Parasocial Relationships: The Dangers of a One Sided Relationship


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Andrew Reyes, Staff Writer

Have you ever found an influencer on social media that you felt you could relate to? Or maybe you’ve felt like you just can’t live without watching a certain person on youtube? 

If you said yes to either of these questions, you’ve probably even felt that these individuals were your friends. This is because of something called parasocial relationships. The term parasocial relationship refers to a relationship that a person imagines having with another person whom they do not know, such as a celebrity or a fictional character. Some examples of parasocial relationships are being obsessed with an artist or celebrity because they give you comfort or you can feel like you could talk to them about anything if you had the chance. Watching TV shows and feeling like you are part of the friend group on the show is another way that parasocial relationships come out. 

But the reality is that you don’t know them and they don’t know you. 

Since social media is a big part of the average teen’s everyday life it is very easy to become overly invested  and, in turn, develop parasocial-type connections to certain people that you enjoy watching and following. There are thousands of influencers who are part of an endless niche of communities on the internet, which is due to the fact that It is also a lot easier to become viral on social media. This means that there are more people for others to feel “connected” to. 

A group of Howard University doctoral students observed in their article “ Parasocial Relationships: The Nature of Celebrity Fascinations,” “In the past, parasocial relationships occurred predominantly with television personas. Now, these relationships also occur between individuals and their favorite bloggers, social media users, and gamers.” The article also notes that “parasocial relationships are popular within these online communities, and this may be due to the increased sense of ‘knowing’ the personas, or the perception of parasocial interactions as having a high reward and no chance of rejection.” Being in a time where most people have smartphones and social media and are consuming hours of media a day,it is so easy to develop a parasocial relationship in the 21st century.

But what makes parasocial relationships so bad? There are a number of downsides to them, including a negative effect on one’s mental health. I decided to ask a couple of my classmates about the topic and if they have experienced a parasocial relationship. One person said they had a very bad experience a couple years ago. “I became obsessed with this YouTuber and I would literally be in my room 24/7 just watching them until I felt like I couldn’t do everyday things without having their videos play in the background. Another person talked about a time when someone who went to their school pretended they knew them and had a long history with them. “It was so weird when I found out he was telling other people that we did things like date and hang out. I didn’t even know who he was and at one point it felt like he was stalking me.”  Once the person adoring their idols becomes obsessed, parasocial relationships can become toxic and detrimental to their mental health.

While these relationships can decrease loneliness and fill the gap for social interaction as explained in an article on “Everyday Health” by Moira Lawler. She states, “Parasocial relationships are common and perfectly normal.” So, while parasocial relationships are common, they are by no means as effective and satisfactory as real-life interactions. While parasocial relationships can be hard on one’s mental health, it can be even worse for the person who is the focus of the toxic parasocial relationship. There have been a number of cases where celebrities, because of fans believing they are more connected to them than they actually are, have had negative encounters with fans. One of the more common issues is stalking as people including Taylor Swift and Kendall Jenner have had people attempt to break into their homes. In 2014, actress Sandra Bullock hid in the closet of her Bel Air home after a stalker had broken into. In 2017, Actress Keira Knightley experienced a horrific series of events with a stalker, who, at one point,  would meow through the letterbox of her home in London. On the truly creepy front, in 2012 Justin Beiber’s stalker hired two men to castrate and murder the then 18-year-old singer.

 Now, I know that you’re thinking that these are very extreme and rare cases of parasocial relationships. However, it’s important to realize that these stalkers started off as just big fans. Another frightening element to consider is that parasocial relationships aren’t just exclusive to celebrities. You can form them on people you know or see in your life. For example, you can become obsessed with a hallway crush or the person that sits across from you in your bio class. You can begin to feel like you know them and start doing negative things like stalking their social media accounts or secretly figuring out what they like to get at lunch. It’s very easy to develop a parasocial relationship with someone, which is why it is so important to just ground yourself in reality and understand that, at the end of the day, you don’t know these people and they don’t know you.

 If you notice yourself or others becoming unhealthily obsessed with another person, try doing things like laying off your phone or going outside. It’s really important to clear your mind from time to time and by doing things like going on a walk. trying stuff that keeps you off your phone can help do that. Build relationships with people and make new friends. Time is valuable, so don’t spend your days on Twitter seeing what celebrities are having for lunch today and who they are hanging out with when you can try and figure out what you are gonna eat for lunch today.