What to do after all-consuming fandom ends?
January 18, 2021 4:53 AM   Subscribe

For the last few years I have been deep in a fandom. But, now it is all over quite suddenly, due to horrible real-life news that makes it impossible to be a fan anymore. How do I move on from this?

This was my first and only experience in fandom. I fell hard - writing fic, blogging on tumblr, instagram, and more. I interacted with awesome, creative people and it was so fun to have that community. But it is done now, in a painful and final way. I'm not sure what to do with myself.

Part of my obsessive devotion to the fandom is probably because I live alone and don't have many friends nearby, so this group was my 24/7 community. I'm 40 now and haven't had great luck making new friends in the city I moved to several years ago. I didn't set out looking for fandom as the solution, it just kind of happened. I don't think it is a thing I can replicate again. I also don't think it was a healthy situation even before the painful ending, but I did really enjoy it. I feel like I've lost a whole friend group (though anonymous) and gone cold turkey off the main thing that brought me joy. I also never told any real-life friends about this, and to be honest it would be somewhat embarrassing to describe, so I can't really go talk it out with anyone.

I'd like to figure out a way to move on. How do I deal with this sudden end to my community? What can I do to replace that source of joy in my life?
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sorry to hear about your loss. It sounds like that whole experience nourished you in a lot of ways. This is a rotten time to have those good things disappear.

This question feels a lot like this-relationship-was-wonderful-then-we-had-a-terrible-breakup questions feel--those "how do I move forward" kinds of questions. I think the answer is not dissimilar as well.

It's OK and healthy to grieve the loss of something that was really good in a lot of ways, but also problematic enough that it had to end.

You also learn from it. It sounds like those nourishing, good experiences were new to you, were news to you--that you had talents and social skills and appeal that you didn't know you had. You now have proof positive that all those great things are accessible to you, are things you can do. That's actually great news! You did it once, you can do it again, right?

It sounds like you'd really benefit from developing those skills among a group of people who you can interact with in person. That maybe in limited opportunity now, but more when covid simmers down. I would say, start looking for something that catches your interest in that same way, but is *local* to you. Gaming, animal rescue, environmental activism, sports, SCA, geocaching, plants, gardening, music, drawing, whatever. Check out meetup, or google "location + interest" and follow your nose. So much of *localized* interest groups are interacting online right now, for obvious reasons, that you can use those same social media skills to start getting to know people in your geographical area. When the opportunity arises to meet up in person, take it! Maybe even take the initiative to set up a safe meetup, if you can figure out appropriate logistics.

You can cultivate another passion, and grow another friend group... and I think you'll be a lot happier if it bridges over into making friends in person, that expands your social horizon in a whole other dimension. You can do it!
posted by Sublimity at 5:28 AM on January 18 [12 favorites]

I have had a similar experience with fandom, though it sounds less intense than what you're going through. What helped me was actively taking time away from the internet-for-fun - tumblr, AO3, fanvids, etc - for a while. I was legitimately sad that this thing that had been fun and benign turned out to be kind of dark and definitely personally disappointing. I gave myself time to process that away from fandom spaces. Then when I did return to the internet, I didn't return to those fandom spaces. I use Tumblr probably 90% less than I did when I was very into fandom.

Some of the fans I was friends with/followed went through the same experience with fandom at the same time due to the same real world events, and some of them moved onto other fandoms, and some of them moved out of fandom. I follow some of them on twitter and keep up with them that way, though not about original fandom.

This all happened in approximately 2015 for me - I have since returned to other fandoms, but not in the same way (more fic consumption versus active participation).

I think what helped most was to legitimize my sadness to myself and give myself time away from it.
posted by hepta at 5:30 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]

I've been through this a few times, mostly through RP groups suddenly falling out or internet drama causing an implosion of a fandom space I'd come to rely on. It always hurts just in the same way as any IRL friendship suddenly ending, so your feelings are totally valid, don't get into the mindset of playing down how upset you are because it was a fandom/online space.

