This is when characters decide that it is indeed better never to have loved than to have loved and lost. They believe that if they don't feel or care, they can't be hurt. This decision is often initiated by either themselves or someone close to them crossing the Despair Event Horizon, but they choose to take the final step and how to express their despair.
This frequently results in/from them feeling that Hope Is Scary, as it threatens their indifference/safety and risks them feeling upset again, requiring them to either give up their defenses or go through the harrowing experience of re-erecting them.
Ice and stone imagery are often included and the character may sing an Ode to Apathy.
Characters who choose indifference most often end up as a Broken Bird; Sour Outside, Sad Inside; Emotionless Girl or Ice Queen; they will sometimes be cold or act like jerks on purpose to hide their emotions from both themselves and others while secretly Desperately Craving Affection. Where they are a significant character, expect a Defrosting Ice Queen or Break the Haughty plot, teaching them the Power of Friendship or love.
Compare Heroic BSoD and Heroic Safe Mode which are more temporary, and Despair Event Horizon, where the character is not actively choosing and maintaining their state. Compare The Stoic who shows little to no emotion for various reasons. Compare/contrast Straw Nihilist when their view goes beyond simply their own defence. When a character is worried about physical rather than emotional safety, may overlap with Bystander Syndrome.
See also Emotion Suppression where emotions are removed (often artificially) for a specific reason; either short-term or permanently. See Never Be Hurt Again for when a character's driving motivation is to never lose the things they care about. See Conditioned to Accept Horror for when a character simply gets used to the horrible things in their world. See Love Is a Weakness for when a character considers an emotional connection to be a dangerous vulnerability.
On a different note, see The Firefly Effect or Audience-Alienating Ending for when this attitude trips viewers investing in a franchise. Likewise, see Too Bleak, Stopped Caring for when a story gets too dark for the audience to feel invested in it, and Opening a Can of Clones for when viewers stop feeling tension or investment because they can no longer be certain that a given plot development will have lasting effects on the story's universe.
- In Mobile Suit Gundam AGE, Lord Ezelcant claims that this is the way the entire nation of Vagan feels; it's too painful to love others and have relationships when there's a very good chance that either you or those you care about will die young due to an incurable disease.
- Shinji Ikari of Neon Genesis Evangelion tries to have this attitude due to his mother's death and his father abandoning him, but he isn't very successful at not caring or not getting attached. Having no expectations doesn't protect him from disappointment and he sorely desires the human contact he tries to avoid.
- Gendo is revealed to have chosen this route in End of Evangelion due to his inability to relate to other people. In particular, he feared hurting Shinji after Yui's death and being hurt in turn, so he chose to avoid him for both their sakes. Ironically, it was his abandonment of Shinji that ended up giving the boy one of his deepest emotional scars. Although considering the job he did of raising Shinji's half-sister, in the very loosest sense of the word, you can't help but wonder if he did kind of have a point.
- Word of God has it that this is why Near from Death Note shut himself off from the world.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: This is a large part of Homura's character. By the time the story begins, she's gone from being a shy girl cursed with non-offensive magic determined to save all her friends from a powerful (but still killable) Eldritch Abomination to a Broken Ace (with awesome powers) out to just save her very best friend from a much bigger problem than anyone knew existed. She still cares about that one friend, but can no longer afford to worry about anyone else.
- In One Piece, this is the reason for Nico Robin's mannerisms, according to Word of God. She used to refer to her crewmates only by nickname or their title rather than their names because she didn't want to get attached to them after being used and betrayed by everyone else she associated with. She even freaked out when another character referred to them as her friends. She grew out of it when the Straw Hats proved she could trust them by demanding that she allow them to rescue her from the world government's capture.
- Tsukishima Kei of Haikyuu!! is basically this trope. The reason for his detachment and indifferent attitude towards volleyball is because after a rather traumatic incident with his brother he came to the conclusion that the more he cares about something, the more he will suffer if he doesn't succeed. He constantly tells himself (and others) that Karasuno is just a club and that anything that happens doesn't really affect him. That all changes when he manages to score a point against Shiratorizawa in the third season by blocking Ushijima's spike.
- Sousuke of Full Metal Panic! has developed a severe case of this from his life as a Child Soldier, never entertaining the idea of where he might be five years in the future because he can't even expect to survive to the end of the day. It's the first thing to go once he starts shedding his "mental permafrost", which isn't great for him because he quickly discovers that Love Hurts and Hope Is Scary as all hell.
