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  • Writer's pictureJo Soria

In My “Para” Era: Pedro Pascal and the World of Parasocial Relationships

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

You may not have heard of the term "parasocial relationship," but if you've heard of little names like Taylor Swift or Pedro Pascal, we're willing to bet you've seen at least one parasocial relationship in action; maybe you're even in one yourself. This week, the #TRN team explores the intense (and most likely one-sided) relationships we build with our favorite entertainers, public figures, fictional characters, and more. (No judgment--we love 'em too!)

Fans celebrating at a concert; parasocial relationship

What Are Parasocial Relationships?

"Parasocial" is the word media psychologists (and TikTokers) use to describe the relationship between the general public and the icons we love to worship: movie stars, musicians, professional athletes, royals, and other public figures (even politicians). What sets parasocial bonds apart from other interpersonal relationships is their one-sided nature. Basically, we invest our time, energy, and interest in people who—for the most part—don't actually know we exist, at least not as individuals.


This unique relationship builds on our age-old fascination with celebrity and maybe something more profound. As Arthur C. Brooks boldly noted in The Atlantic, "Parasocial relationships are just imaginary friends for adults." Again, no judgment here; Keanu Reeves (or at least the movie poster version of him) spent a good couple of years on the wall of this writer's teenage bedroom.


And now, with the everything-everywhere-all-at-once nature of social media, we can feel closer to our favorites than ever before as they treat us to glimpses into their everyday lives: what they ate for breakfast, their nighttime wind-down routines, and even their makeup-free, straight-to-camera not-quite-one-on-one chats with us. It all feels very… intimate.


A New Era of Cultivating Connections

As humans, it's natural for us to seek connection and bonding with the people we admire. We may even find a sense of community in joining with other fans who share the same sense of devotion; Swifties, Sarah J. Maas book groups, and the ever-loyal Cleveland Browns fanbase are all examples of this.


Every day, we create connections, craft narratives, and derive deeper levels of engagement from parasocial bonds. Some fans even build their own social media fanbases by offering commentary and theories on favorite celebs, eventually placing them into the public-facing side of a new parasocial relationship with their growing audience.



The Subtle Risks: How Far is Too Far?

So when it comes to parasocial relationships, how far is too far? We all know a story or two about the stalkers who took obsession to dangerous extremes. Still, we're less likely to notice certain subtle behaviors that may undermine our health, even if the object of our affection is entirely unaware or unharmed by them.


Did you risk all your rent money to make it to the Eras tour? Twice?


Are you becoming less open and emotionally available with the people in your life due to your time and energy investing in parasocial pursuits?


Is midnight doom-scrolling through TikTok fan theories sabotaging your sleep and workday wake-ups?


Did you write a bunch of toxic comments on the Instagram post of your celebrity crush's rumored new girlfriend?

Closeup of someone holding cell and engaging with likes; parasocial relationships


Parasocial in Perspective

A certain amount of parasocial bonding is healthy, normal, and potentially humorous, like that life-size cardboard cutout of The Walking Dead's Darryl Dixon that a particular unnamed #TRN team member probably still has. (You'd better not edit this out, JD!) The key to keeping it all healthy is treating it as a hobby; hobbies are fun ways to explore and enrich our lives, not at the expense of our livelihood, relationships, or mental health.


And sometimes, when a hobby gets a little too expensive—whether that involves a financial or other cost—we might need to step back a bit. "Touch grass," as the kids on TikTok say. (Or at least they probably said it five years ago, and we're just now catching on.)


So keep it light and fun, and send us your best Pedro memes.



 

Got a topic you want to discuss or contribute? Share your story with our #TRN expert: jo@trustedreferral.org

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