Richard Armitage fantasy, being old enough to know better, and not caring

[A tangential follow up to this post on being middle-aged and unashamed. Reflections from three off-blog conversations went into this post; I think you will recognize yourselves; thank you!]

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Embed from Getty Images

Richard Armitage with that chipmunky grin I like so well, I think because I find the grin unconvincing (but all caps freshly polished!) and the expression in the eyes invincible. Anyway, no particular reason for putting this photo here, just that I wanted to try to dip my toes into the waters of legal photoposting. And I report: It really couldn’t be easier. I plan to do more of it in future. Thanks, Getty Images! Stay tuned for me figuring out how to center the darn thing. Richard Armitage photographed by Carlos Alvarez, Madrid premiere of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, December 12, 2013.

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It’s my impression — your mileage may vary — that one important theme in the mid-life “unraveling” occurring in the lives of many women I know both inside and outside of fandom is the question of relationships. Which are supportive and which are bleeding us out; whether problematic ones can be influenced to become supportive; which have to change; which can or must be abandoned. I’m single, but I have my own variation on this problem. I, too, have needed to learn how to be friendly with real friends and not to spend so much time on pro forma ones; to recognize the difference between a relationship I can influence and a problem I simply have to manage; to distinguish between who I would like to be as a partner and what I can actually give anyone who’s involved with me. Singleness has been my solution to those questions, one that started from necessity but which has developed into something that is not only satisfactory, but gives me tremendous pleasure. Admittedly, for myriad reasons, more people remain single now than ever, and the stigma must be less than it once was. Still, the echoes of “middle aged” reach into that word for some spectators and turn “single” into “alone by her own fault and against her will.” As my identity develops into the fifth decade of life, and I learn to let go of what others think, it can still be hard — if my identity requires both self-knowledge and awareness of constructions of me from the outside, it’s been hard from time to time to reconcile the way others see me with the way I see myself. And one way they see me, even if I don’t see myself that way, a single, middle-aged women whose (in my case) most physically attractive years lie behind her, is as desperate and unsatisfied.

Enter fangirldom as the ostensible stopgap solution to the “problems” that others’ constructions of the world assign to me specifically or women like me in general. How condescending. But I’ll bite — is the kind of celebrity crush I have primarily the province of the “delusional” aging woman who ostensibly can’t detach from her fantasies or foolishly believes them to be real because I supposedly can’t face what would happen if they aren’t? This allegation refashions the decision not to write about every aspect of a reality of which one is quite fully aware — perhaps, in middle age, with decades of applicable life experience behind one, more aware than one has ever been — as an incapacity or refusal to see it in the first place.

Sorry, I’m not buying what that kind of criticism sells. I don’t have to articulate everything I know or even believe to be true either in order to fit myself into someone else’s construction of me — or to escape from it. To me, this is another “act your age” demand from an observer who’s more troubled or confused by female desire than in touch with human development. Children as young as three can differentiate fact from fiction, reality from fantasy, and by the age of six at the latest, the framework for this distinction has been firmly rooted in the mind of the average child. From a very early age in the life of the human, then, cultivation of fantasy serves another purpose: it allows us to be creative, to imagine our lives differently, to divert ourselves, to see the world differently, to solve problems. Hence the quite instrumental emphasis among most child psychologists on the necessity of childhood engagement in imaginative play. Fantasy is not a substitute for reality; it is another cognitive approach to it.

Awareness of the difference between fact and fiction doesn’t require that every person over the age of six is fully clear-eyed or expected to be so. No one is confronted with every single aspect of reality at any given time, and preserving one’s dreams is something that nurtures the development of many a later successful ambition, artistic or otherwise. Many of us experience maturing as a gradual falling away of things we believed because of the surrounding culture, or which we were taught — a process that occurs either gradually or jarringly, one that sometimes disillusions, at other times liberates us. We learn, growing up, that babies are not brought by the stork, that if gifts “arrive” on Christmas a real person must produce them; that G-d often fails to behave in the ways that one would anticipate; that the experience of French kissing from the inside differs strongly from its appearance on tv, that love seldom comes in the way romance novels portray it, and that sex with another person usually bears little resemblance to the representations of the act that one might consume via pornography unless the partners consciously imitate it. We know that real people grow and change. Hannah Montana becomes Miley Cyrus. No one contests the occurrence of these developments, no matter how we feel about them. And yet, perhaps not so strangely, these gradual “enlightenments” do not displace fantasies. Fantasies persist, even flourish, alongside them. It’s not simply women in unhappy marriages who write and read romance novels; they are popular among women who are very satisfied in their relationships, as well. Adult engagement in fantasy, make-believe, imaginative play is just as necessary as it is for children.

