When Idris Elba married his girlfriend, a number of women felt personally hurt by it. In their heads, he was their heartthrob. Better still, they believed that there was a potent relationship looming in their future – if only they could meet. For some, it is the idea that somehow they can meet Rita Dominic and sweep her off her feet with their imaginary charm and panache.
Have you ever felt so close to a celebrity before that you think you might be friends already? Maybe you got a retweet from Wizkid or a like from Rita Ora, and you already feel close to them. Maybe they have never even acknowledged you, but you just constantly fantasise and imagine that you are both an item. Psychologists attribute these feelings to something they call a parasocial relationship, an innate love affair with a celebrity.
The relationships are usually one-sided. A person starts to expend emotional energy, time and interest in someone who is totally oblivious to their existence. It mostly happens with public figures and celebrities, people that cannot be easily accessed.
Social media fuel to the fire
Social media often makes these feelings seem even more real. The daily tweets by Chrissy Teigen are so relatable that someone in the deep parts of Congo Brazzaville starts to see similarities and subsequently develop a real friendship with them. The fact that Rihanna liked someone’s Instagram post will likely make a person start to cultivate a relationship that resembles a face-to-face one.
A parasocial relationship doesn’t involve mainstream celebrities alone. Sometimes it may be your favourite blogger, gamer, social media influencer or even pastor. When these people share intimate parts of their lives with the public, it can create an illusion that you know them. And then you start to feel close to them in reality.
The Internet also makes it easier to send them direct messages and watch the tick turn blue or, in most cases, it doesn’t. Tweet at them daily, tag them on social media posts and form a one-sided conversation. The possibility of an actual conversation ensuing will also give hope to the other person in the sense that they feel some sort of bond with the celebrity.
In my imaginary celebrity family this is how it goes. Michelle Obama is my mom, Tracee Ellis Ross is my cool single aunt, Rihanna is my best friend/sister, Trevor Noah is the father of my kids, Beyoncé is the friend I’m not cool enough to know personally but still hangs around
— neesh 🔆 (@theginandtonica) April 18, 2019
Is a parasocial relationship like a regular one?
Even though parasocial relationships are entirely one-sided, researchers find that the relationships bear similar semblance with regular relationships. Followers and fans can feel a connection that borders on real affection, gratitude, encouragement, yearning and even loyalty towards them.
Some psychologists have found that parasocial relationships are a result of social anxiety, loneliness and isolation but new researchers have found that these relationships are actually healthy and can broaden a person’s social network. Some people find interactions with their favourite celebrities very therapeutic and a way to relieve stress. The fact that these people hardly have an opportunity to personally hurt their feelings makes them almost perfect. That thereby leaves very little room for the disappointments experienced in regular relationships.
This also helps celebrities to create a network of die-hard fans. The Beyhive, Beliebers and stans of this world. However, it can be very heart-breaking for people in the parasocial relationship when the one they are involved with dies or goes through a difficult time.