You could’ve been binging any show, but you didn’t. You binged this one. In the back of your mind, you know I’m a psychopath, but despite all logic, you still want me to escape trouble. Maybe, you even have a little crush on me. A psychologist has something to say to you about why I’m so desirable despite being murderous… Maybe, you should read it. Hello, You.
  • 25 Jan - 31 Jan, 2020
  • Eman Saleem
  • Spotlight

Let’s get one thing straight. Joe Goldberg is red flags personified and only because he has an exquisite taste in literature (and texts back fast!) that doesn’t make him the boyfriend of the year. Joe is probably the most loving and nonchalant serial killer I have ever come across who, I won’t lie, I too found myself rooting for. It took a mental rundown of his murder spree to knock some sense into myself; “no, this is the epitome of toxic significant other,” a mantra you’re welcome to borrow. Yet social media cried in unison on idealising and romanticising him. “I’d die for a boyfriend like him,” read one comment. This is mortifying.

Penn Badgley said on a talk show, “It's not entirely fair to put that on the viewer because we're purposefully creating a device that is meant to be provocative – and hopefully thought-provoking – but not just titillating... It's not a clinical portrait of a serial killer."

I spoke to Sana Akbar, a practicing psychologist, about why Joe is so attractive and here’s why you shouldn’t justify his behaviour.

Joe Goldberg: A diagnosis

It’s no surprise Joe suffers from childhood PTSD but is that it? I discuss with the psychologist, Akbar. “Joe also suffers from a personality disorder that manifests only when he’s in love and an attachment disorder from his complicated relationship with his mother. He assumes his love for a woman has no boundaries, pathological lying is his second nature, he feels no remorse and lacks empathy. And then there is love addiction,” she simplifies. “It is a desperate need to find someone to love unconditionally fueled by the irrational fear of being alone or being rejected. They also have low self-esteem, stemming from the fear that the person they are addicted to will eventually leave them.”

“Love addiction typically relies on five factors: perfection of reality, dependency, boundaries, self-esteem, and moderation. The ‘addicts’ act erratically based on their own perception of reality by breaking boundaries, becoming dependent on the person they are addicted to, and not understanding what a healthy relationship looks like in moderation. They don't actually want love in a real way, so it's impossible to have a mutually loving dynamic. On a conscious level, they get overwhelmed by intimacy and closeness, but underneath the layer of it, they're terrified of being abandoned,” diagnoses Akbar.

Foundation of the fandom

As a viewer, we know Joe is crazy, yet fans made him the most desirable boyfriend of Netflix. The reaction begs the answer to one question: what in the name of what? Does anyone not remember how Joe broke up Beck and Benji? “It comes down to the empathy that Joe evokes in us,” says Akbar. "Empathy is really about how we are compelled to understand why things are the way they are. And we try to do that for other people, especially if we are very understanding of other people. When we are empathetic towards someone, it hooks us in. Empathy makes us susceptible.”

Dating Joe Goldberg

What is it about a psychopath that is so attractive, it blinds you to every waving red flag and makes us so senselessly forgiving? “Joe had a tragic childhood, which he leverages for sympathy; people in real life can do the same: A tragic story about a childhood trauma evokes this caretaker instinct. And when we hear the story, it releases oxytocin in our brain – aka the bonding hormone.”

You offers an extreme example of what can happen when a psychopath enters your life. They’ve mastered the art of the right first impressions, creating a perception of themselves, weaving a little web in which they learn about you and stage their entrance into your life. “If you're vulnerable because you're looking for someone to rescue you, then sophisticated psychopaths and dark personality types are going to be out for you,” warns Akbar.

Could you meet a Joe IRL?

Joe is the manifestation of multiple mental disorders brought to life by good writing, excellent execution and profound acting and more importantly, FICTION! But, the question nags nonetheless. Is it possible that one could meet a Joe Goldberg in real life and trick you into believing you’re actual soul mates and not a result of control, manipulation and obsession?

“While Joe Goldberg is an extreme type of psychopath, one can't guarantee milder versions won't enter your life. We need to have better demarcation of boundaries. Just as you are responsible for your own issues and your own demons, someone else is responsible for theirs; relationships fundamentally are about interdependence rather than dependence,” Akbar continues. “Trust your intuition, watch out for red flags, and, for God's sake, buy some curtains!”