So the attitude I often encounter on the web falls flat for me purely on experiential grounds — namely, the notion that fangirl “relationships” with celebs offer (harmful, unrealistic, destructive) substitutes for real life relationships, or that fantasy relationships prevent us from pursuing real ones because they set our expectations too high. Someone sent me a link to an article about these questions recently, from which I learned that the person who articulated this viewpoint in our lifetimes was the late Nora Ephron. With respect for her literary achievements, none of her well-known romantic comedies (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail) appealed to me all that much and I never saw myself in any of them, perhaps because she seemed to be in dialogue with second-wave feminism in a way typical of the 1970s and I quite simply grew up in a different world than she did. People nowadays think it is totally normal for men and women to be friends, for instance. Perhaps people who make these charges are displacing their own fears about the role fantasy expectations play in their own lives; I don’t know. But if we want to talk about hypothetical real-life outcomes of fantasy, it seems to me that if a fantasy is so powerful as to raise one’s expectations of real-life partners, this development might be equally beneficial as detrimental. Perhaps abused women would fantasize about partners who didn’t abuse them and gain courage to leave relationships that harmed them. (Richard Armitage seemed to be saying something conceptually parallel in December, 2013, when he stated that thinking through Thorin’s life and evaluating his judgments had caused him to change himself.)

But I digress. First, my admittedly limited interest in romance hasn’t ruined me for relationships or given me unrealistic expectations; people who embrace unrealistic expectations don’t do so because romantic stories or celebrity fantasies encourage them. The causality of that argumentation is backward. I’ve had three long-term relationships in my adult life, and while I don’t want to start another one right now, I’m not saving myself for Richard Armitage, either. I go out with actual men and enjoy myself semi-regularly. I know lots of other fans in the same situation. The vast majority of us are not insisting on choosing an alternative between the comprehensive fulfillment of every fantasy or nothing at all when we select either a date or a partner. And it’s hardly the case that everyone in the world should be following some ideal scale about what to seek in relationships; hopefully, that’s still something we can leave to individual autonomy. People who are dissatisfied by fantasies should by all means seek real-life relationships, but why should we push real-life relationships on those who are not? Second, not all reality is preferable to all fantasy. An Armitage fantasy might be more desirable than some real relationships and less desirable than others. But even if every single permutation of reality, including the nastiest, most abusive partner, were better than any pleasant fantasy — which is totally implausible — that still doesn’t necessitate that anyone choose reality over fantasy. One could simply decide to prefer fantasy, whether it was better or not. People pick second-best all the time for all kinds of reasons. Why should we stop them? Why are outsiders harmed by it?

I was thinking, while talking to people about various Armitage-fantasy-related matters this week, that for me, Armitage fantasy doesn’t really play the role of an illusion that prevents me from pursuing a real-life alternative. Instead, like other fantasies before it (mostly professional aspirations, frankly, rather than relationship dreams), it facilitates the unfolding of a series of satisfying relationships that protect me from the demands of the “all-or-nothing” relationship that currently dominates cultural ideals in the U.S. It burns off remaining energy that I might be tempted to allot to pursuing the suggestion that seems to come from everywhere in contemporary culture to insist that the “man with everything” is a realistic possibility. If fantasy Richard Armitage occupies the place of “relationship to which I can devote all the extra energy I can’t find a place for in daily life,” he frees me to be much more clear-headed in the relationships I do have. For many years, now, I’ve been delighted with a relational division of labor: fantasy Armitage, made in my own image, for imaginative play; a handful of close friends of both sexes who fulfill my needs for cultural, intellectual, social, and religious exchanges, encounters, stimulation, and mutual support; a no-strings male “friend with benefits” — and the best thing that the relational division of labor facilitates: the room of one’s own.

