Fans have a lot of ways of showing love for their favorite singers, movie stars or influencers. They might change their profile picture to an image of that person’s face, sing along to every lyric at a concert or hang a poster of that person on their wall. Or they might stalk someone or throw their phone at a singer’s head.
At a certain point, fandom can go beyond enjoying someone’s work and become what is called a parasocial relationship. But what exactly are parasocial relationships? Are they truly dangerous or just a part of 21st-century pop culture? “There’s a sense where it’s not even really accurate to call them relationships,” says Vance Ricks, an associate teaching professor of philosophy and computer science at Northeastern University.
Ricks, who has researched online friendships and relationships, likens parasocial relationships to the kind of relationship a child might have with an imaginary friend. If a Swiftie starts to form an emotional attachment to Taylor Swift –– and even thinks of her as a close friend –– that’s a parasocial relationship. It’s a relationship based on a projected version of another person, not any real interaction with the person themselves.