My boyfriend and I both love gaming. It’s one of the things we first bonded over when we met two years ago. In addition to that, he’s also into cosplay. It’s not my thing, but I understand and respect it. His favorite character to dress up as is Naruto.
Lately, his love of cosplay, and specifically Naruto, has elevated to a different level. It started with him dressing up like him at cosplay events. Then, he started dressing up like him at home. Now, he’s dyed his hair yellow and has started asking me and others to refer to him as “Naruto”, instead of his real name. At first, I thought he was joking, but then he doubled down.
I want to be supportive, but it’s getting really awkward. Dressing up is one thing, but changing his entire look and going by a different name?? I’m not sure I can keep going along with this, but I’m worried it will upset him.
How should I handle it?
A Grimacing Gamer
Dear A Grimacing Gamer,
Watching our loved ones go down a rabbit-hole can be alarming, especially when it seems like something that was once harmless and fun begins to teeter on obsession. Clearly, something about the character of Naruto reeeeeally resonates with your boyfriend, so much so that when he steps into his shoes, he’s less and less willing to let him go.
Cosplay appeals to people all over the world for many different reasons. In addition to being a creative outlet, inhabiting a character that is meaningful to someone is a way to help them explore their own identity. There may be characteristics or experiences that the character has that they relate to or admire, and by becoming that character, they can see what it feels like to try on those attributes for themselves.
In the series, the character of Naruto starts out as a mischievous and lonely orphan, but ultimately develops into a determined and powerful ninja. It may be that this character arc is something your boyfriend relates to on some emotional level, or strives to replicate. By “becoming” the character, he’s able to tap into his own inner strength, despite his inner demons and struggles.
Cosplay also offers fantasy and escapism. By stepping into a fictional character, fans are momentarily relieved of the real-world stresses or challenges they grapple with. It might be that your boyfriend is struggling with some unprocessed, painful emotions, and becoming Naruto allows him a break from reality so that some other experience can prevail.
Regardless, it’s clear that the fantasy has taken hold in a pretty serious way, and no matter how powerful this psychological strategy may be for your boyfriend, it’s now affecting those around him. You are allowed to have your feelings about what’s happening, and maybe even dislike it.
The important thing here will be to communicate your feelings in a way that isn’t shaming or unnerving for your boyfriend, so he feels safe to open up as well. Again, becoming Naruto clearly serves him in some way, so if you suddenly demand he strip that away, he may be left feeling vulnerable.
Instead, I’d encourage a dialogue about what he feels when he inhabits the character, but also what it feels like when he’s simply himself. If you don’t think you’re the best person for this, he may instead want to consider sharing this with a professional. By giving voice to this, he may understand more about himself, and be able to find additional ways to cope with emotional challenges.
Providing a supportive place for his feelings is key, but it’s just as important to share how all of this is affecting you. If going along with the fantasy is making you uncomfortable, that’s valid. After all, he’s asking a lot for you and others to totally suspend disbelief. You both have an equal say as to how much you want to let the yellow-haired nijna into your relationship.
Eventually, your man may decide he’s ready to let Naruto go, but in the meantime, maybe he can fulfill his needs within his own cosplay community. Or, you may decide you’re fine gaming with him as a way to show some support for his infatuation, without having to participate in the role-play.
At the end of the day, the character of Naruto might be struggling with things like acceptance and loneliness, but that doesn’t mean you need to let him steal your boyfriend away. If he tries, you may just have to throw a ninja star or two.