Need relationship advice? Submit your questions for Meredith here.
Q. I’m 23 and have never had a serious relationship. I always focused on studying and prepping for the future as my mother wanted. But then I see couples: happy, in love, cuddling, or kissing in the hallways of my schools (which is why I dread Valentine’s Day a bit). The only type of “love” I feel is when I see an attractive fictional character (like a cute boy in a dating simulation game or anime). An example is Mammon from [the dating sim game] “Obey Me!” — I adore him. So I gotta ask: 1. What’s real love like? 2. How do people find it? And lastly, 3. How do I stop getting low-key bummed out from seeing happy couples (and secretly wishing I had what they have)?
– The Hopeless Romantic
A. I am a big fan of the 1990s cartoon Batman: The Animated Series. Partly because the writing and animation were great, but also because the show’s Bruce Wayne/Batman had an incredible voice — and perfect jawline.
The way I felt for that character when I was a teen was similar to how I felt about Christian Slater — a real human actor, but a person I didn’t know in real life. At 16, my room was covered in posters of him. I imagined moving to Los Angeles and falling in love with him. That did not happen.
Even if I had met Christian Slater at some point, I’m sure he wouldn’t have had the personality I invented to go with the face on my posters. It was all fan fiction in my brain.
I mean, there are other reasons Christian Slater and I aren’t a couple, but you can guess them.
I still have lots of crushes on famous people and fictional characters, but they don’t compare with what exists in real life. I think you need real life — as much of it as you can handle. Have the crush on this sim character Mammon, but also interact with some real people people on an app. Ask friends for setups. Limit your time in this imaginary world. It’s designed to become part of your routine, but set an alarm on your phone for boundaries.
You ask what real love is like. My answer: It’s messy, and it’s annoying sometimes. It can’t be scripted. It doesn’t always look the same. It can be the best thing ever, but not always.
People find it by connecting and making themselves vulnerable with other humans. They can use technology to find people in person. Consider trying that — as well as clubs and games played in offline spaces, etc.
Try connecting in the world and see what happens.
Go to Comic Con, anime conventions — these people all have things in common with you. CUPPAJOESEATTLE
Love in real life is difficult because you are an imperfect person interacting on the fly with another imperfect person. Take the risk, but understand that it’s a massively imperfect world and you’re going to stumble sometimes. TERMINATER5
In real life, don’t expect the level of conversation you see in the movies or read in books. Remember the characters’ words are written by someone else. COMMENTOR2
Find the new season of the Love Letters podcast at loveletters.show. Meredith Goldstein wants your letters! Send your relationship quandaries and questions to email@example.com. Columns and responses are edited and reprinted from boston.com/loveletters.