It would not be a stretch to say that Amanda, a young, talented model with flowing golden hair, could attract any gentleman whose attention she might want. But alas, young men; her heart already belongs to someone, and she will spurn all advances. Amanda will tell you that she’s not simply attached, but married as well. Do not expect, however, to find her husband hovering around her photo shoots, or sitting quietly with her. Amanda is rarely afraid to discuss her unconventional relationship around sympathetic ears. She acknowledges that she is missing out on many of the things that normal couples do together, but feels that the strength of her love makes up for this. “I am aware that I’ll never have the physical bond that conventional couples have. I’m aware that I may be alone in the physical world, but I’ll always have Sephiroth,” she says. ((Private interview, November 2007))

Amanda will tell you that she is married to Sephiroth, popularly known as the primary antagonist of the popular console RPG Final Fantasy VII. She says that, though he does not exist physically in “our world,” he exists spiritually, and that, on a spiritual level, their minds meet to exchange vows and express their mutual love. Amanda says that, within her minds eye, she can see Sephiroth, and speak to him.

Amanda belongs to a large (and growing) online community of people claim to be friends (or even lovers) of anime and manga-style characters, with whom they claim to have elaborate conversations on a daily basis.


Within this community, the term soulbonding is often used to refer to the experience of having a friendship or other relationship with a fictional character, and the term soulbond refers to the character. Amanda prefers to consider Sephiroth a soulmate rather than a soulbond; however, she has much in common with those who self-identify as soulbonders.

Soulbonders describe their experience as that of having a fictional character living inside one’s mind, or otherwise in regular communication. Some soulbonders say that they communicate with their soulbonds in an internal, mental world, which they may conceptualize as another “plane of existence.”

Others simply experience the soulbonded character as a voice in their head, or a mental “presence” of which they are almost constantly aware. Soul Whispers, a popular website on the topic, sums of the relationship of the soulbonder and the soulbond thusly: “(Soulbonds) may be confidants or mentors, guardians or guides, encouraging you and providing a means for you to explore your own self and examine your motives. Some may reflect a person you’d like to be, or a side of yourself that you have difficulty expressing; your darkness, or even your light. Some may be lovers; some may just be friends.”

This may seem to resemble the imaginary friendships many of us had as children. The soulbonding subculture, however, consists mainly of young adults, and they take this very seriously. Online forums for the discussion of soulbonding make it quite clear that its practitioners view soulbonding as they would a relationship with another human being. Livejournal, an online blogging and social networking site, has become a hub for soulbonders, and many even have separate online journals for each of their soulbonds to write in. On the Livejournal-based community, ~soulbonding, members express the intricacies of these relationships and the joy they provide, but also make ample mention of soulbonds as a source of tension. Apparently, relationships with fictional characters can be just as dysfunctional as any other relationship. One finds emotionally-charged descriptions of fights and upheaval, sometimes violent, between soulbonds in their mind.

In another thread, users discuss the issue of “fronting:” a term they use for when a soulbond leaves the soulbonder’s mind to take control of his or her body. One member identifies herself as a soulbond who “fronts,” often without the explicit consent of her soulbonder, and notes that the soulbonder often has a “foggy memory” of what happens during these periods.

Another member, says that her soulbonds often “front” during her classes, and that one of them handles most of her academic writing, whereas another takes care of her Japanese classes. It is, naturally, up for debate whether or not this constitutes a violation of academic integrity. Still other soulbonders say that they often share their consciousness and interaction with the physical world with their soulbonds, and call this “co-fronting.”

In another controversial thread within the community, a member says that her soulbond is in pain after being “dumped” by a lover, and that his pain is making her physically ill. Because of this, she wishes to “kill” the bond and end his (and, presumably her) suffering. The ~soulbonding community reacted to this post with vitriole, treating the potential “killing” of a soulbond as fundamentally the same as murdering another human being. “If you think being dumped by a lover is cause enough for murder then you are going to have a very unhappy future ahead of you,” said one member. Taken as a whole, ~soulbonding and other communities like it express the deeply-held belief that fictional characters with whom one has soulbonded are equivalent in most ways to human beings one meets every day on the street. They can love and be loved, hate and be hated, and generally deserve the same respect as physical humans.

