Opinion | Parasocial relationships raise higher standards for finding love in real life

By Ashanti McLaurin, Staff Columnist

February is coming up soon, which means Valentine’s Day is, too — the day of giving and receiving love from family, friends and significant others. As an active user of social media, there’s one thing I can’t escape on that day — relationship posts that people make sure are too perfect for social media.

Granted, it’s cute to see couples on my Instagram and TikTok, but the posts and statuses make me feel lonely, and the thought of singleness makes me want the rose-tinted version of intimacy and attention that I see on social media. I haven’t found The One yet, so instead I just listen to sappy music and pretend I’ve been through those feelings of love.

As an avid music listener, I listen to so many different music genres and artists. Though I’m just one out of millions of people listening to an artist’s songs, I tend to form an emotional connection through their lyrics which leads to me wanting to learn more about the person and people making me feel like this.

These interactions and relationships can hinder forming real ones and be extremely misleading — sometimes even dangerous — when pursuing real-life relationships.

Parasocial relationships are “one-sided relationships, where one person extends emotional energy, interest and time, and the other party, the persona, is completely unaware of the other’s existence.” Celebrities, social media influencers, television and movie characters can fall under this category of glorification and romanticization by their fans. This fascination can act as a building block for friendship among fans, which leads to making or being in a fandom where the persona is further obsessed over.

The thought of not being able to interact with someone who means a lot to you can be very upsetting, especially during a pandemic when you rely on the internet to keep your time filled and your mind preoccupied. These types of feelings and one-sided relationships are common within today’s media landscape, especially when people are quarantined and restricted from participating in their normal human interactions.

Carol Laurent Jarzyna explains in her article, “Parasocial Interaction, the COVID-19 Quarantine, and Digital Age Media,” that “never have so many people been restricted from physical contact, with even minimally intimate acts, like shaking hands, being quite risky.” COVID-19, as we know, has been in our lives for the past two years so it’s not surprising that “people appear to have relied on social media and binge-watching streamed series to give themselves a feeling of connection with others more than ever before.”

As a fan of an artist or celebrity, it can be upsetting to rationalize that you will never know them on the personal level you feel you’ve connected with them on. Sadhbh O’Sullivan states how “when we’re attached to a person (or their public persona), the shattering of that image can be hard to reconcile.” But it’s also necessary.

Although these infatuations can temporarily help self-esteem and increase mood, they can also be detrimental to real-life romantic relationships. You can still have that fan-to-idol relationship with characters and celebrities, especially if they help you emotionally and mentally, but people have to recognize healthy and unhealthy behaviors and habits before it’s too late.

Fan fictions are stories involving popular fictional characters that are written by fans and often posted on the Internet. Fan-made stories written on sites like Wattpad, Tumblr and Archive Of Our Own hold examples of how these parasocial relationships can lead to raising expectations for real-life romantic interests and significant others. This is something that can start out as a fantastical thing, but can turn toxic if reality begins to be substituted out for fan fiction.

As someone who read fan fictions daily in my adolescent years, I still fall victim to fantasizing and romanticizing the personality and character traits of my favorite public, hoping to find those same unrealistic attributes in my future significant other.

Everyone in the world seeks to find love at some point. Having an attraction towards a celebrity is normal — trust me, I have my fair share of fandoms I participate in — but relying on that person for emotional support and happiness can damage your perception of love and worth and I need to realize that, too.

Ashanti McLaurin primarily writes about Black culture, human injustices and gives life advice. Write to her at [email protected].