Honestly, it's tough, but the only thing that really helped me was time, both away from the fandom and the former friends to distance myself from that hurt and get through it. I spent that time rediscovering some old hobbies and gently going back to movies/books/TV shows that I've always relied on to get me through tough times. I read a lot of my "old favourites" in terms of fic and wandered along the edges of other fandom spaces, but ultimately the real healer was getting that space between me and the drama.

Be kind and gentle with yourself now while you're recovering. You're going through a form of grief, so let yourself grieve. Remember that the works you've created still exist and are valuable and some day you will be able to revisit them and enjoy them (and maybe the fandom) again.

It's also good that you're examining what lead you to lean on this online community so hard. Maybe spend some of this time, once you feel better, shoring up some of your IRL support. Is there a class you've been meaning to take or a hobby space you've been looking at? Taking up a new, physical hobby might also help, maybe get some plants, do some crafting, etc. Get yourself off the computer and out of your head for a bit and remind yourself that you're still here and still creating for yourself.
posted by fight or flight at 5:30 AM on January 18 [4 favorites]

I was super into Harry Potter growing up (writing/reading fanfic, cosplay, conventions, all that) but all the recent events soured me greatly and I now look back on those times with some gentle melancholy. The grief is real, your feelings are valid. Just like losing anything significant, the wound will heal. Try to remember the positives you got out of the experience, and yeah, I'm still someone with an obsessive nature so I had moved on to something else. Knitting and WoW, board games, painting miniatures, conventions surrounding those things. Different ways to get my obsessive tendencies out, both creative and social. Fandom itself taught me a lot of skills valuable for those pursuits, and so while I didn't move to just "one thing", that split off into many things I enjoy and don't regret my time with the previous fandom as a result.
posted by aggyface at 5:36 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]

It’s difficult to answer this without knowing more context, as the particulars of what “impossible to be a fan any more” matter quite a lot in the best way forward. I’m going to assume that this is a situation where something happened with the creator of the thing, and the fandom is collapsing in on itself as a result.

My main advice here is to begin separating the fannishness of fandom from the community you’ve personally built within it. Figure out who the people are that you feel a genuine human connection with, and start reaching out to them — set up a discord if you’re all close with each other, or DM with them directly, or even chat with them on the phone if you’re comfortable doing so.

Because not only will this allow you to carry these people forward with you into the next part of your life, it will also give you a place to process your feelings about what happened with people who were just as invested in it as you were. Which (within reason) can be a very healthy and helpful part of the process of grieving what you’ve lost and deciding how best to move forward.

I’d also encourage you to talk with at least a couple of trusted IRL people about what’s going on. If you need to, you can explain it in slightly obfuscating terms (I used to tell my mom about how I’d met some folks while talking about a TV show I like on the internet, and anyone who’s been in a book club can basically get that concept.) The compartmentalization and isolation of completely hiding an important hobby from loved ones and close friends is exhausting, you deserve some support during a difficult time!
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:21 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]

This sounds awful. I am so sorry for your loss. Based on what you’ve said here, and my own experience in fandoms, I imagine that there are others in your former fandom circle going through a similar period of hurt, shock, withdrawal, etc. Do you have the ability to reach out to some of them and connect (Tumblr DMs, maybe?) to talk through your mutual loss? I have several very very good friends that I originally met through fandoms, and we have remained friends for years after stepping away from the thing that brought us together. I’m not saying you’ll necessarily make (or even want to make) life-long friends from this, but to flip the classic Callahan’s saying a bit, shared joy is increased (your fandom); shared pain is lessened.
posted by okayokayigive at 6:27 AM on January 18 [1 favorite]

All the advice above is true. Mourn the loss - it is real, losing a community and a source of creativity.

I have had friends experience the same loss, especially through major implosions involving horrible stuff, and after a while almost all of them returned to fandom, either to another main fandom or they become multi-fandom.
I agree about reaching out to those you connected with and keeping in touch as online friends. You met in fandom but the friendship can exist outside. Most of my longterm online friends are in completely different fandoms now than the ones we originally met in.