Mental Illness or Societal Phenomenon? (Or both?)

At first blush, many would dismiss soulbonders as insane, and soulbonding websites often go to great lengths to distinguish the phenomenon from voice-hearing as part of well-known mental illnesses. “Schizophrenics are unstable, unable to cope in everyday society, and often dangerous to themselves and others,” says one soulbonding website, “Soulbonders are not that.” Despite this, accusations of mental illness tend to follow mentions of soulbonding outside of the subculture. Portal of Evil, a moderately-popular website dedicated to showcasing (and often mocking) strange websites, devoted an entire forum to soulbonding, the tone of which ranges from mild contempt (“This sure is a convoluted definition of daydreaming!”) to disturbed concern (There is another name for this: Schizophrenia.”)

It would be simple to dismiss soulbonders as mentally ill if there were not so many of them. The sheer size of the subculture suggests that the phenomenon should be viewed from a societal, rather than a psychiatric, standpoint. Paying heed to communications from unseen, disembodied entities should be familiar to any denizen of the early 21st century, and, in other contexts, few would see it as a sign of psychosis. A recent poll reported by The New York Times determined that slightly more than one in four Americans have friends whom they have never physically met, whom they have no definite awareness of aside from digital communications. In a world of cell phones, instant messengers, and e-mail, friendship need not entail physical contact.

We engage in a growing portion of our day-to-day interactions as disembodied entities in digital space. These interactions are almost always infused with a faith that the entity with whom we are communicating is really who they present themselves as, but this is never guaranteed, and reinventing oneself via a digital persona is common. These personas, though fabricated, can easily affect others as strongly as real people, and, as such, can take on what one might call a life of their own. “The Internet has put persona-hopping within the reach of all Americans, and even might be helping to train us for life in a more protean future,” says John Schwartz of The New York Times. ((Schwartz, John. 2002 “Who Says Surfers Are Antisocial?” The New York Times. October 26.))

Soulbonds may be entirely fictitious characters, but, to the soulbonders, they might easily seem just as real as the other disembodied characters populating their lives. Though Sephiroth is a fictional character designed by Tetsuya Nomura for Square Enix, Amanda’s love for him may very well be as real as that felt for a physical human being.

Amanda firmly believes that Sephiroth loves her back, and this perceived exchange clearly affects her just as much as any physical relationship might. When one examines soulbonding from a relational standpoint, the existence or non-existence of the fictional soulbonds becomes moot; their effect upon the soulbonder is real and quite powerful. Put simply, to soulbonders, it does not matter to them that their companions might not be real; what matters is their loving relationship, which most certainly is perceived as real.

13 Responses to "Soulbonding"

  • I have to wonder… how many of these people have you quoted with /permission?/ You mention one personal interview, but nothing else. Have you even notified these people that you are using their words? And, if not, have you considered what the consequence of using their LJ usernames could be? If it were me, I would be mighty, mighty upset. And, given that I respect each and everyone mentioned here, I am on a personal level.

    1 suhina said this (December 19, 2007 at 5:52 pm) Reply

  • Sorry that you’re personally upset. Nope, I haven’t tracked down Houck, or the PoE folks, or the LJ usernames I quoted. However, I’d like to think that if someone publishes something on the Internet, they don’t intend it to be a secret. None of the posts I quoted were friends-locked. If they don’t want their LJ names associated with soulbonding, they probably shouldn’t publicly post on soulbonding LJs.

    There’s a long and revered history of using short quotations from articles and other sources for research – it’s called citation. If anyone whom I’ve quoted has some serious huge problem with it, they can contact me, and we’ll talk. I don’t see how any of them would, since this is all public anyways. I’ve linked to everything I mentioned.

