Trinity parasocial relationships


Don’t know what a parasocial relationship is? Search “Taylor Swift Eras Tour” on Twitter, and you’ll get thousands of examples. Fans calling her “mother” or “lover,” writing directly to her as if she’ll read every word and respond with equal adoration.

We all do it — we all feel like we have a bond with musicians, athletes, authors and other public figures who share their lives with us but don’t know a thing about ours. However, there’s another type of parasocial relationship that’s much closer to home: people in our immediate community that we know solely via social media.

Parasocial relationships with celebrities tend to fizzle out — save for extreme fans — over time when we realize they’ll never value us the way we value them. Parasocial relationships with people we see on campus or at our job, on the other hand, are a different beast. We can still idolize people we see in real life, expending energy into a relationship that only we participate in. When two people mutually follow or friend each other online, it creates a strange type of relationship that is founded purely on calculated posts.

Just because we choose not to befriend these people in real life doesn’t mean we don’t know them. In a sense, we know them well, or at least the version of themselves they show publicly. We could know about all of their siblings, their favorite songs, post-worthy accomplishments and even struggles they choose to share online. When we hear their name, our response might be, “Oh, I know them.” But when we see them in person, only the bravest people might actually wave or say hi.

There’s no reason it has to be this way. Especially in small groups, like in a class or a shift at work, it’s almost more awkward to pretend you’re strangers than to officially introduce yourself to bridge the gap. And if you have a real parasocial relationship with a peer or colleague where you truly are a stranger to them while you’ve stalked their Instagram 50 times, it’s still worth an introduction.

Not many of us will get the chance to meet Taylor Swift, but we have the opportunity to make virtual connections real. Before you graduate, move away, drop the class or quit the job, reach out to the people who came to mind while reading this article. Maybe you’ll end up being best friends, or maybe they’re actually way more annoying than their social media presence let on. Either way, at least they won’t be a question mark in your feed for years before you hover over the unfollow button. If that’s the case, try to shake the inner conflict that tells you it’s weird to unfollow a friend. At that point, you might as well be unfollowing Taylor Swift.