- In Date A Live, Mukuro literally sealed her emotions away completely with her angel (read: weapon) so she could never be hurt again. The result is a scary, amoral spirit who just wants to be left alone and is indifferent to the fate of those around her until Shido unlocks her feelings with Natsumi's angel (transformed to look and work like Mukuro's).
- Suspected by Shinra to be Izaya's reason for loving all humans in Durarara!!.
- Mary Jane Watson from the Spider-Man comics often acted as if she didn't have a care in the world beyond dancing and partying. We later learn that it was largely an act to hide the pain brought on by her abusive father. A large part of her character development was learning she didn't have to wear the facade and overcoming the Commitment Issues associated with it.
- In a heartbreaking scene in The Walking Dead, Maggie announces to her boyfriend Glenn, "I don't think I'm going to love you anymore" because everyone she cares about in the Zombie Apocalypse dies, with a perfectly blank face as though she were announcing that she'd rather not have chicken for dinner. Fortunately, it doesn't last long before she reconsiders.
- Wonder Woman Vol 1: After her husband's murder and daughter's abduction by the Nazis Paula decides she can only afford to be indifferent at most to the rest of humanity, her heart can't take any more heartbreak and she's decided that she's willing to damn everyone else to save her daughter Gerta so she cannot care about the many innocents whose lives she's going to ruin by allying herself with the Nazis to keep them from killing Gerta. By the end, she's even come to enjoy some of the sadistic torture she inflicts.
- Frozen: After an incident in her childhood when she accidentally hit her little sister in the head with her ice powers, Elsa detaches herself from her relatives and locks herself in her room, convinced that she should "conceal, don't feel" and is better off alone.
- Hercules: Meg refuses to admit that she may have feelings for Hercules due to the fact that her previous boyfriend left her when she gave her soul to Hades to save his life.
Meg: Sometimes, it's better to be alone. Nobody can hurt you.
- Zootopia: After a traumatizing event in his childhood, Nick Wilde believes feigning this attitude is better than letting anyone see they "get to him" ever again.
- Rita Vrataski has this attitude in Edge of Tomorrow because she was once in control of a "Groundhog Day" Loop and had to watch someone she cared about (possibly a lover) die over 300 times. She's now a part of the main character's "Groundhog Day" Loop and distances herself from him to spare him from the same fate.
- Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After the events of Thor, he desperately tries but fails not to care. He disowns Frigga as his mother in Thor: The Dark World, but the words don't come easy, and he becomes a mess after her death. He repeatedly states that Odin is not his father, but is hurt when the latter says that Loki's birthright was to die, Dumb Struck when Odin reclaims him as his son in Thor: Ragnarok and ready to cry when Odin dies. He shouts that Thor is not his brother, tries to kill him, and then is angry that Thor doesn't visit him in his cell; says that they should part ways but is upset when Thor agrees; prompts Thanos to torture Thor in Avengers: Infinity War and then can't bear it.
- Kylo Ren in Star Wars. After a lifetime of feeling abandoned and unwanted by his parents, and thinking his uncle wanted him dead, he has decided to sever all emotional ties and join the dark side. He is cold towards most people and attempts to murder his own parents. It's not exactly working out. Killing his father made his pain worse, he can't bring himself to kill his mother and he spends a lot of time in The Last Jedi reaching out to and confiding in Rey. Later, he's almost begging her to join him. At the end of that film, he's completely alone, with both Rey and his mother having given up on him, with no one to blame but himself.
- Will in Good Will Hunting is an orphan whose adoptive father used to beat him. He learned to push people away when they get too close because he is afraid the relationship won't work out and they will hurt him. Thus, he falls in love with Skylar and then suddenly breaks up with her because of this. In the end, the psychiatrist, Sean, manages to get through to Will and make him understand that he has an attachment disorder. After fully realizing what he's been subconsciously doing, Will finally allows himself to cry like a child in Sean's arms and decides to abandon said behavior.
- The attraction of indifference on both personal and societal levels is an ongoing theme in many of Isobelle Carmody's books. The protagonists are usually characters who insist on facing the problems and trying to do something about them.
- From The Legendsong Saga, Dark Ember is the most obvious, dealing with the knowledge of her dying by pre-emptively withdrawing from life.
- The Stormlord in The Winter Door is an extreme example, creating a machine and a whole world that drains people of any form of wanting or desire.
- Nahri in The Daevabad Trilogy. As a child, she was often rejected for her uncanny power to sense illness and became a con artist, with the only person she trusted being the doctor who taught her medicine. As a part of the Decadent Court in Daevabad, Nahri begins to feel that caring about anyone or anything will only result in their destruction before her eyes, and this fear is continually reinforced, so she tries very hard not to get attached.
