Garnering thousands, sometimes millions of reads, romantic fanfiction is defined as a fictional narrative that usually involves a love story between the reader and a famous male heartthrob. The main goal of romantic fanfiction is to plunge the reader into a world where the most fawned-over bachelors have eyes for them and them only. While it may seem enticing to be in a relationship with handsome A-listers or sexy vampires, engaging with these narratives has its downsides. Please, allow me to explain.
During the pandemic, romantic fanfictions became a popular form of escapism. Even I indulged in this type of literature; it allowed me to forget about the hurried civilians rushing to stock their pantries as if the apocalypse was near. Given the amount of time I had on my hands, I spent hours scouring platforms such as Wattpad, Tumblr, and Archiveofourown to find the next captivating romance—the kind that would make me feel loved, desired, and sexy as heck. Through a wide range of well-written and delightfully romantic stories, I got the opportunity to forget my reality—I was not an anxious student stuck in a global pandemic; I was Y/N flirting with a movie star at Coachella. And yes, before you ask, Y/N is a signal to the readers to fill their names into the story to really immerse themselves.
Reading romantic fanfiction requires a sort of unquestioned dissociation from oneself. Although Y/N is meant to invite the reader to identify as the lucky girl, many fanfictions still write typical white girls as the protagonist. Reading passages describing Y/N (hypothetically me), having her long, brown hair caressed by the love interest is not endearing. As a black girl with short 4C hair, I have a hard time picturing Regulus Black or Harry Styles caressing my afro puffs. As a matter of fact, I would even dislike that to happen at all. Nonetheless, I should not feel inadequate for not having silky hair or piercing blue eyes. Reading such a passage makes me feel unseen, which goes against the promise of romantic fanfiction. In the end, Y/N is the writer’s construct, making her a separate entity from the reader. Considering romantic fanfiction is written by fans, there is an implied belief that it would be more organic and inclusive than TV shows or films. But nope, similarly to pretty much anything in society, romantic fanfiction is structurally white.
Romantic fanfictions also exploit the reader’s loneliness and need for connection. Particularly in times of isolation, romantic fanfiction can replace reality by promoting maladaptive daydreaming. Coined by Professor Eli Somer in 2002, maladaptive daydreaming is defined as a problematic reliance on daydreaming, which may often interfere with one’s real life. While not all fanfiction readers are maladaptive daydreamers, the foundation of romantic fanfiction lies in the reader’s ability to visualize. At my worst, I could spend entire days reading romantic fanfictions. During those times, I was often tapped out of reality. Fanfiction after fanfiction, I would spend my time in bed and forget my own existence. In a way, romantic fanfiction fed my desire to escape, which led to excessive alone time. As a result, I ignored social interaction and was robbed of precious time with important people.
Despite its potential downsides, romantic fanfiction continues to deliver incredible literature which should be taken seriously. I do not regret my days as a romantic fanfiction enthusiast and hope future generations get to experience the pleasure of reading these beautiful tales. However, we should be careful of the time we spend dissociating. Real life is not that bad; you just have to find the romance within your own existence—not as Y/N, but as your true self.