Everybody has a favourite celebrity they have a passionate crush on. We daydream about them, cook up romantic scenarios with them, imagine them profess lifelong love to us. It’s all well until we know these ruminations are fictive, detachable figments of our creativity. Any more fervent and it may well turn into a parasocial relationship.
A one-sided attraction, with the unattracted party wholly oblivious of the lover’s presence, a parasocial relationship can be described as a psychological state instead of anything more tangible. It involves a person getting seriously attached or intimate with a figure largely unattainable – a famous actor, a book character, a television series hero or such.
The term ‘parasocial relationship’ was popularly coined by social scientists Donald Horton and R Richard Wohl in 1956 in an era that televisions were becoming the rave across households in the United States. In a phenomenon that notably emerged during this period, audiences were developing relationships with performers on-screen.
This trend has only increased exponentially it seems with the expansion of technology and social media outlets that allow for more celebrities and influencers to become the object of their fans’ attractions.
Now, is that healthy? There are differing opinions among psychologists but the general belief is that a parasocial relationship, in moderation, is alright and natural. Attachment to celebrities or idols may help a person develop positive self-identity and self-esteem. On the flip side, however, aggressive pursuit of a public personality may lead to body image issues or depleted confidence or unhealthy obsessions.
So feeling a connection with a Beyoncé or a Kareena Kapoor is fine as long as you don’t end up prowling outside their homes in hopes for your interest to be reciprocated. That would be stalking. But also your time would be better spent investing in the real-time relationships you have or would like to build with people around you.
5 Signs You May Be In A Parasocial Relationship:
1. Defending them
The mark of a good relationship – whether friendly or romantic or affectionate – is how well you stand in the opposite person’s support. People who form parasocial relationships do this… well, far too passionately. Perhaps more than is necessary sometimes. For instance, this kind of attachment to a public personality will have you getting into actual fights or taking offence on their behalf, even leading you to perhaps vociferously defend the worst of their deeds. (This was common during the #MeToo wave that led to a calling out and consequent defence of many actors accused of harassment.)
2. Spending time on their social media
We’re all guilty of having done this. And obsessively so! There’s always one celebrity whose Instagram or Twitter we spend more time on than others’. The people more invested in their parasocial relationships with this celebrity may even end up in their likes, comments, following list, picking out the most noteworthy bits. Interest in this persona can also land a person on their multiple fan pages, discussion rooms and other spaces their fandom thrives in feverish communion. Think of this as trying to be as close as one can to a celebrity with the feeling of ‘knowing them’ through all they do on social media.
3. Trying to be them
Having and maintaining a parasocial relationship can be a good booster for a person’s well-being, giving them aspirations or goals shaped in the way of their favourite stars. What becomes a hurdle, however, is when we try to be them, sacrificing our own authentic selves to that end. Someone in a parasocial connection with Kylie Jenner, for instance, may even go to the extent of surgeries to look and be like her. Don’t do that. While taking inspiration is healthy, what good is being a second copy of somebody? You’re special as you are.
4. Wanting to meet them
Is your favourite pastime thinking of when, where and how you will finally meet the (distant) love of your life? Do you maybe even find yourself pining for them way too much on lonely nights? There, you have yourself a parasocial relationship. India is a country more than familiar with the thrill of meeting celebrities, given the kind of starry-eyed star worship that thrives here. The lucky ones get to meet actors they love at airports and such while those more invested in this kind of love make the meeting happen. (Picture the masses of crowds at Mannat or Jalsa in Mumbai.)
5. Hooking on to their life updates
Constantly being hooked onto everything they do and associating oneself with each update is a sure shot sign you are in a parasocial relationship with that personality. This phenomenon came about in great measure last year when comedian John Mulaney went through a wave of development in his life, first going to rehab and then splitting from his wife. Twitter, especially, was abuzz with massive concern for Mulaney, whose fan base is noted to be particularly invested in him. The term ‘parasocial relationship’ was in wide circulation and markedly popular in context to Mulaney in 2021.
Views expressed are the author’s own.