- The virtuous pagans in The Divine Comedy live in the First Circle of Hell, where their only punishment is that they live without hope (of Heaven) or fear (of Hell). Even though they sigh and despair for missing Paradise, their fate is infinitely preferable to the eight torture chambers below them.
- Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar:
- In Magic's Pawn, Vanyel decides to cut himself off from all emotion as a way of dealing with his emotionally abusive father and his exile to a strange city. This starts to be reflected in Recurring Dreams in which he is slowly turning to ice until he eventually opens up to Tylendel.
- Her short story "Medic", based on her Filk Song of the same name, focuses on a combat medic who constantly transfers to new posts to avoid getting familiar enough with anyone to be hurt when they die.
- A general theme in her writings is that monarchs, commanders, and others who might have to send soldiers to war have to assume some emotional distance as part of The Chains of Commanding. The kings and queens of Valdemar can unburden themselves on a particularly wise Herald, but others have to just cope as best they can.
- The main character of The Mental State lets out a Roaring Rampage of Revenge on the people who raped his girlfriend, but, in doing so, he makes her terrified of him. To cope with becoming a monster in her eyes, he switches off all but the most useful emotions, becoming a sociopath in the process.
- In the Mordant's Need books by Stephen Donaldson, Terisa Morgan's "fading" is a variation of this which she is able to invoke.
- In Sailor Nothing the main character feels like this during a Heroic BSoD.
- The Stormlight Archive:
- The Tales of Beedle the Bard: The warlock in "The Hairy Heart" decides that love is a useless emotion that makes you stupid and weak, and so cut out his heart and kept it safe, completely immune to the local ladies' attempts to woo him. However, his self-image takes a nosedive after overhearing two servants think of him as lonely and miserable as opposed to wise and aloof.
- The Wheel of Time: Rand Al'Thor's struggles with The Chains of Commanding and the stress of being The Chosen One lead him to try to Invoke this, believing he has to be dispassionate and "hard" to be strong. It only accelerates his Sanity Slippage. Ultimately, in his Darkest Hour, he Defies the trope, realizing that love is itself a source of strength.
- Uprooted: The centuries-old witch Alosha warns Agnieszka that it's best not to care too closely about other people, since they're bound to outlive them all — and as a great-great-grandmother 67 times over, she has extensive experience in this.
- Lexa from The 100 lost someone close to her once, and decided the only way to get over the pain was to suppress her ability to love, believing it to be a weakness.
- Doctor Who: At the start of "The Snowmen", the Doctor is suffering from this. With the Ponds, he has lost one too many companions and he is no longer willing to commit himself to help Earth and humans.
- Özge resolves to become apathetic at the start of Fi's second season, having hit rock bottom after the events of season one. Fortunately, it doesn't stick.
- Caitlin Snow in The Flash (2014) believes indifference is the correct way to go and protect herself after Ronnie's (her ex-fiance and current husband) death, as evidenced by "My once-promising career in bioengineering is over, my boss in a wheelchair for life, the explosion that put you in a coma also killed my fiancé. So this blank expression kind of feels like the way to go. " This trope is subverted once Ronnie is revealed to be alive after all and is separated from Martin Stein, regaining the ability to control his own body.
- House, M.D.'s MO; he says he only cares about solving medical puzzles and doesn't care about the patients themselves. He almost always ends up caring about the patients.
- Eliot in The Magicians (2016) runs into this a couple times, most notably when Quentin suggests they try being together in the main timeline. He later admits that he rejected him not because he didn't want to be with Q, but because he was afraid.
- In Sherlock, Sherlock believes this. John doesn't.
Sherlock: Alone is what I have. Alone protects me.
John: No. Friends protect people.
- I am a Rock by Simon & Garfunkel explains why the narrator chose indifference. Or tried to, anyway; something in the tone of voice implies they're Not So Stoic as they pretend to be...
"And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries."
- In Billy Joel's "An Innocent Man", the singer addresses someone like this in the hope of getting them to learn to love again.
- In Pink Floyd's The Wall, after all the crap his life has thrown at him, which includes a dead father, an overprotective mother, cruel teachers, and a rather difficult divorce from his wife, Pink comes to this conclusion when completing his personal wall, closing out the first half of the album. Unfortunately, Pink soon realizes during the first song of the second half, "Hey You," that building the wall to shut out the world around him was a big mistake, as the ensuing isolation wastes no time in driving him insane.
"I don't need no arms around me,
and I don't need no drugs to calm me!
I have seen the writing on the wall,
Don't think I need anything at all
No! Don't think I need anything at all!
