Destined or deranged? The reality of parasocial relationships


Graphic illustration by Myles Kim and Jasmine Rihal

Parasocial relationships are dangerous and must be prevented by limiting social media usage and focusing on maintaining genuine relationships with people in real life.

Vidushi Upadhyay, Staffer

With the rise of social media, relationships between fans and celebrities have grown more intimate. Fans are prone to developing unhealthy relationships with their favorite stars, desperately trying to stay up to date with and gain recognition from them. Although fans often claim to only gain happiness from such activities, being emotionally dependent on someone completely unaware of the other’s existence can cause anxiety, loneliness and social isolation. Such parasocial relationships must be prevented by limiting social media usage, setting boundaries and focusing on maintaining genuine relationships with people in real life. 

Parasocial relationships are defined as one-sided relationships in which consumers idolize media personas and act like lifelong friends despite having little to no interaction with them. Accessing information about celebrities’ families and childhoods often gives obsessive fans the illusion that they have a genuine relationship with their idol. Parasocial relationships are most commonly associated with fans of actors and singers but also include fans of fictional characters and even online content creators.

“When you feel a connection to a celebrity and think they truly care about you when you don’t even know them, it’s a very complicated situation to be in,” senior Maia Bline said. “There’s a distinct difference between looking up to a person and feeling connected to them. Stars do try to connect with their fans, but there’s nothing beyond appreciation.” 

With one party completely unaware of the other’s existence, it is difficult to set safe boundaries in parasocial relationships. According to a 2022 study by Thriveworks, a counseling and psychiatric service, approximately 51% of Americans reported symptoms of being in a parasocial relationship. The sudden spread of obsessive fan culture has also normalized stalking of public figures by fans desperate for every minute detail of their lives. 

Idolizing mass media figures often results in fans losing themselves to unhealthy worship of public figures. Some celebrities exploit fans by creating products marketed to audiences that follow them religiously, easily convincing fans to waste their money. 

Partakers in parasocial relationships are often adolescents who struggle with low self-esteem or loneliness. Turning to a parasocial relationship to cope with struggles will lead to the deterioration of one’s real life relationships due to lack of time and effort invested into the people in their lives.

Similarly, spending time in isolation, while maintaining a “relationship” with a star unaware of their individual fans’ existences can lead to a greater addiction to social media. If a parasocial connection is made with a figure, who displays negative behavior or traits, these actions can reflect in the fan’s behavior as well.

“The limit is prioritizing them over yourself, your family, your academics, career and health,” sophomore Meghana Babu said. “Obsessing over someone who doesn’t know you exist and not applying yourself or pursuing interests outside of being a fan is ultimately to your own detriment.”

Limiting time on social media, engaging in hobbies and activities with others and prioritizing physical and mental health will prevent parasocial relationships.   

“If it gets to the point where you’re following their updates obsessively, following them in real life, and hurting other fans, you’ve already crossed the line,” Bline said. 

If done in moderation, partaking in a fan base can be beneficial to both the star and their followers. Following celebrities gives people the chance to build communities and meet new friends who share common passions and interests. Many fans look up to these figures for inspiration for their work, from creating fan art to singing covers to expressing their love and appreciation through different mediums. 

“Being a fan has allowed me to find music I enjoy and build friendships that I will cherish for years to come, but I refrain from getting involved in my favorite celebrities’ personal affairs as I don’t  actually know them in real life,” Babu said. “At the same time, I was inspired to explore art and I feel like I’ve improved in the last two years because of how supportive and considerate most of the NCT fan base is.”