Have you ever noticed how many teenagers look up to celebrities or even fictional characters? They latch onto one celebrity and, next thing you know, they know everything about them, and even go as far as to refer to them as if they were their friend.
Maybe you know someone at university who’s really into a movie or a TV show. They’ve developed a deep attachment to one of the characters, and they know everything about them. Does that sound like someone you know?
If so, this person might be in a parasocial relationship with a celebrity. If you don’t know what that means, that’s okay. It’s pretty simple.
A parasocial relationship is a one-sided relationship with someone who isn’t aware of your existence. That could mean anything: celebrities, influencers, professional athletes, podcast hosts, politicians, and even fictional characters.
With social media, parasocial relationships have become slightly more interactive than they used to be. If you’re in a parasocial relationship with a real person, it’s possible for them to interact with you on social media: they liked one of your tweets, for example.
But an interaction or a short reply doesn’t necessarily mean they know who you are or they remember you. That’s why it’s still considered a parasocial relationship despite the interaction.
Forming Parasocial Relationships
A parasocial relationship usually forms after repeated exposure. This can be repeated exposure to the person’s podcasts, or a specific actor’s television shows and movies. In the case of TV show characters, for example, it can be something as simple as watching several episodes of the show in a row and forming an attachment to the character.
This type of relationship happens because they’re a way of forming something close to a friendship without having to worry about being rejected or dismissed in any way. A celebrity or a character that is not aware of your existence can’t act negatively towards you because they don’t know you. This makes parasocial relationships easy to form.
Ending Parasocial Relationships
It’s possible for a parasocial relationship to end, and it can happen in various ways. It depends, of course, on who the parasocial relationship has been formed with. If it’s with a celebrity, the relationship can end for a variety of reasons. Usually, it’s because the celebrity has done something that doesn’t conform to the way you saw them. Sometimes, however, it can end when the celebrity dies.
For fictional characters, it’s different. Maybe the show they were a part of has come to an end, or the film they appeared in won’t have a sequel. Or maybe the character will no longer appear on the TV show due to the actor’s other commitments.
Either way, when a parasocial relationship ends, the distress you feel as a result can be as strong as if you’d ended a real friendship with someone. This is because, at least on your end, your attachment was real and strong. It’s only natural that the end of that relationship has a strong impact, no matter how one-sided it may be.
There are benefits to parasocial relationships. They lead to a stronger sense of belonging and better social connections. They can lead to you developing more confidence in yourself, maybe even figuring out what kind of person you want to be. It can be quite comforting to be in a parasocial relationship with someone you look up to.
On the other hand, parasocial relationships can also have downsides. It’s far less common than we think, but it’s possible sometimes for people in parasocial relationships to go overboard and go as far as to stalk the celebrities they’ve formed parasocial relationships with.
While most people in a parasocial relationship will never go that far, it’s possible that whatever parasocial relationship you’re in is more harmful to you than helpful. If that’s the case, don’t hesitate to book an appointment with us. Anxiety therapy or depression treatment can help you get to the bottom of why you have formed this type of relationship and how to overcome it.