    2 Jonesky said this (December 19, 2007 at 6:03 pm) Reply

  • I do not recall you ever asking for permission to quote me. Please remove the reference to me, and my quote, from your essay. Thankyou.

    3 Russandol said this (December 19, 2007 at 9:30 pm) Reply

  • PS: Had you asked first, I would have said yes.

    4 Russandol said this (December 19, 2007 at 9:32 pm) Reply

  • Well, we’re certainly seeing an interesting thread on how people react when they discover for the first time that statements made on the Internet are public (and thus *absolutely* fair game for quotation).

    Permission to quote is a courtesy, nothing more: it’s utterly unnecessary for something like this. If people don’t want their words to be referenced, they should consider restricting how they utter them in the first place.

    5 Patrick said this (December 20, 2007 at 12:31 am) Reply

  • Wow. Now far be it from be to insult someone else’s beliefs, but if you’re going to fall in love with fictional characters and devulge deep, personal, and sexual secrets about said relationship, don’t whine and bitch when someone posts your exact and public words in an open air forum. Also, Russ, you’ve got no legal right to tell the host of this site to remove your quotes. As long as they are direct quotes that you yourself have given on your public journal, it’s open source. He has neither committed slander or libel. Deal with it.

    6 Chuck said this (December 20, 2007 at 1:42 am) Reply

  • FWIW, none of the folks on commenting on this page were, as far as I know, talking about a sexual relationship with their soulbonds.

    7 Jonesky said this (December 20, 2007 at 1:52 am) Reply

  • The validity of soulbonding and the sanity of otakukin aside, WHY Sephiroth? For those of you who are familiar with the character, I’ll won’t tell you want you all already know, and I’ll leave everybody else to conduct their own research. So, with regards to his evil, why is Sephiroth her lover?

    8 Kevin said this (December 29, 2007 at 5:27 am) Reply

  • I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of this “Amanda.” She’s pretty famous on ED as Sephirothslave. Well famous for being an unstable girl who thinks Sephiroth is real and is one of “God’s angels” it’s pretty out there. I feel kind of sorry for her.

    9 Kretzman said this (December 31, 2007 at 7:42 am) Reply

  • When I finally got around to reading a (specifically this) description of what soulbonding is – especially the hearing voices, part of you stuff – my immediate thought was “How is that different from being a writer?” Such a question may seem odd to someone who isn’t a writer, or at least a certain form of writer, but allow me to elaborate:

    I write fiction or try to at least, and a (very) tiny handful of my characters have been in my head for so long, and have become so psychologically complex, that they have sort of taken on a life of their own, and I think of them almost as children (not that I don’t still put them through hell; I try to avoid stuff that would make stories not worth reading, and a lack of conflict is one of those things that does just that!). It’s gotten to the point where I feel like if I go long enough without working on actually writing down their story, I feel like I’m almost letting them down – worse yet, if I never finish the story enough, and I die, I can’t help thinking they’ll “die” with me, in a way.

    Now, I’m not crazy. I don’t think these characters are “real people”. I know they’re just reasonably realistic, complex characters that I cherish and love working with, and like to think about multiple times every day (yes, multiple, and yes, every day). I realize there isn’t some group of real people that will “die with me” if I die before the work is finished or published. And unlike soulbonders, I do not directly “interact” with them in my head.

    I do, however, have a tendency to write from head, gut and heart all at once – and I “write” in my head just constantly (I’m ADD; it’s how I stay sane in a boring world, heh). I “live” these characters’ lives in my head for brief periods, even if those periods are interrupted for constant rephrasing (like I said, I’m still in writing mode when I do this). I literally have come close to tears or even cried a tiny bit; made myself briefly physically ill (in the head or stomach regions), in pain (mostly head/chest areas), or cold (all over); I’ve even temporarily (and thankfully only mildly) depressed at times, simply because I put myself so far into the heads of the characters I was mentally writing, that it affected me on that kind of physical, visceral level. The characters are a part of me and my mental makeup now, and always will be, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Even odder is that sometimes, regardless of whether or not I’m actually thinking about them, and completely without consciously intending to do so, maybe once every day or three, I mentally imagine certain ones of them (a handful of the tiny handful that I like working with most) saying something. Usually it’s something like “I love you”. Simple, powerful phrases that I’ve imagined them saying to each other more than a few times before – to the point where it now occasionally happens randomly.

