So I guess you're asking "how much must you invest before you are considered a true fan? No longer a newbie? etc?"
Hmm, I guess the transition from newbie to fan to veteran is more on the personal level. You say you still feel like a newbie after nine months. Probably because you feel like there's still a lot you don't know or are not confident in knowing yet? For me, the minimum investment before you can even consider thinking yourself a fan is knowing the basic facts and history of the show and it's characters. And then we get to the different level of fans. There's just the spectator and occasional commentator. The "artists", the 'amateur critiques and reviewers' with online access to putting on display their thoughts and opinions, the news and facts gurus, the different 'parties' - for a character, against a character, for how a character used to be, for every possibly coupling imaginable, for NO coupling whatsoever (think the X-Files -- I can't remember the different names, but there were the pro-Mulder&Scully and not so much anti but 'leave it always hanging in the hair' Mulder&Scully). To the few 'parties' I had courted or had been courted by in my fandom history, there was friendly rivalry with opposing parties. But I do know there are cases with extreme actually hateful rivalry between the parties as well. Becomes almost political.
Being a "true fan" ... well, I wouldn't necessarily define it with so much emotional investment. But the way she described it I would definitely say she was a fan. To be moved during a particularly angsty or sad moment, sure. But I think where my ideals waver from the mainstream "true fan" train of thought is that my hopes and dreams for a character are independent of what may actually happen.
Okay, this isn't coming out how I want it to. I'm saying I disagree with so-called "true fans" condemning certain actions and decisions of a character saying it is OOC. That concept always confused me and is one of the reasons why I am always suspicious of fanfics. I guess you could say that is one reason I don't read fics for shows like Angel or Naruto when I am perfectly happy with the depth and themes and complexities of the canon storylines. I believe if you "invest TOO MUCH" into stuff like fanfic or certain 'party ideals', you develop a rather unhealthy feeling of knowing a character and what's best for them better than the creators. If you'd like to see a certain character go down another path, that's what fics are for. But to outright say, "The creators are idiots, what were they thinking? The character would NEVER... it's WRONG what they did. I know the character better than they do." ? *shakes head*
Like the SPuffy affair. Highly unpopular, and I can't say I was a fan of it in the beginning (I became more neutral to the idea later, but throughout it all I was just relieved I didn't have to state my own opinion on it publicly because I had jumped out of that fandom a year earlier), but when some fans began to condemn the writers saying it was NOT how Buffy would've acted... how would they know? Yes, their image of her was forever tainted, but geez, take it like a "true" fan! I believe, basically, that a "true" fan is just that - a fan that appreciates the show and the characters for what they are and what they become. S/he accepts all, even if they aren't very happy with the development, and either adapt or just fall away. I mean, for me it's like telling a loved one, "I love you, but what the hell was that? That is not you. I demand you go back in time and do it the RIGHT way. The way I WANT YOU to do it." You can't tell another person how to live their life. But you can at least guide them afterwards. Try to "fix" whatever problem it is through fics. Basically, a "true" fan accepts on some level or another whatever canon dictates. Because it's canon.
I'd like to think I measure my status in a fandom by how "deep" I have infiltrated it. WHen you first put a foot into it, you see how you're recieved. The next is WHO you are getting attention from. It's a social ladder, really. Then, you know you're on some kind of elevated status when others seek YOU out. For your skills, your opinion, etc. Ask YOU questions. Make requests. Invite you to join some site or group or another.
lol, as one who once ran a pretty successful "underground" fansite (I define "underground" as one that was not affiliated with other major sites and got it's traffic mostly through word of mouth), I craved the power and the attention and the compliments. It's when you gain a reputation high enough that people seek you out to discuss further your beliefs, opinions, stance, etc... that you know you've become a veteran or close-to-being veteran, esteemed fan.
Okay, I need some chocolate eggs now.