Season three of Netflix’s hit series YOU returned to screens last week, and unsurprisingly, social feeds started spiralling again.

Platforms were inundated with lusting notes fawning over protagonist Joe Goldberg – despite his portrayal of a classic abuser and straight-up psychopath.

While it’s worth noting Penn Badgley’s incredible acting may have contributed to fans’ admiration, “dating a guy like Joe” is becoming a far-too familiar phrase online, tongue-in-cheek or not.

Goldberg’s multidimensional character seems to entice viewers; he is charming yet dangerous, powerful yet sadistic, loving but cloaked in secrecy and lies.

The romanticisation of Goldberg could arguably be down to fantasy – being attracted to someone problematic without consequence.

Penn has even unapologetically criticised his on-screen character, and the 34-year-old recently reminded fans that Goldberg’s “not actually a person who just needs somebody who loves him. He’s abusive. He’s delusional. And he’s self-obsessed.”

Back in 2019, he took to Twitter to hit back at passionate, Joe-loving fans.

On the surface, it might seem confusing as to why people are thirsting over the on-screen stalker-serial-killer-psychopath. However, according to professionals, there are several other psychological factors why people can’t get enough of Goldberg.

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Behavioural scientist Clarissa Silva explained to indy100 how the dating landscape has transformed into one with minimal effort. Subsequently, some viewers perceive Goldberg’s master manipulative plans and intricate attention-to-detail as “romantic”, as “many haven’t experienced romance and they would like to have it emulated in their lives.”

“For some women, they see a person that is broken, and that failed to be loved at some point in their lives and can deeply empathise with him,” she said. “They can see past the pathology and see a person who can benefit from their nurturing.”

The fascination with the character can branch beyond “romantic gestures” – some people are chemically attracted to deviance. Hybristophilia, or the Bonnie and Clyde Syndrome, can trigger the release of norepinephrine, a hormone that can increase sexual arousal. “Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and David Berkowitz were perceived not as master manipulators but charming, powerful, hypermasculine, and an idealised version of a partner,” Silva said.

It doesn’t stop there.

In general, the obsession with abusive characters can, in fact, stem from a cycle of abuse.

These negative experiences can create a distorted reality in the victim’s mind, resulting in a downward cycle of low self-esteem and lowered expectations. Essentially, it “can lead women to seek out abusers because they have internalised and believe that they deserve the abuse”.


Unfortunately, individuals are becoming increasingly concerned with solely meeting their individual needs rather than human connections that can benefit everyone. According to Berman Center clinician, Amira Johnson, LMSW, “certain acts, even though they may be violent or harmful to someone else, can be seen as acceptable if it can be somehow justified.”

“We’ve been born and raised into societies that desensitise inhumane treatment,” she explained.

“From the acceptance of war and corporate greed to the illusion that men are superior to women, we’ve all accepted societal norms that subconsciously make us believe that such actions as those Joe Goldberg displays are enticing and derive from a place of power and love.”

<p>Victoria Pedretti and Penn Badgley in season three of \u2018YOU'</p>JOHN P FLEENOR/NETFLIX

Johnson explained that viewers disregard Goldberg’s inhumane behaviour and instead, “focus on the actions Joe displays that make him seem loving and as if he truly cares about the women he’s dating”.

“Actions such as killing his love interest, Beck, his partner in season one in order to eliminate any obstacles that keep him from being able to have her to himself,” she said.

For fans who have already bolted through season three of the hit Netflix series, you’ll see Badgley back on screens after the streaming platform announced a renewal for season four.

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