Even before social media, people have their way of admiring celebrities, singers, and other public figures. There is something about them that makes your heart beat faster. It could be their good looks, talent, or charm.
Did you know that some people have something more than admiration and it’s called parasocial relationships?
Indeed, attraction towards a particular individual can’t be controlled. Sometimes it’s one’s habit or social behavior, and sometimes it’s one’s personality or physical features that gets our attention.
To be attracted to an individual is fine, but there are cases wherein one falls in love with the person. This leads to parasocial relationships or in other terms one sided relationships.
What is a parasocial relationship?
Is this the first time you’ve heard about parasocial relationships? What is a parasocial relationship?
The parasocial relationship definition in easy language is a one-sided relationship where an individual is not only attracted to but is in love with a celebrity, an organization, or even a TV personality.
In such cases, the person invests energy, time and interest in the person they’re attracted to. In some cases, this parasocial relationship can lead to heartbreak once they’ve got a chance to express their love to the interested personality. In contrast, in some cases, it helps an individual escape their complicated real-life relationships.
The term “parasocial relationships” was first used in 1956 by Donald Horton and Richard Wohl, who studied the relationship between the audience and the mass media, particularly with the performers on television.
The one-sided relationship meaning is wherein the viewer feels a connection with the personalities on television, despite having limited interactions. In the olden days, parasocial relationships were limited due to restricted access to the mass media.
However, with digital platforms, the relationship has expanded through social media platforms since these personalities are easily available.
5 examples of parasocial relationships
Today, the rate of parasocial interaction, attachment, and later parasocial relationships has skyrocketed because of social media.
Here are just some of the most common parasocial relationship examples:
Binge-watching a drama where you dream about the character you have loved, to daydreaming that you’re a part of the series could be the start of a parasocial attachment.
Because of the increased number of vloggers and how they speak to their audience, people form parasocial relationships with them. Waiting and watching daily vlogs may seem like the vlogger is directly talking to you, forming a bond.
Commenting and interacting with a celebrity, even though you’re talking to a social media manager on their behalf, may be an authentic way of reciprocating your feelings.
Getting likes, retweets, or even being featured by the celebrity you adore can also trigger a person to form a deep parasocial attachment.
Showing one’s love in their parasocial relationship by sending gifts, even though not reciprocated, can be enough for their parasocial relationship to continue.
There can still be many other ways a parasocial relationship can start and continue. The ease of access to social media greatly affects how people perceive connecting to their obsession.
5 signs you’re in a parasocial relationship
There is nothing wrong with admiring a celebrity, gamer, or vlogger, but parasocial self-awareness is also important.
You may not be aware, but you may already be in a parasocial relationship. Here are five signs to watch out for:
1. You constantly defend them
When you love someone, you’re there to support them. In the world of social media, bashers and naysayers are always present. So, in parasocial relationships, you may find yourself constantly on the lookout.
You can’t stand when bashers say bad things about them, and of course, you know this “celebrity” more than anyone, and it’s your job to defend them. It is also a way for you to show your love.
You always check their social media accounts when you wake up and before you sleep. It won’t be surprising if you’ve earned yourself a “top badge” since you’re always present on all their social media channels.
Your work, social life, and sleep may also be affected by how much you watch their movies, vlogs, or posts.
Parasocial relationships will revolve around you being updated with their life updates. You are one of the first to know if they purchased a new laptop, house, or car.
For people involved with parasocial relationships, this is the same as being in a real relationship where you are updated with your partner’s life.
What are the levels of parasocial relationships?
We can divide parasocial relationships into three levels.
The three different levels of parasocial relationships, according to McCutcheon et al. (2002), who established the CAS or the Celebrity Attitude Scale, are:
1. Entertainment social
Level 1, or the least intense level, is where parasocial relationships serve only for entertainment. They idolize but don’t develop an attachment to the celebrity.
At this level, the person may develop a personal attachment to the celebrity. Their interest is more than just wanting to watch their videos or series.
Soon, they might start searching for their personal information and other ways to follow them, mirror their actions and may develop mild obsessive thoughts.
3. The borderline pathological
The most intense level or level three parasocial relationships include obsessive thoughts focused on the celebrity. Their work, daily lives, and even money will be affected just to get the satisfaction or the feeling that they are close to the person they idolize.
Some people may do illegal acts, such as stalking, just to feel close. Or some may even think they are in a relationship with this celebrity and may develop a fantasy that their love is reciprocated.
Stalking can be a problem and you may ask, are there different types of stalkers? Tamara Hill, a Trauma-informed counselor, will explain this and more.
One-sided relationships are never supported. This is often viewed as a negative feeling where, in most cases, the one-sided feeling turns into obsession and damages the individual emotionally and mentally. The situation is different in parasocial relationships.
Research has discovered that parasocial relationships can be beneficial. It was observed that it uplifts the person’s confidence and helps them overcome their real-life relationship issues. Listed below are some of the benefits of parasocial relationships.