Fantasy is, for me, a tool that facilitates my choice to be who I want to be in different relationships, knowing that the emotional energy from unused, unappreciated bits can be absorbed elsewhere. It helps me avoid repeating the major relationship mistakes of my late twenties and thirties — giving too much without recompense because I had been well schooled by an expert in the art of self-sacrifice; giving the wrong thing, not out of lack of awareness that it was unwanted, but because it was what I had to give and I thought that despite the mismatch, maybe the effort could fill the deficit. Fantasy helps to free me to use my most intense energies to give to people in the best possible ways who want it, and not to succumb to the pressure of a fantasy, sold as reality, equal in proportion to that of an affair with a celebrity but much more destructive because its potential degree of verisimilitude is so much higher. Fantasy gives me what I want — but equally, it allows me to give the people around me what they want as well.

Do I know that my fantasies of Richard Armitage aren’t real?

Sure. (I hope that the reader can see that that’s exactly their purpose in my life.)

Do I care that my fantasies aren’t real?

No. In the place of reality in my life, I’ve got: reality. With all of its attendant problems and inimitable charms.

~ by Servetus on March 13, 2014.

28 Responses to “Richard Armitage fantasy, being old enough to know better, and not caring”

  1. I would think that fantasies can also make a person more creative.

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    • absolutely — this has really happened for me, although almost accidentally. I didn’t intend to write so much about my family when I started this.

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  2. A really interesting piece. I hear you saying two things, one that fangirldom is not being used (by you? By anyone?) as the stop gap solution to problems that others assign to middle class women. But I also hear you saying “fangirldom” is not being used by people (you?) as the stopgap solution to problem that you are actually facing (and not just problems people mistakenly assign to you). As I read this I kept thinking that fandom is used in this latter way by at least some people some of the kind. I’ve certainly at times used it to avoid addressing ‘real world’ problems or to numb the emotional consequences of these problems. But I completely agree with you that this kind of fantasy can be a place to very consciously work through problems and relationships; a place to test out new pictures of oneself; a place to test out different kinds of desires; or a space to develop a clearer sense of what one values in oneself and others and so on. I guess for me ‘fandom’ for me is a bit like food, sex, alcohol, work, exercise etc etc. More and more I come back to the reflections of the Ancient Greeks and their question which (as I understand it): how should can we use pleasures ethically as part of a good life?

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    • not precisely. While I agree that it can be psychologically instrumental to be a fangirl (thought it may not be for everyone), in this piece, I’m not making claims about how anyone uses it except me, and I’m saying I don’t see it as a stopgap solution. This could be an ongoing life arrangement for me and that is just fine for me and anyone else who chooses that.

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      • Okay. I see! At times in the post I thought you were only talking about yourself and then in other places it sounded like you were making more general conclusions. And you were clear that that you personally were not using it as a stop gap solution.

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        • I am reference conversations I’ve had lately with the likeminded, and I am making reference to general claims about the course of human development — I have to substantiate the assertion that fantasy and awareness of reality are not exclusive but live next to each other in the lives of adults. Any point I make in any post may be generalizable or may not — that is up to the reader; whether s/he identifies with a picture I’m painting, or not — but part of the point of saying “for me” over and over again is to point out that I am not making claims about every reader in the universe.

          Also, there’s a subtext here which you may or may not be aware of depending on how clued in you are to certain debates in the fandom, but I make that implicit on purpose. Not every point I wish to make has to be made explicitly. Some things are more forceful if I leave them unsaid.

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  3. I don’t relate my fandom participation to my relationships at all.

    I have been married twice and currently I am separated (over 5 years) but not divorced. I am afraid to have the amount of contact necessary to get a divorce. I have relationships with friends and some family members.

    This is my entertainment and if I’m learning some things about myself and others while I’m here that is a bonus. Thanks you for sharing a part of yourself with us. I truly appreciate all that you write, Tree

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    • the main point for me in response being: it is legitimate as what you say it is *for you*. None of us have to accept other people’s condescension, or insistence that this is just something we’re doing because we’re not doing something better. It may be that or it may not — but we are the ones who determine what it means for us.

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  4. Is this one of your very best postings, Servetus? I think it is.

