Love your fandoms with a fiery passion? Are your social media feeds endless streams of your favorite celebs and characters? Stay up all night reading fanfic, or binging a new show?
Over in this post I talk about the importance of parasocial relationships, and here I talk about how difficult it can be to break up with your fave. But, why are we actually drawn to parasocial relationships at all?
As humans, we are social creatures. One of our basic needs is connection, love, and belonging. In fact, a lack of connection with others has been linked to premature death. Some researchers have found that insufficient social connection is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Loneliness has also been shown to activate the same parts of our brain as physical pain. It makes us more susceptible to illness, and when we’re sick, it can cause us to feel worse, and take longer to recover. Loneliness has also been linked to higher rates of depression and dementia. It really physically hurts us to be disconnected and isolated.
Feelings of love, connection, and belonging can, of course, often happen through in-real-life relationships with other people, however, we can also meet some of those needs through parasocial relationships, or our relationships with celebrities and fictional characters (generally referred to here as “fandoms”).
Engaging in our fandoms helps us feel connected, and a part of something larger than ourselves. We find group belonging and identity by being fans of certain shows, characters, bands, books, games, etc.
Identity can come from being a part of a fandom, but identification with celebrities or characters can also fuel our fandom “obsessions.” It can be validating and increase our self-esteem to see real or fictional people who represent aspects of ourselves, or offer a glimpse into our hopes, dreams, or fantasies for what our lives could be like in the future.
Fandom also allows us an escape from the near constant stress of being a living human being in our society, and on our planet. Many of us are struggling to survive. We are bombarded with pressure and stimulation every day. It’s pretty much unavoidable. Tuning into fandom can help block our brains from thinking about all the stressful and overwhelming things that plague us, and instead help us focus on thoughts that are pleasure-bringing and stress-relieving.
Our drive for identity, connection, community, and relief might make fandom appealing to us in the first place, but once we are there, it’s the release of feel-good chemicals that keeps us coming back. When we do something we find pleasurable, our body releases dopamine. Whether it’s binge watching a whole season in a day, scrolling endlessly on Pinterest, or staying up until dawn reading that 80k fanfic, our brains are always on a quest for dopamine. Dopamine is also one of the chemicals that plays a large role in the addiction process. Given that context, it makes sense that it can be hard to put down your phone, and resist reading just one more chapter, or watching just one more episode. Fandoms equal dopamine.
For some people,engaging with their fandoms can start to feel out of control, or more stress-inducing than stress-relieving. If that’s the case, it might be time to step back and reevaluate, and find other ways to bring some reprieve and pleasure into your life.
Fandoms and parasocial relationships are awesome, and serve an important purpose. They make sense, especially given all of the things I’ve mentioned above, and they don’t need to be a source of shame or embarrassment. They are also not a replacement for two-way, person-to-person interactions.
It’s great if we can pursue our fandoms in solitude as a form of self-care, enjoyment, and rejuvenation (especially for introverts), but solitude and loneliness are two very different things. Don’t let your obsessions lead to isolation. Reach out to people, and relate over your favorite things. You can create connection, fight the dangers of loneliness, and maybe even live a little longer in the process!
In a future post I’ll talk about “obsession” when it comes to collecting things.
Struggling with feelings of loneliness, or your relationship with fandom? Get in touch to schedule today.