    Still, though – I know this is just mental echoes of earlier thoughts, similar to how folks often dream about whatever they were thinking about before they went to bed, or how a fact you were trying to recall a week ago suddenly pops into the foreground of your mind. I know they aren’t “real” – it’s just my brain doing its weird little human brain spurt thing.

    But still. I “hear” them randomly. They pop into my head all the time, to the point where I would admit that I’m mildly obsessed with thinking about them. They feel more intimately “real” to me than most other characters. I care about what happens to them, I worry about doing right by them, and want them to survive me somehow, even though they aren’t “alive” to begin with. I love them, in a bizarre sort of fashion. I love them, even though I know full well they are not “real” and would never try to argue they were.

    So I’m wondering – are a lot of these folks basically just writers who went to a greater psychological extreme? I especially wonder this since you mention soulbonders here who have not just one but several “bonds”, much like most writers have at least a handful of characters they focus on, even if they only ever create, think about, and make one story in their entire life.

    I’m wondering where the line is here between an individual predisposed towards creating or growing attached to fictional characters… and an actual soulbonder. There’s definitely some sort of line, but where exactly one begins and the other ends is something possibly worth looking into, I think. Certainly a number of them appear to be the type to undertake creative endeavors, from the sounds of it.

    10 Jamie said this (January 26, 2008 at 7:39 am) Reply

  • The line is pretty clear to me: Delusion.

    I am also a writer, and although I can understand a connection with characters that you are writing. I think it is very useful to sit down and mentally “converse” with your characters and imagine what sort of things they would say or do outside the context of the story in which they will play a part. I don’t have the same sort of deep connection that even you seem to have. I have never become upset, much less physically ill when writing or exploring my characters mentally. I can understand that sort of deep attachment, though, and it probably really shows in your writing.

    The difference between you and a soulbonder is all in the understanding though. You said yourself that you understand that these characters are not actually real; the soulbonder is operating under the illusion that these sort of detailed, emotional imaginings are the result of actual interaction with “real” personalities.

    So, I would think that the difference between the sort of useful imaginings you use in your creative endeavors and the sort of useless imaginings the soulbonder uses to make their lives more interesting is the understanding that what you are doing is not real.

    11 ara said this (September 15, 2008 at 2:53 pm) Reply

  • wasn’t Mrs Sephirtoh on encyclopedia dramatica?

    12 kuu said this (October 29, 2008 at 8:47 pm) Reply

  • **Scratches head**

    I can give you a mentally ill’s POV on soulbonding. I’m Schizophrenic and a mild case at that. I can tell the difference between my bonds and a psychotic fart. Schizophrenia is overwhelmingly negative and it uses stuff in everyday life to make your life hell. It’s like it records every day deeds and replays them, warping them into creative new constructs. There is no logic behind it. It taunts and teases.

    Soulbonding, as a whole, is much more rewarding and my bonds will help me through a rough patch. There’s reason, distinct thought and planning behind the conversations involved with a bond. Bonds, for the most part, don’t interrupt your life in the same manner.

    On a different note, I do have a gripe with the article (or actually the web site the quote was gacked from). I have SEVERE issues with the following quote:

    “Schizophrenics are unstable, unable to cope in everyday society, and often dangerous to themselves and others”

    True – we can be very unstable. Emotionally and mentally we can be quite odd, especially when fighting decades of mental torture. However the majority of Schizophrenics are **NOT** dangerous. That’s a myth that society insists on passing around, helped by the Media. If you saw me on the street you would never know I was ill. If we are violent (again, I stress is RARE), it’s vented on OURSELVES.

    13 Conure said this (June 6, 2009 at 8:52 am) Reply

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