Brittani, a 30-year-old nurse, says she would “Absolutely not” go out with Joe. (“He murders people at the drop of a hat. No thank you.”) But she says she enjoys hearing his inner monologue and “brutally honest” opinions. “I also admire how smart and organized he can be,” she says. Other women describe Joe as “sexy” and “ready to do anything for loved ones,” even knowing what they know about the character.
And many women say that Joe reminds them of men they’ve already dated, who they describe as stalkers and abusers. One woman I spoke to said of Joe, “Knowing what I know, I wouldn’t even look [Joe’s] way. I wouldn’t even want to associate with him for fear of not only my life but anyone I know, as well.”
“I’ve had many men become obsessed with me in my lifetime and it’s not fun,” she says. “In fact, it can turn scary real quick!” These men, she says, “go to extreme lengths” to keep other people from being close to you. “Maybe [they haven’t] killed anyone in a literal sense but they slowly kill who you are and your other relationships,” she says.
Another You fan I interviewed spoke about how she’s currently reconsidering her relationship with her husband, who she says exhibited “similar behavioral traits” to Joe at the beginning of their relationship.
“The writer was brilliant in making the character Joe,” she says. “They made him exhibit loyal behaviors most women (or men, for that matter) long for in a self-absorbed world. People justify Joe’s wrongdoing because it’s morally intertwined with a justified feeling from their perspective.”
Shymaa agrees. “The writer gave people what they wanna see in themselves,” she says. “It’s a criminal reflection of most people’s true selves…especially women. I mean, don’t we just love ‘light stalking’ our partners sometimes?” To many people, identifying with the characters on the show, and particularly lusting after Joe, is crazy. But a lot of female fans made it clear that they are able to see even the bloodiest storylines as allegorical, even while acknowledging that those same storylines (stalking, killing, sex crimes), however dramatized on You, are very real threats in their lives.
Watching their own worst nightmares come true on screen—the same way huge numbers of women devour true-crime podcasts and binge SVU episodes—is how women have always experienced entertainment. At least, many seem to be saying, let the made up perpetrator be really, really hot.
Badgley has claimed that interest in Joe, interest even in You, is a sign of our own moral corruption. “In a more just society, we would all see Joe as problematic and not be interested in the show, but that’s not the society we live in,” he said.
But the women who professed love and desire for Joe seem perfectly aware that he’s problematic. They’re used to problematic men. They’re used to risking violence when they go on dates.
They’re chasing desire in an unjust world. An anavrin, as the show puts it—a twisted, backwards, nirvana.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. Follow her on Twitter @JeanValjenny.