All in all, it was all just bricks in the wall!
All in all, you were all just bricks in the wall!"
- The Oh Hellos' song "Hello My Old Heart" is about this trope.
"Hello my old heart, how have you been?
How is it, being locked away?
But don't you worry, in there you're safe
And it's true, you'll never beat, but you'll never break."
- The first half of "Gotta knock a little harder" by The Seatbelts is about this. The second half is the same person desperate to break out of that shell and needing help to do so.
"Happiness is just a word to me
And it might've meant a thing or two
If I had known the difference.
Emptiness, a lonely parody
And my life, another smokin' gun
A sign of my indifference.
Always keepin' safe inside
Where no one ever had a chance
To penetrate a break in.
Let me tell you some have tried
But I would slam the door so tight
That they could never get in."
- Kelly Clarkson's song "Breaking Your Own Heart" gives an outside perspective on the problem:
"Too many tears, too many falls
It's easier here behind these walls
But you don't have to walk in the shadows
Life is so hard.
You're breaking your own heart
Taking it too far down the lonely road."
- Taako from The Adventure Zone falls into this a couple of times.
- During "The Stolen Century", he and Barry talk about the relics and the damage they caused. Taako admits he finds it hard to care about this new world and delivers a harsh, angry rant when Barry pushes him on it.
Taako: Everyone I've ever met, aside from the six of you, were just dust. Just talking dust. Okay? So I started worrying a lot more about me because what was the fucking point.
- After regaining his memories of Lup and her disappearance, Taako initially tries to kill Lucretia. When the others talk him down, he just gives up and walks away, and when asked to explain why Lucretia's plan to create a shield around the Prime Material Plane to protect it from the Hunger wouldn't work, he just quietly says he doesn't care anymore, and that she can do whatever she wants. His reply to Magnus's Rousing Speech is equally heartrending.
- During "The Stolen Century", he and Barry talk about the relics and the damage they caused. Taako admits he finds it hard to care about this new world and delivers a harsh, angry rant when Barry pushes him on it.
- Our Miss Brooks: In the episode Trying to Forget Mr. Boynton, Miss Brooks tries to be indifferent and forget about love interest Mr. Boynton. It backfires spectacularly as Miss Brooks sees Mr. Boynton's face on every new person she meets. Fortunately, the episode turns out to be All Just a Dream.
- Invoked in Jasper In Deadland. Lethe-brand water makes the citizens of Deadland forget their lives, which makes it much easier to be carefree on account of the fact that nobody has any bad memories, nor can they remember anything worth caring about.
- Fiyero from Wicked uses a much more upbeat version of this trope, complete with a whole musical number ("Dancing Through Life") cultivating his image as a Brainless Beauty.
Fiyero: ...Life is painless, for the brainless...
- Although a later conversation calls him out on it:
Fiyero: Hey! I happen to be genuinely self-assured and deeply shallow.
Elphaba: No you aren't, or you wouldn't be so unhappy.
- Although a later conversation calls him out on it:
- The song I'm Not Afraid Of Anything from Songs for a New World is about this trope. The singer tells of how she lacks the fears her family and friends have, but by the end, we realize that the reason for her "fearlessness" is because she refuses to get truly close to anyone.
- Final Fantasy:
- Shadow implies that this is his philosophy in Final Fantasy VI when he warns Terra that some people kill their own emotions. Probably because of his guilt over being unable to give his old friend and partner a Mercy Kill.
- This is also Squall's viewpoint throughout most of Final Fantasy VIII. After growing up in an orphanage, and then watching everyone he cared about slowly go away one by one, he decided that if people were going to die or otherwise leave him alone, it was better to be alone in the first place to avoid the pain of losing them. He intentionally pushes everyone away to avoid developing bonds with them that would hurt to sever. It takes Rinoa to break him out of it.
- In Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Demon Prince Laharl wakes up from a two-year sleep (more like a coma) to find out that his father is dead and that he is now inheritor to the throne of Overlord. Angel Trainee Flonne tries to console him about his father's death, but he brushes it off like nothing, which horrifies her. Later, we learn that Laharl ignores his emotions—especially empathy and love—because of the pain of losing his mother when he was young.. Laharl actually cares a lot more than he lets on, but acts indifferent both because he hates the pain, and because he can't look weak as the Overlord.
- In Star Trek Online, this is Slamek's attitude towards life. He's been a slave for so long, he betrays the Reman Resistance to Hakeev and the Tal Shiar so that he can continue to live that life rather than join the fight for freedom.
Slamek: Why would you care about me? No one cares about me. I don't even care anymore. Go away.
