DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: About a month ago I found a cool female Twitch streamer. I really liked her content, I ended up in her Discord, we talked a lot, played a few games together, yada yada yada.
Everything was going fine but then about a week later I found out (not from her) that she had a boyfriend. Intellectually I knew that that shouldn’t bother me because it’s not like either of us had ever talked about the possibility of a romantic relationship, but emotionally I knew I was swimming dangerously close to oneitis.
I decided to go nuclear: unfollowed on Twitter, stopped going to her streams, left the Discord, etc. I was doing okay, but then two weeks later she messaged me on Discord to say hey, I miss you, hope you’re doing okay. Against my better judgment, I replied that I was doing okay and I was just dealing with some personal things that I didn’t feel comfortable talking about yet. That wasn’t really a lie but it wasn’t the entire truth either.
My question is: do you think that was the right response? Intellectually I know that telling the truth wasn’t going to lead to anything good, but I also feel bad about lying.
– Twitch is Confusing Sometimes
DEAR TWITCH IS CONFUSING SOMETIMES: I see it’s time to talk about parasocial relationships again.
I get a lot of letters from people, looking for advice on how to hook up with various “celebrities” — which ranges from honest-to-god celebrities to famous YouTubers and podcasters, cosplayers, cam girls and, yes, Twitch streamers. I’ve also dealt with a lot of people who’ve become apocalyptically upset when they found out that their favorite cosplayer or YouTuber or what-have-you is actually in a relationship with someone. For a lot of people, it’s treated like a betrayal — how dare they give me the vague hope that I might hook up with them if they ever actually knew I existed beyond tipping them on stream?
The problem is that people get invested in what’s ultimately a one-sided relationship — what’s known as a parasocial relationship. It feels real because you see them so often that you feel like you know them… but it’s not. It’s simply that you’re exposed to them so frequently that you feel like you have a connection that isn’t actually there. This is something of a quirk of human psychology; the more exposure we have to something or someone, the more we come to like it or them. And since the human brain doesn’t necessarily distinguish between the exposure of seeing someone on a screen and in person… well, people develop strong feelings about folks they’ve only ever seen on their phones, tablets or laptops.
And while this phenomena is older than cinema, the dynamics of Twitch and YouTube mean that we see far more of our favorite streamers than we do of movie stars. Similarly, the perceived intimacy of Twitch and YouTube encourages a sense of “authenticity” and vulnerability and “realism” that people respond to… even when it may well be entirely manufactured. Moreover, there are financial incentives to build that sense of connection; the more streamers and YouTubers create a sense of community — whether they’re Critters, Murderinos, NerdFighters (no relation) or other communities — the more invested the fans are and the more likely they are to support the creators. Sometimes this community includes a greater sense of access to said creators; you may never be at the table with Caduceus and Beau and Jester, but you might have access to other streamers’ Discords or private AMAs etc. that increase that sense of “I know them”.
The problem is that some folks see this relationship as being more than it actually is. That increased level of access can create a feeling that you know them better than you actually do, that you’re closer than you actually are. That can create complications. Having that perceived level of access can make it feel like there’s more there than actually exists and make people feel like you have a sense of ownership over them… or developing crushes on them. Crushes that go beyond the sort of fantasies we might hold about other, more distant celebrities. Crushes that feel like you might actually have a chance.
But you don’t. And having that fantasy shattered — say, by her having a boyfriend — can be painful.
Which brings us to your situation. I think going nuclear was an overreaction, and one that didn’t do you any favors in the long run. One of the skills we all need to develop is how to pivot off a crush or an attraction that we can’t realize, for one reason or another. Learning that attraction isn’t a command that you need to act on is a vital life skill, especially if you find yourself attracted to someone you can’t just cut off. But hey, that was your call and it was the best choice you could have made with the tools you had at the time.
What you shouldn’t do is tell her that you cut her off because you had a crush on her. Telling her about it only serves to make your emotions her responsibility… even if that’s not your intent. After all, this wasn’t something that she encouraged; she didn’t gaslight you into thinking you had a chance, she didn’t lead you on and she wasn’t maliciously hiding the fact that she has a boyfriend. Telling her “I had to go because I want to date you and I can’t” only sets up a dynamic where now she has to manage your feelings, lest she feel like she’s encouraging you somehow. That’s not fair to her in the slightest.
Telling her “hey, I had some personal stuff to deal with, it’s all good” was the best option there. That sense that you’re lying to her about it? That’s the hope that if you tell her that you’ve got a crush on her, she’ll reveal that she feels the same way. She doesn’t and that feeling is just one more way of holding onto the fantasy that you might have a chance and — bluntly — you don’t. It’s better to let this go and give yourself some space to let things go. When things have subsided, then you can resubscribe and re-follow. But what you don’t need to do is tell her about it later. Your crush on her isn’t her business to handle, it’s yours and knowing the difference is a mark of maturity.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org