Can you provide a definition or some context for the term “parasocial relationships”?

If you spend a lot of time online, you’ve probably noticed the rise of the relationship. Although the term was coined by two psychologists in 1956, it has taken off in popularity since the internet became a part of nearly everyone’s daily lives (via It soared to new pop culture heights in 2021, as reported by Vox, when comedian John triggered the outrage of over-invested fans by going to rehab, getting divorced, and getting a former fan pregnant within a matter of months. Even though the term is now frequently thrown around on social media and in celebrity interviews, it’s typically treated as common knowledge and not thoroughly explained.

A parasocial relationship is a one-sided emotional connection that a person has with a celebrity or public figure. It can feel as if you know the celebrity personally and you may feel a sense of familiarity and attachment to them. This type of relationship is common and can be enjoyable, but it is important to recognize when it becomes unhealthy.

If you find that your obsession with a celebrity or influencer is impacting your daily life or causing you stress or anxiety, it may be time to reassess your relationship with them. It is important to remember that celebrities and public figures are just that – public figures – and they do not have a personal relationship with you. It is okay to enjoy their content and support them, but it is important to maintain a healthy balance and not let your parasocial relationship consume your life.

What does a parasocial relationship look like?

According to this relationship consists of one-way interactions and idolization from one party toward a public figure who isn’t aware of their significance to that party or even that party’s general existence. Before social media took over the world, this phenomenon would typically present as fans of celebrities sending letters, obsessively following articles or television appearances, and even showing up at their homes. Now that every celebrity and influencer can communicate and share their daily lives directly with their fanbase on social media, the lines are more blurred.

Basically, feeling a connection to a celebrity or influencer you relate to can be inspiring and even healing to many (via Women’s Health). It is only when a person’s interest in a public figure becomes obsessive or starts to take the place of real relationships that may become problematic to one or both parties. 

When does a parasocial relationship become problematic?

Obsessive fans are more easily manipulated by creators who use their connections with their audiences to sell products or engage in inappropriate sexual relationships (via Vulture). Parasocial relationships can lead to overspending, using products that are poorly made or even dangerous, or even to romantic/sexual relationships where the idolized person holds all the power. The fan may also go to extreme measures to emulate their idol, including disordered eating, over-exercising, or plastic surgery.

You may be susceptible to becoming obsessively invested in the lives of public figures, make a point of taking breaks from social media and spending time with real friends and loved ones on a regular basis. If you are an influencer who has received obsessive or threatening communications from a follower, don’t be afraid to reach out to authorities if you feel unsafe.

Unchecked these relationships can lead to criminal behavior that can spill over to the real physical world. While these cases are incredibly rare, some have ended in tragedy.