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Insight: My cartoon crushes shaped my beliefs about love, relationships

Cartoons can have a real life impact on the way you perceive things


“Every single one of these boys infiltrated my subconscious, shaping the way I perceived my 'ideal man' and, in turn, relationships.” Illustration published on Friday, Oct. 16,  2020.

I remember staring blankly at the television, eyes wide and attention on the scenes unfolding before me in "Spirited Away."

“Will we meet again sometime?” Chihiro asked. 

“Sure we will,” Haku replied with a smile. 


“Promise. Now go and don’t look back.” 

I may have been young, but I knew one thing was certain: I wanted a boy like Haku in my life — someone who would risk everything to protect me. From then on, every cartoon boy was analyzed with the utmost power my child mind had. 

Even before then, one thing rang true with all the movies and shows I consumed — I fell in love with at least one character, idolizing him and fantasizing what our relationship would be like if he were real.  

Back then, I was old enough to know what I wanted, and what I wanted was love from whatever cartoon dream boy tickled my fancy that week. 

The boys at school would not so much as give me the time of day, let alone consider me as one of their crushes. Real-life boys were not cutting it, so I had to turn to those composed for the screen. 

And with each second and minute that passed during each run time, I’d consistently come to the same conclusion and would proudly exclaim, “I am going to marry a guy like him.” 

Every single one of these boys infiltrated my subconscious, shaping the way I perceived my “ideal man” and, in turn, relationships. 

In some cases, the media portrayed a boy meeting a girl, and chaos ensued, of course. 

Howl from "Howl's Moving Castle" — in all his manic pixie dream boy glory — pops up out of nowhere only to flip Sophie's world upside down, ultimately teaching her the importance of compassion and putting others before herself. He was a flamboyant and carefree spirit with a lost and gentle soul that needs to be protected.

In other instances, the cartoon boy is emotionally unavailable and acts as a stoic counterpart to the over-zealous main character — Prince Zuko from "Avatar: The Last Airbender," I’m looking at you. Zuko is damaged goods, but I knew I could change a guy like him. I could be the one to crack open his harsh exterior that was only a front, and I would be the one to finally bring light to his heart of gold. 

Boy after boy, character trait after character trait — I was constructing the image of what my prince charming looked and acted like, and he was just as unrealistic as my standards still are. 

My Frankenstein version of dream boy was tall, handsome, strong, sensitive, caring, funny and insert any other unattainable characteristic here. But most importantly, he was willing to do anything and everything to make me happy and keep me safe — something I still believe real life partners should strive to do. 

If a real life boy did not fit that criteria, he would not cross my mind. My future boyfriend had to be perfect like all my cartoon crushes. 

As I got older, my fantasies were only exacerbated by my lack of real life male attention. If I was not having actual relationships, what was the harm in imagining one with Flynn Rider from "Tangled" or Jim Hawkins from "Treasure Planet"?

These were the kind of guys to sweep me off my feet and save the day, solving all my problems with the simple solution of love. 

My beliefs and ideals about love were not completely warped, but were something unrealistic for anyone to completely achieve. 

No one can check off every single box of your dream boy list, it’s impossible — you just have to hope you find someone who gets most of them, especially the important ones. 

You cannot hold someone to an idealistic standard or expect them to completely change to fit one. These cartoons can’t be and aren’t real. They are a part of fiction for a reason. No one can be exactly like them. 

My dream boys were created for the sole purpose of casual entertainment, not for deep emotional connection. While it is fun to fantasize, there is and should be a distinction between what is real and what is not. 

And even though my heart still skips a beat every time I see Kyoya from “Ouran High School Host Club'' or Danny Phantom, I know these boys are in my past. 

Reach the reporter at and follow @munson_olivia on Twitter. 

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Olivia Munson

Olivia Munson is a digital producer for The State Press. She previously served as editor of the publication's The Echo desk. In the past, she has worked for Arizona PBS, The Arizona Republic and The Entertainer! magazine. 

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