Help! Why Am I Only Attracted To Fictional Characters?

I haven't been on a date in over six months. But over that time, I've probably fallen in love at least twenty times.
First, there was Peeta Mellark, the respectful, gentle bread boy. There was Aaron Blackford, who (almost) made me reconsider if I'd been writing off suits for too long. Rhysand, who made me realise how deep-seated my daddy issues really were. The introspective and bookish Connell Waldron and his sexy chain necklace. And most recently, the sensitive, mysterious, and literature-loving Augustus Everett, who made me seriously consider buying a fancy bookshelf (IYKYK). The thing is, none of these men are real.
A quick scroll on TikTok reveals that I'm not the only weirdo with this 'interest', with countless people struggling with the realisation that they too seem to be only attracted to fictional characters. "I'm still attached to a character that died in a book I read three years ago," one commenter says. Another screams, "Why am I so attracted to fictional fucking men?!"
Some of us fantasise about Mr Darcy emerging from our swimming pools in his wet blouse. Some felt a weird sensation when they saw Simba age up for the first time. Others dream about getting into 'fights' with Shego from Kim Possible. (Check, check and check). And while TikTok admits to some objectively questionable additions in our crush line-up — including Venom, Manny (the mammoth from Ice Age), and Lightning McQueen, the red vehicle from Disney's Cars — it's safe to say that our attraction to fictitious characters is understandable, and almost universal.
Clinical sexologist and psychosexual therapist Chloe Scotney explains that there are many reasons why some of us might feel more attracted to a fictional character over real-life individuals, especially when it comes to literature. "A lot of the time, characters are developed to showcase the most interesting and charismatic elements of human nature — things that we just don't tend to encounter when mixing with people in real life.
"They are often heroes and geniuses. And even when they are portrayed as an antagonist, their flaws are often romanticised in a way that real-life people could not necessarily get away with," Scotney tells Refinery29 Australia.
For many, these fictitious characters are not just a manifestation of our ultimate fantasies (i.e. every character written by Alyson Noël), they also offer us to project fantasies that won't be challenged by real-life behaviours. "Yes, a protagonist can let us down, but because of how most narratives work, we know they'll always come through and redeem themselves in the end. Real-life people don't always operate this way," says Scotney.
In some people, this feeling of having being attracted to fictional characters goes even further. Fictosexuality is a term used to explain strong feelings of love, infatuation, or desire for fictional characters, and actually exists on the asexuality spectrum.

A fictional character is less threatening. They can't body shame us or tell us we're bad in bed.

Chloe Scotney, psychologist
But while that might explain some people's experiences, I'm not entirely sure if it encapsulates mine. Let me be clear: I've had many romantic and sexual partners, so it's safe to say that I'm attracted to real-life people. I enjoy touching real human bodies. But in the last few years, I just haven't been all that interested in the whole dating thing. While I'm unsure if I'm just emotionally unavailable (likely) or simply unwilling to sacrifice my solitude for subpar relationships (also likely), I do know that I have little to no interest in getting to know people romantically — at least not at the moment.
My infatuation with fictional characters has started to become a substitute for dating in the real world. Like everyone else, deep down, I do still crave emotional intimacy. I want to remember the giddy and kinda-nauseous feeling of having a crush on someone. I still want to feel like I can feel. And rather than exposing myself to the continuous disappointment, mindfuckery and energy depletion that often comes with dating, it's often much easier to simply open a book.
While I'm admittedly somewhat concerned about my lack of attraction to real-life people, Scotney assured me that it's actually quite normal to ebb and flow in our attraction levels. "Asexuality is a spectrum, and some people occasionally feel more attraction towards others at different points in time. This is totally normal, and there's no 'right' way to feel and experience attraction in regards to how consistent it is."
And while some of that absolutely rings true to me (there will be times when I won't see anyone I find attractive IRL for ages — I promise I'm not just picky), some of it might be explained by the dire state of the dating scene at the moment. For single girls like me, there's often a low-level trauma (surprise, surprise) that lies behind our sudden revulsion. Our preference for imaginary characters can often be because we feel safer focusing our energy on them, especially if we've come out of some problematic real-world relationships. "A fictional character is less threatening," Scotney says. "They can't body shame us or tell us we're bad in bed."
Attractive fictional characters don't necessarily need to exist in a book — many of us channel our fantasised, imagined lives into the real world. Take my unhealthy and borderline obsessive crush on Pedro Pascal, for instance. It isn't necessarily motivated by the fact that he's the hottest zaddy I've ever laid my eyes on (but that too), but because he almost isn't a real person. He isn't attainable. Hell, he doesn't even know I exist. To me, he's fictional.
Similarly, when I launch Hinge, it's extremely rare to see my location in the city I actually live in (Sydney, who?). Instead, I carefully place my map pin in the most isolated place in Canada, in the (very unrealistic) hopes of finding a hot, bearded, flannel-wearing man that I can... penpal with?
Yes, it doesn't make much sense logically, but even these are a manifestation of our desire for a love that doesn't really exist. It's through the unattainable that we're able to project our own fantasies onto people, even though we know that they have zero basis in reality. Like the fictional characters we love, these people also can't hurt us. While I automatically chastised my Connell-loving self for thinking that I'm simply manifesting my emotional unavailability in weird and wonderful ways, it's actually another way of just protecting myself — through fantasy and escape.
To me, it makes sense when we consider the genre of romance as a whole. Romance remains the most profitable and highest-earning genre of fiction, with 82% of readers identifying as women. Obviously, part of the reason why romance is dominated by women lies in social conditioning (emotions + love = just girly things), but Scotney says that escapism is also a factor.
"Indulging in a romance novel, we know the outcome most of the time will be soothing," Scotney says. "We're not faced with the uncertainty and unpredictability of real life, and within real human personas. Romance novels can provide a 'happy ending' that we are never assured we will find IRL."
But it also makes me consider something I heard a while back: romance is the most popular book genre because women are able to fantasise about a world in which they're treated nicely. Ouch. While that's absolutely a very hetero way of looking at it, it does ring true for the most part. Many of us are so drawn to romance because we long for a world where we're treated kindly, and if not kindly, then as desirable and hot sexual beings. It's a genre dedicated wholly to women's pleasure, and men's only job is to satisfy us. Whether it's offering us an escape from our mundane lives and making our train rides a little spicier, or making us swoon and fall in love with its fictitious characters, it's made for us.
Would you rather be writing a romance novel next door to the hottest man who's ever walked the planet (à la Emily Henry's Beach Read), or jumping into the cesspool of dating apps, only to have your confidence inevitably shattered twenty times over? I know where I'll be.
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