should marry/divorce and what to name their children.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:27 PM on February 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would suggest Boardgame Geek. There are some amazing, wonderful people there, and then there are the others.
posted by mecran01 at 9:59 PM on February 19, 2014

Bodybuilders, some of them.

If you spend enough time digging around any niche discussion board, you could probably pick up clues around the lengths people go to pursue their activity and their sense of loss when they can't (vs. more unlikely explicit discussion around the obsession as obsession, like "I can't stop bodybuilding"). E.g., threads like, "how can I convince my boss to let me take 5 breaks a day for meals". Or, "how can I bench with a broken ulna". Maybe you could get a moderator's permission to recruit from a site like that, too.
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:36 PM on February 19, 2014

Train guys - both model and real.
Try your local flower show and look for someone who enters a lot in a specific category.
Beanie babies
People who row crew.
Book collectors
People who travel to see eclipses
People who ride rollercoasters repeatedly.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:22 AM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Objectophiles. Try this documentary.
posted by jbickers at 5:28 AM on February 20, 2014

Seconding the yarn obsession mentioned above. Some people collect yarn dyed by small one-woman businesses - they are not knitting it, just collecting it - and rare/limited colourways by high-status dyers fetch insane sums sometimes. The German yarn dyer "Wollmeise" is particularly high-status/sought-after - as an example, this London shop stocks the yarns but will only sell them in the brick-and-mortar shop with special "in stock" announcements going out via social media.

I have heard it mentioned that goldfish boards are fiercely competitive and populated by obsessive individuals, but that may just be my jaded friend talking.
posted by kariebookish at 6:26 AM on February 20, 2014

Rockhounders. Here's a humorous list, but it's true, I do own more pieces of quartz than underwear.

I'm sure any mineral club would be able to point you in the direction of someone truly obsessed.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:17 AM on February 20, 2014

Candy Crush.
posted by bunderful at 9:24 AM on February 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

And genealogy.
posted by bunderful at 10:51 AM on February 20, 2014

posted by sciencegeek at 6:28 PM on February 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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