We’ve all been there: there’s a new season of that show we watch. We can’t watch it right now, but we’ll watch it later. Someday. Eventually. Oh, wow, there’s another season already? That was fast. One day we’ll catch up with everything, though. Right? Eeeh, maybe. Maybe not. Because maybe we have moved on.
When do we graduate out of a fandom? When has a fandom fulfilled its holy purpose in our lives and can ascend to Fandom Heaven to rest in peace? Or even be cast out to Fandom Hell because of its sins? When is the cycle over? When is it time to let it go?
I’m not here to tell you what to do because everyone engages with fandom differently and the same is true for disengaging. Maybe there are only parts of a fandom you would like to avoid, while keeping the rest. Maybe canon disappointed you, but fandom will always be there for your needs. Maybe you can’t handle a community right now, but you still enjoy your favorites with all your heart. Maybe you can’t really avoid a certain fandom even if you try, so you have to be creative about it. Ultimately, only you know how you feel and can decide the best course of action.
What makes me believe that a fandom’s time has come to an end in my life may not be the same for you and your life, or even what applies to one of your fandoms may not be truth to another. So take the following with a grain of salt.
1. When the experience is toxic
That’s the first in my list because it should be the first in everyone’s list. We all get frustrated with our fandoms sometimes and that’s part of the experience, but a toxic fandom goes too far.
How far is too far? That’s entirely personal. It may happen that a story you used to love or the community surrounding it now only gives you anger, sadness, stress, and frustration. Or it’s offending you or people you care about. Or it’s even triggering. Whatever it is, the fandom is taking an emotional toll from you and giving very little (if anything) in return. If a fandom is messing with your mental health, ask yourself if it’s worth keeping going.
Like many writers here, I used to love Game of Thrones. Even as the show went downhill and its flaws became more obvious, I still watched it. Until I didn’t. I couldn’t bring myself to simply not care, so the show progressively made me more anxious and upset. Turns out it’s a very popular show, and people praising something that makes you anxious and upset doesn’t help a lot. So I walked away from that fandom.
If you follow our Game of Thrones content you may notice I’m always there in the comments, so that’s another important point: walking away doesn’t have to an absolute decision if you don’t want it too. You may decide that only certain parts of a fandom experience are toxic and leave just those behind. Or that the entire fandom is a crapsack on fire, but occasionally you can and want to deal with that. Just know you have a “Get Out of Fandom Free” card.
2. When you outgrow it
I feel really sorry for my parents if they ever expected me to grow too old for Pokémon. Or Disney. Or animation. Nope, not gonna happen. Fandoms don’t have expiration dates, especially not when fandoms aimed at a younger target can be so clever and give us all the feels. So no, I don’t believe you grow too old to enjoy a certain fandom.
Chronologically, that is.
There are times you outgrow a fandom. You change and that fandom doesn’t feel the same anymore. Perhaps the fandom didn’t age well. Or you educated yourself and now you can’t unsee all those unfortunate implications and problematic stuff. Or you tried other stories and that one doesn’t sound so impressive anymore. Or there’s nothing wrong with the fandom, your tastes just changed.
We experience and learn a lot during our lives, it’s natural that we can’t connect to certain stories the way we used to. We shouldn’t force a love that just isn’t there. Maybe the fandom and you should just be friends. Or that embarrassing acquaintance you pretend you don’t know.
3. When it’s somebody else’s fandom
I hesitated on including this, but I’m guilty of this and maybe you are too: in my quest for social acceptance, I’ve faked or exaggerated interest in stuff I don’t actually care about.
We meet many of our fandoms through other people: your best friend loves a game and wants to share that love with you, a book changed the life of your significant other and they want you to read it, there’s a show everybody is talking about and you don’t want to be left out, and so on.
Sometimes, and this tends to be painfully obvious when we distance ourselves from certain relationships, turns out that fandom was never one of our fandoms. We didn’t actually adopted them to our fandom family, they were just the neighbor kid playing on our yard.
If you joined a fandom because of somebody else and realize you actually don’t like the thing all that much, go invest your fandom funds elsewhere.
4. When it’s becoming an unhealthy obsession
We all love our fandoms and we love to love them. We dedicate time and energy to fanworks and discussions, we buy fandom merch, we freak out with every little piece of news. I get it. I pity my friends and family once The Winds of Winter gets a release date.
As much as I joke about this, though, my regular life will still go on. I will still have work to do, classes to attend, clueless friends whose patience with my enthusiasm only goes so far, etc. There’s always a non-fandom side of life requiring attention.
Sometimes, however, hobbies become obsessions. The tricky aspect of unhealthy fandoms is that what marks something as unhealthy for me may not make it unhealthy for you. I’d argue it all depends on each person, their routine, the way they approach a given fandom, how much it’s affecting them negatively, and so on.
The best advice I can give is to keep an eye for signs that your love for a fandom is out of control, especially if they happen frequently: avoiding social events that are not fandom-related, spending money you don’t have on merch, ignoring real-life obligations like work or classes because of fandom, becoming distant from people who don’t share that fandom, etc.
The worst part is that you may still feel great about your fandom, but that doesn’t mean it’s not damaging you in the long run. If you notice your love for a fandom has gone too far, slow down.
5. When it’s time to see other fandoms
We all have our comfort fandoms, those stories we always love to revisit. You know, the thing that makes your friends’ lives easier when they have to get you a birthday gift. But we should always make room for new fandoms too.
Being exposed to new stuff means we have more awesome stuff to love, but also that we learn how to see our older fandoms under a new light. That’s especially important for those interested in fandom analysis or pursuing artistic or writing careers.
Yes, eventually this means you will fall out of love with one of your old fandoms. What made your first fantasy series special may sound cliche or bland after your tenth fantasy series. Or that superhero movie lead by a white straight dude feels flat now that you know how it feels to have a leading lady. Or you have to admit that the metagame for the first Pokémon gen was incredibly unbalanced, plus you love running shoes and HM deletion.
But is it bad? If being exposed to new fandoms make us question our love for an old one, maybe that love should be questioned. And we don’t even have to abandon the old fandom, we can always try a polyamorous relationship.
6. When it should have died
Call me Faceless Man, but sometimes death can be merciful. Some creators don’t know when to quit the game and the quality of the new material being released leaves a lot to be desired. A show that jumped the shark a few seasons ago, a lesser sequel of a beloved a book series, a comic book gimmick that goes a bit too far. This can also be true for the fandom experience, like a discussion that should have been disproved by canon a long time ago but, oh hey, here we are again.
Simply put, you move on from a fandom because to some extent you think your fandom now sucks. Or you just don’t care anymore. Sometimes it’s not you that changed, it was the fandom. Or it failed to change, becoming repetitive and dull. Whatever happened, it should have been mercy killed a long time ago. Your patience for it certainly was.
In the end, there are many reasons that make us to move on from an old fandom. I’m sure I forgot some, but you can always add in the comments.
Moving on from a fandom happens when the meaning it once had for you no longer exists, but it’s a personal process and nobody can do it for you. It doesn’t have to be a blunt break up, unless you want it to be. Moving on can be less about what you do and more about what you don’t: you don’t watch the new season, you don’t re-read the book for the nth time, you don’t finish that fic, you don’t post in that discussion forum anymore… Maybe you’re still a fan, you just don’t feel like engaging the same way or in that same space. And that’s okay.
Don’t feel bad if you think it’s time to graduate out of a fandom. Life is too short to waste your fandom stamina in fandoms that are no longer returning that investment. Besides, you can always come back later for a PhD.