How Captain America helped me find a friend in the real world

Are you in a fandom? Fandom is the catchall term for fan interactions with certain media, like a TV show or book series. Fans discuss the media with other fans, write analyses about the characters, stories, or implications of it, and write fan fiction and draw fan art, among other things. To honor this awesome pastime, we’re launching My Fandom Life, a new column at HelloGiggles highlighting true tales from your life as it connects with fandom. We want your stories about what being a fan means to you or how fandom was there for you in a special way. Pitch us stories at [email protected] with the subject line “MY FANDOM LIFE” and let us know how being a super-fan has changed your life in unique ways. To kick things off, here’s a tale of Captain America, Twitter and a lasting friendship. 

Everyone’s experience with fandom varies widely, but for me, fandom is my happy place. Last spring in particular it became really important for me. I was kind of in a rut:I didn’t feel like I was in a good place in my career, I wasn’t sure how to move forward, and it was harder to meet up with my friends because we were so busy and I felt far away from everyone.

According to Hank Green, the best way to make friends is “repeated, unplanned interactions.” This is why school and school housing provided a great way pipeline to friendships, but after college, meeting people outside of work became extremely difficult. It can be hard to keep up your current friendships, even with texting and Facebook and phone calls, if only because you don’t have the same rhythm to your days anymore. I had discussed and listened to work woes and romance thoughts and life talk with all these friends, and I knew they were around to listen, as I was for them. But it wasn’t the same as meeting up with them and having long, rejuvenating talks about the life, the universe, and everything – the kind of rambling discussions that, personally, don’t come as easily over the phone.

This was around the time Captain America: The Winter Soldier, came into my life.If you’re not into the Marvel movies, you might be surprised to hear how much I was into the movie, but if you are – you totally get it, right? It’s just such a fun movie! It’s widely agreed to be a well-made movie, and one of the best out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (or MCU), as well: the story is fast-paced, everyone is clearly having fun, and Chris Evans’ face just ties it all together.

I had been hanging out on Twitter the past couple months, and I’d followed a group of (mainly) ladies who read the same blogs as I did. I saw an offhand comment by one user named Hayley about the movie, and I jumped into the conversation. (A phenomenon I’ve had with a few other friends I’ve made through Twitter, which I like to call a #TweetCute.)

Hayley and I, along with other fans, went into our favorite scenes of the movie, the relationships between characters – the fandom term “shipping” means rooting for or finding evidence to support why certain characters should form a relationship — and just traded jokes and silliness about the whole movie and the main actor. I found a good friend in Hayley – we were both such film buffs, but also generally very silly people with an easy, laid-back chemistry. I could reply to her with pictures of Chris Evans (the man is Reaction Gif Incarnate), or riff on her jokes about feminism changing the working landscape for women (“On your left, menz!”), or discuss random emotional reactions to BuzzFeed quizzes.

For example, Hayley and I both took a quiz on “Which Superhero Would You Date?” Now, let’s be real: this quiz exists mainly because there are hardly any female superhero movies, and every answer is a white dude. But for us, it became a discussion on qualities we look for when we’re dating, and how those qualities clash with what we might want. Basically, we took talking about pop culture and fandom as a way to segue into conversations about politics, life, and personality. At one point our group went on a whole discussion on how we make decisions. Hayley prefers to plot out all the possibilities and can sometimes get stuck in the planning stages, while I make a decision based on a good opportunity and a gut feeling, and put plans into place to support that decision.

Hayley was farther away than any of my other friends – Australia! – but being on Twitter so much meant it became easy for us to talk to each other, and our mutual Twitter friends, regularly and spontaneously, like the science behind friendship says. We soon started emailing each other fandom stuff like silly gif sets on Tumblr or fan fiction, but also discussing work, in particular our passion for films. That summer we talked a lot more, cursing the fact that we couldn’t hang out IRL. I knew Hayley was coming to California in the fall, but I had a job, so I doubted I could see her.

But then, I saw a good opportunity in the freelance writing world – so I decided to leave my job. And after finding out I had enough miles to get a ticket to San Francisco for $15, it just made sense. It also meant I would be able to get some face time with several friends from college as well as our mutual friends from Twitter.

Let me be clear, I’m not recommending meeting just any stranger on the Internet. I had been discussing the possibility with family and friends and Hayley beforehand, and I trusted Hayley because we talked so much, had mutual internet friends, and she, like them, regularly posted selfies of herself. But even then, I still obviously met her in a public place and told my family and my friends exactly where I was going. (My mom called immediately after I met her and I put Hayley on the line to show that she was real.)

But the Internet has really changed in the past few years – it makes sense to use not only your real name, but your real self. I had a feeling she was, like me, authentic to her social media presence — and, indeed, she was full of the same exclamations and ENTHUSIASTIC CAPSLOCKS and silly jokes as she was online, but now I could hear it in her Australian accent.

At one point, we got drinks with a real life friend of mine that I had made in graduate school. This was a friend with whom I hadn’t taken any classes or even shared the same major, but of course, we always hung out in the lobby of our school building. We had become friends in the same way Hayley and I had, but instead of discussing real life events, Hayley and I discussed pop culture. He was happy to meet Hayley, but when he heard how we had decided to meet, he asked if either of us had felt the least bit strange that I had planned to fly out to meet her, or that Hayley had expressly left huge chunks in her schedule free for us to hang out. We looked at each other in surprise. “No,” she said, as I shook my head, and we both laughed at the idea. We had clicked from the first Captain America joke.

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