Every so often, Twitter learns a new word or phrase to describe something everyone is doing. Some such words and phrases from the past include: grooming (everyone’s grooming someone), narcissistic personality disorder (what your mom has), emotional labor (this is when you do something for someone), gaslighting (what Trump did to America) and mutual aid (which is what we call charity performed by people who share infographics). I assume a single person used each of these words correctly once, and then through a game of social media telephone they lost all meaning within approximately 3 minutes.
I’ve seen a new one bubbling up, and this week it has finally reached full ripeness: it appears everyone is fostering “parasocial relationships.”
What is a parasocial relationship? The official definition doesn’t matter, but based on Twitter alone it means when you think you have a relationship with someone you don’t actually know, usually a famous person. Think along the lines of the song Superstar by the Carpenters. Diagnosing parasocial relationships is all the rage right now, because comedian John Mulaney, a man who built a career on being a sweet, charming wife guy, is no longer with his wife — and people are furious! Mulaney also went to rehab and then got another woman (Olivia Munn), who he is now dating, pregnant. But also, he said he never wanted kids with his ex-wife — yet now he’s having one?! Was his whole act just an act? How could he do this to us?
The thing about the overuse of the word “parasocial,” much like its forefathers, is that the use of the word becomes the point itself. By saying the word parasocial in a tweet (or, God forbid, in real life) you are exempt from parasocial behavior, because you know what it’s called.
Even if a celebrity has let the public into the most personal parts of their inner life, commenting on a stranger’s life is a form of parasocial behavior. Accusing others of engaging in parasocial behavior in an effort to defend a celebrity you don’t know is also kind of parasocial. You are not any less guilty of the crime of being a parasocial freak just because you learned a new vocabulary word.
Life is complicated. For now, it might be time for everyone to get a pair of real-life social engagements and step away from the internet. Isn’t that right, besties?