1. Encouragement through some social connection
In a one-sided relationship, there is no or limited social interaction. The person is afraid to even their feelings, negatively impacting their emotional self. However, things are different in parasocial relationships. Here, the individual finds some connection between them and the celebrity.
In the age of digital connection, establishing a connection is quite easy. People can follow celebrities and look at their activities. Besides, they can get their motivational dose regularly by following them on social media platforms like Twitter or Instagram.
One will surely get motivated by their hard work, dedication and positive messaging.
2. Social engagement
In a non-digital world, it was difficult for individuals in parasocial relationships to communicate their feelings to celebrities. However, things have changed in the digital setup. Today, it is easy for individuals to converse with someone they look up to or adore.
In the older setup, there were chances of social isolation; however, one need not worry about it. Social isolation will be limited, and it increases the chances of social connection.
These individuals can connect with others in parasocial relationships with the same celebrity.
As mentioned above, today striking a connection with a celebrity is far easier than in the non-digital era. Celebrities are active on social media platforms and constantly update their profiles. Those in parasocial relationships can follow them on these platforms.
Upon following, they can feel the connections between them through these posts. This decreases their sense of isolation and also brings them close to their favorite celebrity. As in these parasocial relationships, they’re able to strike communication, and things are better.
4. Prevent being criticized
In parasocial relationships, a person will not have to deal with criticism. The celebrity, such as a vlogger, would always interact positively, making it seem like the person will always feel important and even loved.
They won’t have to deal with criticisms from their partners and won’t have to deal with self-assessment and self-growth. They focus on feeling valued by their celebrity crush and will develop a greater attachment.
Apart from some prominent benefits, parasocial relationships have some negative impacts on kids as well. Let’s have a look at this.
1. Physical appearance
Kids in parasocial relationships with a celebrity follow their favorite celebrity’s physical appearance.
They consider that body image an ideal figure and try to be like them. They forget that everybody’s image is perfect and everyone is beautiful. They often put their body in danger to become a replicated image of their favorite celebrity.
As it’s quite impossible to control parasocial relationships, one might not predict what character might interest kids. In such situations, if they’ve developed likings for an aggressive character, then there are chances that they would follow their behavioral trait. This indeed will impact the kind in the long run.
It’s usual to think that one might not go through much pain during a parasocial relationship breakup, but it’s entirely wrong. Researchers found out that the individual goes through real-life breakup pain even during parasocial relationships breakup. This implies they would need similar support and guidance as a real-life relationship breakup.
4. Influence how you spend
One of the negative effects of parasocial relationships is influencing your spending habits.
It could be from buying tickets, and merchandise, to buying all the things that an influencer or vlogger promotes. You no longer see the importance of your hard-earned money because you just want to feel closer to the person you like.
In turn, even your kids could absorb this way of living, and they too would spend too much.
Parasocial relationships can raise a lot of questions that make you nervous and unsure. Here are some of these that can address some of the fear.
Are parasocial relationships healthy?
You can consider parasocial relationships to have a healthy side. If you can control your emotions and urges, you can use these feelings to inspire you, increase your self-confidence, and even encourage you to improve.
However, it becomes unhealthy if you cross the line from idolizing a celebrity to having obsessive thoughts, urges, and a distorted sense that you’re a couple.
They can become unhealthy when parasocial relationships affect your rational thinking, health, and even your life.
We idolize celebrities, singers, vloggers, and influencers because we can relate to them and their content.
Over time, as a person builds attachment, these feelings may become deeper if they can communicate or feel close to the subject of their affection.
As quickly as a person can fall for someone, it could also end and feel like a breakup. If that person quits or gets into a relationship, or when their content changes.
Is there a link between social media and the rise of parasocial relationships?
Now that we know what parasocial relationships meaning, it’s time to know if social media is playing a huge part in this in our generation.
Social media has an enormous influence on the rise of parasocial relationships because today, anyone can access social media. We can follow celebrities, send messages, buy merchandise, and watch their concerts.
A celebrity crush can retweet your tweets, like a post about them, engage in a live video, and even send you a video greeting for coins. With this ease of access, people are vulnerable to developing parasocial relationships.
We are all going to idolize someone. It could be someone with exceptional talent, good looks, a personal experience similar to ours, or whatever reason we find admirable.
Idolizing is normal and could inspire and motivate us to be better. However, when this becomes too much, it can cause you to develop parasocial relationships with your idol.
This could still be okay if controlled, but when your daily life, expenses, mindset, and even your future are affected, those are the not-so-good effects of parasocial relationships.
Sylvia Smith loves to share insights on how couples can revitalize their love lives in and out of the bedroom. As a writer at Marriage.com, she is a big believer in living consciously and encourages couples to adopt this principle Read more in their lives too. Sylvia believes that every couple can transform their relationship into a happier, healthier one by taking purposeful and wholehearted action.
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