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  5. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Thank you Servetus for saying what needed to be said. I am single by choice myself and I certainly don’t use any fantasy to fulfill my life. Reality is indeed right there and always will be but I agree that being a fangirl has been enlightening to say the least. I have learned so much just reading your blogs and so many others as well. I definitely have to say that this is indeed one of your best postings. It speaks to so many of us who aren’t as good as you are putting it all down. It is all there in my head but so hard to make it sensible on the page. Thank you so much.

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  6. I suppose the reasons women (all ages, not just the ones in the middle) are drawn to the fandom and enjoy it differ as much as the women themselves. I don’t think any of us need to justify our involvement, passion, interest, level of maturity, self discovery or lack thereof. I agree with Tree, this is also my entertainment. The side effects of self discovery, heightened creative energy or other positives are the icing on the RA cinnamon buns. But primarily, for me, it is fun. Fantasy can be fun, enriching and healthy for grownups. For over 30 years, I have been happily married (most days) to the same man. But I think my marital status is irrelevant to my participation in the fandom. Thank you Serve, for another great post. If variety is the spice of life then fantasy must be the sugar.

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    • I don’t think we need to justify our involvement, either; I’d just gotten to a point of fatigue at reading a certain criticism that I thought was coming from one relatively unsurprising direction suddenly coming from another direction entirely. I know now, after years of trying, that we can’t all be friends, but I still cherish this hope that within the fandom we can avoid running each other down over non-reasons that relate to our own shame as much as to any actual behaviors. We need to look at ourselves, first.

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      • I agree. I think you are very clear and consistent about looking at ourselves first, and speaking only for ourselves. I get the fatigue factor. The recurring mind reading and projecting motives onto other fans reminds me of whack-a-mole.It keeps popping back up. After a while your arm gets tired.

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  7. Great post,Servetus . Thank you.
    I’ve been “middle-aged” all my life (even in the cradle 😉 ) now it’s time to be a teenager .
    PS: May I moan for a moment? I really miss one chunk of your RA Legenda- “OT, collateral attraction and things I think about”

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    • I suppose that would be the next topic, experiencing adolescence in one’s forties or later, lol. I was talking about that with someone this week, too. 🙂

      Thanks for the nudge — I’d been thinking about that as well. I don’t know how interested people were in that section of Legenda, but I miss that aspect of it, too.

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  8. This is an excellent post Serv. I’am in my late fifty’s and can honestly say I have never before in my life fangirled about anyone like this. I have been divorced many years and really love my own company, and that of my beautiful dog. The interaction with all you ladies is brilliant. My sister thinks I’m a bit mad but never scorns me for my “infatuation”. lol. I shall carry on reading these lovely blogs, loving Richard and having my wonderful fantasies. It has nothing to do with anyone else and If it keeps me going through my sometimes humdrum life then so be it.

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    • I think that’s key: being aware that you can think about this beautiful thing any time you like and it may or may not be real but it’s still a beautiful thing.

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  9. Here, Here, Serv!!!

    “Entre los individuos, como entre las naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz” — Mexican President Benito Juarez

    Which means: “Among individuals, as among nations, respect for the rights of others is peace.”

    If only we could all learn the meaning of this statement and learn to live by it then we would surely be able to respect the rights of others to live and enjoy THEIR own life however they please….

    I for one enjoy heavy doses of “sugar” sprinkled over a varied and spicy life… 😉 (see what I did there, Kathy Jones?)

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  10. Thank you so much for articulating something I have tried to explain to judgmental people. Many times, a rich fantasy life is a leavening ingredient in real life. It makes you more capable of living in your reality, not less.

    I am reminded of my aunt who honestly believed that Jesus sat down to breakfast with her every morning. She said that he liked strawberries. I don’t embrace fantasy with that kind of belief, with that kind of fervor. But if she was not denigrated for her conviction that this was real, why condemn me for having fantasies that I know are fantasies?

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    • AND — if you’re a man, a rich fantasy life is somehow a sign that you’re robust, still in the game. If you’re a woman, a rich fantasy life is a sign you’re deluded. Not any more, not with me.

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  11. […] us laugh or unites us with each other, because it makes us feel, and solidarize, and think, because it feeds creativity and transforms our relationships with the people around us in positive ways, bec…, even if only for the moments in which we’re submerged in the feeling and fantasy that allow […]

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