4. Real Life: Why Can’t We Be Friends
If you know me at all, you know that I love talking about people and always have a crush (intellectual, artistic, or otherwise) on someone. If you know me casually, you’d probably guess that most of my crushes are on people that I don’t know, and thus are parasocial, “meaning almost social, or perversely social.”
Parasocial relationships, and the use of the term itself, have grown in frequency since the rise of social media, where it is increasingly common for people to have what can feel like deep friendships with celebrities, influencers, content creators, or podcast hosts that they have never met. Today, writes Brendan Mackie, “parasocial media overcomes the tension between intimacy and scalability by blurring the boundary between content creator and content consumer.”
These one-way relationships fill a need for belongingness that was once fulfilled by family or friends. “The history of modern friendship is how people have responded to disruptions of that family structure of belongingness by looking outside it, to sworn brothers, friends, TV hosts, and podcasters.” The challenge, however, is that “parasociality promises to satisfy a need that it can only make more acute.” It is both the problem and solution to itself. “Fans often want their one-sided relationship to be reciprocal, for the content creator to recognize them as an individual . . . But because of the scale of internet culture, to the creator, fans can never be in aggregate more than an anonymous mass of fluctuating metrics.”
While I do have some parasocial relationships, somehow I often end up meeting—even developing relationships with—the people I have crushes on. And the people that know me well know this about me. Perhaps I’ll never become actual friends with those with whom I have a parasocial relationship, but at least I can try.