“Don’t listen to all the people who have tried to bring you down!” my girlfriend insists in soft, comforting falsetto tones. “I’ll always be here to support you, to cheer you. I might not have the same connection to the things you love, but I’ll never, ever make fun of you for it. You know that, right? That’s why I love you — for being you.” Her intonations are gentle, and with every crisp “t” and soft “i,” I hear the faint raspiness of her voice — one that suggests she’s been crying with me. My pain is her pain.
It’s too bad, then, that she’s not real.
The truth is, this “girlfriend” is a 15-minute ASMR audio clip called “Don’t Listen to Them | Supportive Girlfriend Comfort.” And that’s just one of many. In others, your girlfriend will tell you that “you’ll always be good enough!” and that “no matter what happens, we’ll get through this together.”
“A lot of the men who ask for supportive girlfriend audio like it because it gives them a boost of confidence,” says 20-year-old Sarah, a college student in Arizona who I previously interviewed about homemade “loli” voice notes, in which she pretended to be a teenage anime girl. (The creator of the clips mentioned above, KayJASMR, originally designed them for people suffering from depression, anxiety or have impulses to self-harm.)
Though Sarah doesn’t ask detailed questions of the clients who want supportive girlfriend ASMR clips, she notes that the vast majority of them are male and usually in their late teens or 20s. A few, she tells me, even have IRL girlfriends. But for the most part, they’re “single guys who are nerdy, shy and into anime. I guess some of them fantasize about having a caring girlfriend who is like their favorite anime character.”
“Some guys who get in touch suffer from depression, some have been through breakups and some feel like they don’t deserve a relationship,” she continues. As such, she adds, “The voice clips I make are important to them, because no one else in their life is giving them the emotional support they really want.”
On YouTube, “Supportive Girlfriend” and “Supportive Boyfriend” ASMR videos can rack up hundreds of thousands of views. Seventeen-year-old Dennis Riley’s channel “DennisASMR” is among the biggest in the genre, with videos like “Loving Boyfriend Does Your Makeup,” where, while pretending to apply his girlfriend’s skincare creams and lotions, he offers her messages of reassurance. For example: “Everything is going to be okay. We’re going to be a little bit late to the restaurant, but they said it will be okay. Just calm down, please don’t cry. I don’t want to stress you, all right?”
As the video ends, he looks lovingly into the camera and says, “I promise, you really look better without makeup.”
Craig Richard, an ASMR researcher at Shenandoah University in Virginia, told the New York Times in October that while relationship videos have long been a popular genre online, ASMR offers a more holistic experience of caregiving, which can affect how we process intimate communication neurologically. “Someone pretending to care registers as someone actually caring for us,” he said. Not that this is necessarily always a good thing, Alexandra Lash, a clinical psychologist in Maine, explained to the Times, as these videos and audio clips can create “an unrealistic and idealized perspective of what a partner can or should be.”
For his part, Ben, who goes by DuEX on YouTube, didn’t intentionally seek out supportive girlfriend ASMR videos. In fact, he didn’t even know what ASMR was when he first started watching them. “I found it a few months ago when I was browsing through YouTube, watching anime clips,” he tells me. “At first, I was just curious, because I’d seen people doing anime voices that were just funny.” But as he listened to “Supportive Girlfriend,” the audio clip created by ASMR artist Jasmin Flower, he began to feel emotionally overwhelmed. “I remember crying when I first heard it!” he laughs. “I realized that I’d never been in a relationship where someone had said things that nice to me. I was always the person doing that, so it felt weird to listen and imagine myself receiving it.”
Ben, of course, knows that expecting a real-life girlfriend like those in the ASMR videos is both unrealistic and possibly unhealthy. It’s an opinion backed by psychologists like Caroline Fleck, of Stanford University’s School of Medicine, who told the New York Times that “Supportive Boyfriend”-style videos can convince vulnerable people that they need “someone to take care of them and look after their emotional needs,” something most therapists believe is detrimental to mental health since it can “interfere with your ability to take care of yourself.”
Sarah agrees — to a point. “I did have to tell one guy to stop emailing me about things going on in his personal life,” she tells me. “He was looking for sympathy and support, and I felt really bad for him. I had to remind him, however, that I wasn’t his girlfriend, and eventually, I had to block him when he tried to friend me on Facebook.”
But at a time when lonely, single men can easily be manipulated by darker, more sinister forces online, she’s sure to add, “I hope that my audio can reassure them, too, that they’re worth loving, and that they also can love.”