- Xane, from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light, is a Stepford Smiler Manakete who professes to hate humans, at least to the few people he trusts enough to tell he's not human and does his best to avoid forming any sort of connection with them. It's heavily implied in his conversations with Kris that he doesn't really hate humans but is instead closing himself off from them to avoid the pain of having to outlive another friend.
- Chidori of Persona 3 has a shortened lifespan due to her artificial Persona, and copes by having nothing to live for. Until Junpei shows up and breaks through her shell. Now that she has something to care about, she's now afraid to die.
- Flowey the Flower from Undertale seems to feel this way, if his dialogue after sparing him in the Neutral Ending is any clue.
Flowey: Hurts, doesn't it? If you had just gone through without caring about anyone, you wouldn't have to feel bad now.
- Vampire: The Masquerade Bloodlines: Implied with Trip the pawnbroker, who works the night shift in a vampire-infested city and has a working relationship with multiple human ghouls. His gripes about the worsening state of Los Angeles have hints that he's at least somewhat aware of the Masquerade but chooses to remain an Apathetic Citizen.
- Kazuaki Nanaki in Hatoful Boyfriend lost someone years ago, and still felt strongly about them. But as the years went by love soured into a kind of resentment, and he resolved "I think it's better to love everyone around you just enough that you won't regret losing them."
- Katawa Shoujo: Ever since the death of her father, Emi Ibarazaki is deathly afraid of forming close bonds with others. She starts to overcome this trope in the good ending of her route as she learns the value of others' help and companionship.
- Becca from Melody responded to the pain of her breakup with her former best friend-turned-boyfriend that she shunned social interactions with anyone outside her family.
- Dream SMP: In Week 5 of his 'lessons' with Slime (in the fourth "Las Nevadas" stream), Quackity preaches to "[c]reate no emotional attachments to anything [because] everything gets destroyed". Considering one of the examples he uses to illustrate this was him and El Rapids being "abandoned", it carries strong indication that he feels this way as a result of his Trauma Conga Line prior to this arc... though granted, he's a massive hypocrite in saying he lacks emotional attachment, and he gets better eventually.
- In Sword Art Online Abridged, Kirito comes to this conclusion in Episode 3, after losing his first real friend and after an item rumored to be able to bring people back from the dead turns out to be "a goddamn hat." Much of his Character Development over later episodes comes from this sentiment interacting with the Chronic Hero Syndrome he developed from the same loss.
Kirito: But I do suppose I should thank you. You made me realize that by being nice and letting people in... they'll just die. (Beat) But still, thank you for showing me that there is a part of me that can feel like this. Because now that I know where to find it, I've killed it forever. So thank you. Thank you for freeing me.
- This is one of the many things that the Care Bears are trying to prevent by encouraging others to share their feelings.
- In Barbie in a Christmas Carol, this became Catherine'snote attitude in "Eden Starling"'snote Bad Future after she (Catherine) tried to save the orphanage after being fired on Christmas Day.
Bad Future!Catherine: Caring hurt, so I stopped.
- This is the theme of Care Bears in the Land Without Feelings. A young boy named Kevin is so upset about moving and leaving his old neighborhood and best friend behind that he decides it's better not to care about anything or have any friends anymore. He runs away and is found by Professor Coldheart, who promises he can make that happen...
But, wait, here comes the best part!
I'll freeze your feelings cold as ice
And kill your cares! Ooh, that sounds nice!
I've heard you've been complaining
There's no need to cry or whine
I'll refrigerate those feelings
Why, I found you just in time!
- This uncharacteristically dark lyric from Starlight Glimmer's Villain Song in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, explaining how her cult effectively enforces numb conformity by removing the pony's talents magically and with threats of being locked in a cell to have propaganda blared at them for even the slightest infraction.
In Our Town, in Our Town, we work as a team,You can't have a nightmare if you never dream
- In the attachment theory as applied to adults, the "I actually desire closeness but I'm better off alone because I'm afraid to be hurt" stance is the hallmark of the fearful-avoidant style that may develop as a response to trauma. If it's Trauma with a capital "T", avoidance of relationships and sense of alienation may be a symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or its Complex form.
- Rather common in military units seeing active combat, especially in wars where high casualty rates are expected. Losing True Companions hurts so the soldiers stop caring about anything - the New Meat in particular, as their loss will hurt less if they were just a face rather than a Fire-Forged Friend.
- People suffering from Avoidant Personality Disorder live by this trope. Although they desperately desire their own set of True Companions, their fear of rejection by others is so great that they decide against trying to form interpersonal relationships in the first place.