Normal People: the enigma of falling in love with fictional characters (part two)

Like most folk, weeks of lockdown had begun to wear my resolve down. I’d finally given into the many recommended series which had been lavished upon me by friends, news apps and podcasts, which is unlike me: I didn’t read the Harry Potter series until years after their publication, I still haven’t read White Teeth (shameful, I know), and after the week of trauma and night-terrors brought about by Tiger King I swore that I would never watch anything at the time of its release until I was absolutely certain I would enjoy it. However, at a loose end one afternoon and finding myself unable to bear the thought of another minute’s revision or indolence I decided to take the leap of faith, and instantly found myself there again, in that most familiar and excruciating of places: rhapsodically in love with a fictional character.

Self-psychoanalysis isn’t new to me; in fact it’s one of my most favourite past-times (call me a narcissist, I wouldn’t mind – in fact I’d probably be inclined to agree) and I found myself wondering what exactly it is about Connell Waldron (and his neck chain) which has made an entire army of women fall suddenly, deeply and unashamedly in love with him. The Irish accent maybe? The elusive combination of brains AND brawn? The fact that he is often uncommunicative and sparing with his words, but never in an aloof way?

It dawned on me suddenly, the way these things always do; it isn’t really Connell we want, no matter how much this might seem to be the case – the longing we feel for him is misplaced. Surely not! We’re constantly enamoured by his effortless popularity, his ability to draw people to him in a restrained, quiet manner, his consideration and cleverness, even in his deepest throes of depression we love him. But in reality, what we actually want – and what will prove much harder to find – is the connection between himself and herself, Connell and Marianne.

In all likelihood, we know a Connell – work with him, were at school with him. The shy guy who never really feels the urge to be the centre of attention/the universe, who never knows best how to say what he’s feeling despite his intelligence and honesty. The difference is that not all that many of us are Mariannes.



How many of us would have had the confidence in the cruel and microscopically overthought world of secondary school – particularly as a misfit and frequent target of less mature students’ jibes – to actually tell the boy we liked what we felt for him, to ask him to kiss us, to be the one to take control of a situation and be willing to suffer the consequences, no matter how tough?

The truth is, we respect her, we admire her more than we care to admit to ourselves. And so, we long for Connell because we want Marianne’s confidence, her intelligence, her quirkiness and bravery, her vulnerability, and cool circle of handpicked, sophisticated uni friends. We want her glow-up, her success story. We want the connection between the two of them, which is only realised because of Marianne’s tenacity; that’s what we want – the electricity which sparks when you meet the first person who makes you look at yourself and realise you love what you see, because that’s what is in them too, and that’s where you learned to love it first. We want it even when we realise that it’s not normal, that connection, that nothing we feel again will ever come close to replicating it, but that’s okay, because at least we will have felt something greater than us, something which might just give us the faith to believe in the things we can’t prove. We want that ultimate success, even if it means that one day, we’ll experience the profoundest failure.

Perhaps for some of us, it really, truly is just Connell we want – a nice, staid Irish boy who will eventually realise his mistakes and try to rectify them, who looks nice when he plays Gaelic football and can write top-class essays. But I’ve learnt that falling in love with fictional characters is simply a way to try to understand, to experience that connection which I know I’ll most likely never find again. To touch, one more time, the seam between the real and the metaphysical, the not-quite-real headiness of finding – and accepting the loss of – your soulmate.  


Feature Image: brando on flickr. Available under Creative Commons 2.0.

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