Also: you are not alone as a seriously involved fandom person in their 40s. There is a lot of internalised ageism about being an older fan, but we are here! We are on tumblr, discord, dreamwidth and even livejournal and weird bulletin boards still lovingly maintained. Do not be embarrassed with yourself for being that joyful creature that is a fan. Although I totally get being careful about talking fandom stuff in RL settings as people can be assholes about it in weird ways.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:34 AM on January 18 [10 favorites]

I went through something similar a number of years ago. The good news is, it gets a lot better.

I threw some of the energy I had been spending on fandom into two things - a very part-time gig teaching English in a Saturday school for new immigrants and some volunteering with a local food bank. Those aligned with my values and connected me to a few people I am friends with today. They also got me out of the house, off the screen, and back into my body - all things I appreciated a lot at the time.

Another thing I did was I starting performing in/attending a local poetry slam group, and going to a bunch of book launches/free-ish writers things. Eventually I took some more formal workshops and did a certificate in adult ed. Now that I think of it I also took some guitar lessons.

Covid obviously interferes with this tremendously but when and if you can, I really recommend finding a few hours a week to devote to space you might call "my passion for community, learning, and writing." That could be an online class/workshop, or any number of things.

If you can connect with anyone you knew there too, that's helpful. I met my spouse in that community so that's an obvious bonus, but I also have two best friends and a few friends left from that time. In some cases we didn't reconnect until other life situations lined up. If you're comfortable and the community still exists maybe (not sure how it works) you could post an email address or similar for anyone trying to find you?

I've never fangirled as hard since - I kind of broke my own heart there - but that's okay, I value my time in that space and I feel like I have been able to carry a lot of it forward.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:07 AM on January 18 [3 favorites]

One good thing to take away from your fandom experience is that you've demonstrated the ability to form and nurture meaningful relationships online. Although you note that you live alone and have a small circle of friends, you don't mention whether you would like to have a larger IRL community. In these pandemic times any investment you make in new online friendships with local people will pay off down the road when we finally conquer the scourge. So for example, are there Facebook groups devoted to your neighborhood? Something else you care about, like the local park system or a hobby? A larger group, like college alumni, that might include people who live within range? Is joining an online dating site of any interest?

It sounds like whatever happened to your fandom was pretty traumatic. Is there away you can process that with other participants who were similarly affected?
posted by carmicha at 8:37 AM on January 18 [2 favorites]

I basically stopped being involved in fandom when my favorite K-Pop group went through a few scandals and then a beloved member committed suicide. (SHINee forever though!) That was extremely rough, so I feel you.

I think letting yourself grieve and the emotions move through you is important, and taking the time to self reflect and go slow. It's difficult because it's a large hole in your life now, but eventually you'll find what you enjoyed and didn't enjoy. But don't rush the healing process -- let yourself drift to new things and activities and old and new friends, and find good people who are willing to listen and let you process. Let yourself go slow and at your pace. You don't need to figure it out all at once. Find stuff you would like to do, gradually.
posted by yueliang at 12:44 PM on January 18 [3 favorites]

Keep making stuff. You could write through the grief. Fictionalize it and write a whole big project novelthing/booktypelengthish thing and then workshop it? Or just cop to the whole thing and write a memoir and publish it and help the manymanymany others in this exact situation. If it actually gets published, reallife friends will be so impressed and jealous that they won't understand why you feel embarrassed, and if it doesn't, whatever, that's not the point, anyway. The point is to scratch the creative itch that is the whole reason for fandom in the first place and you'll be better and faster at writing and primed for the next creative obsession. Or fuck writing; learn to knit and make a scarf or six. Make pizza and challah and French buttercream. The whole reason to be alive is to be taken over like this and driven to make stuff. The idol is only a metaphor. You convince yourself you're living to serve the adored person, but no. Not really. You are alive to make the things that feed the creative flame and keep it burning in you. Keep making stuff.
posted by Don Pepino at 2:57 PM on January 18

You might like to listen to the recent episode of Our Opinions are Correct: Has JK Rowling destroyed Harry Potter fandom? to hear how others are navigating a similar transition.
posted by kbuxton at 10:35 PM on January 19

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