When I’m really passionate about something – books, food, movies, what have you – I love to find people to talk with about that thing. I could probably go on for hours about films I like, songs I love, and bands I follow. So if I find someone who claims to be a huge fan of the thing I’m a fan of, I’ll launch into a huge introductory rant about how awesome the latest album was or a mini dissection of teaser trailers for the next greatest summer blockbuster.

Imagine my disappointment when I get a nervous chuckle back with, “oh, I just like that one song a lot.”

But you said you were a fan. Correct me if I’m wrong, but considering the word “fan” is short for “fanatic”, shouldn’t your knowledge of a band being greater than one popular song on the radio? Shouldn’t you be able to talk about more than one film by a director? Shouldn’t you have tried more than Taco Bell if you claim to like Mexican food? Come on now, you’re just killing my passion here. You’re like that guy that goes to the concert and only knows one song and keeps shouting for that song to be played. Like, what are you doing?

I guess sometimes this thought pattern can be a bit unfair, and it’s sometimes used to exclude people from conversations because they don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge about certain topics. I know I’ve been glanced at like I don’t belong in heavy discussion of pre-80s rock music. I have huge comic book fans as friends who weren’t believed when they said they have huge collections because they were attractive women. I’m sure examples are all over the place. Calling someone a “fake fan” (dangerously close to “fake geek girl”, isn’t it?) is, at times, an attempt to exclude. Lame. But I don’t think that mindset is black and culture

There’s a difference between not having seen the entire filmography of Christian Bale or Meryl Streep and saying you’re a fan of his or hers, and claiming to love Lana Del Rey when you only know “Summertime Sadness”. When I gush over Hayao Miyazaki to you and I learn that you, a self-proclaimed fan, only have seen “Spirited Away”, I get momentarily bummed that our conversation was cut short. However, I’ll only sprout buds of indignation when you stoutly refuse my offers to check out more of his collection and still call yourself a fan.

Liking something and calling yourself a fan of something is not the same thing. The difference between the two is liking implies superficial interest. A fan implies that you’ve built appreciation for it. There’s an evolution into becoming a fan. Hell, it can be very short. Ever heard of binge-watching? Like just taking down an entire series in a weekend? That is a fan. Watching two episodes in three months? You like it, if that. Difference. I’m really patient with new fans who sometimes slip up a fact or five because I can see the excitement in their eyes that mirrors mine when I was at their level of engagement. I can connect with that.

Yeah, it sounds nitpicky as hell, but I simply don’t think “fan” should be a catch-all term for someone who has positive feelings towards something. That could make me a fan of candles, washing machines, and traffic lights. If I hear that you like Wes Anderson movies but haven’t seen anything other than “The Darjeeling Limited” and are unsure of where to continue, I’m actually more accepting of that because that means you’re eager to try new things, to become a fan. And I will happily lead you to discover more. Being a fan means bonding with other fans. It’s inevitable. We want to bond.

Of course, this is a cautionary tale to those who want to “educate the uninitiated.” Only push when you are given permission to do so. Don’t take ambivalence as ignorance. People know what they like. If they are looking for guidance, then provide it. Otherwise, it’s probably best to back off. Don’t publicly humiliate someone wearing a Nirvana t-shirt from Forever 21. Sometimes fashion is fashion. I don’t get why you’d wear band apparel for a band you don’t listen to, considering plenty of people will use it to start conversations and break the ice, and you’re opening yourself up to awkwardness, but whatever. That’s just me. I’d never insult you or make you jump through hoops or, God forbid, quiz you. Don’t be that guy.

Let’s wrap things up. Just to make things clear, I’m not going to tell you to your face that you aren’t a real fan. Relax. But I’m probably going to think it. It’s what whiny, annoying, vanguard fans do. They are constantly battling emotions. We gripe. We recognize that people like different things different ways. We all have that one thing we love more than anything that we want to protect, so if someone isn’t a fan of it and badly misinterprets it under the guise of being a fan, then problems arise. And that pisses true fans off because we have to rush and defend our fave because some moron doesn’t know what they’re saying. We understand that sometimes we sound really petty.

Above all, it’s okay if you’re not on the same level of fan as someone else, if you’re just starting out. You don’t have to pretend to love something just because I lose my mind over it. Going with the group or falling to peer pressure to fit in isn’t right. If you don’t believe yourself to be a fan, big deal, you aren’t one. I’m not going to pretend I’m a fan of Taylor Swift just because I like a few of her songs. Be honest. If we can’t bond over one thing, I’m sure we can bond over something else. Just like fans should.