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  • Matthew Frank
    Matthew Frank

    The Unheeded Cost of Investing in Parasocial Relationships

    The days when an adult could spend time daydreaming with a beloved imaginary friend are long gone. What have replaced these flights of fancy are parasocial relationships, a one-sided bond between a person and an individual, relationship or organization they know little about. Though not a substitute for real world friendships, involvement with every day ‘idols' has become a shared cultural experience for millions.

    From the comfort of our couches we can admire and form a bond with even the most distant actors and active social media profiles. And it's understandable why this type of longing relationship has become so coveted. It offers a feeling of connection without the risk of true intimacy. As long as contact with the object of affection remains technologically mediated, there can be no threat of vulnerability and associated social cost.

    With so little risk, we may naively invest too much too far into these parasocial fantasies. By pouring large amounts of emotional energy into these imaginary encounters couples risk eating into the time and resources usually reserved for a more concrete and sustainable friendship. This misdirected passion might allow to avoid difficult social interaction but also leads to overinvestment, a practice that can quickly unravel carefully nurtured real world relationships.

    The truth is, in many ways we are already hard-wired to seek connection. We have an innate need to find community and mutual understanding and to strive together towards common goals. But by proxy obsessive parasocial cordialities prevents displaced individuals from getting a succession of true human bonds. And while imaginary friendships can offer a brief respite, they rarely provide anything permanent.

    So how can we protect against the danger of overinvolvement? The first step is to acknowledge that most of our parasocial relationships exist within a narrow realm of possibility. As humans, we can become emotionally entwined with complex characters whose flaws and triumphs swirl through our imagination. But, sadly, these beloved idols exist only on a TV or computer screen, and as such cannot contribute anything meaningfully as a friend.

    Even more importantly, recognizing the limited capacity of such one-sided entanglements can help us avoid slipping into the maelstrom of parasocial immersion. In order to constantly remember the difference between reality and fantasy, realistic approach is needed. Try to limit the time spent on this type of friendship and recognize its consequence: displacement of time that could have been spent on more authentic relationships. Remember that, although selectively investing in these relationships can provide a pleasant escape, its consequences can be dire.

    It's understandable that sometimes real life worlds seem too difficult and difficult to navigate. We all can take solace in an abstract understanding, an unrequited love story, or whatever else makes it easier to pass the evening. But when this descent into the black hole of parasocial relationships becomes frequent, time may be to realize that it's the longings for real companionship that are driving the process. So if you feel that you're getting too invested into fabricated camaraderie, take a second to reassess the cost and potential outcomes of your decisions and go get yourself some well-deserved, old-fashioned friendship.

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