Those relationships didn’t survive meeting in person
Because we see or hear somebody so often – whether on TV, YouTube, podcasts, Twitch or in the movies – we start to feel as though we actually know them. And for many, that sense of familiarity can feel a lot like a personal connection. While this phenomena is practically older than steam – people have formed these sorts of connections on silent film stars, after all – it’s especially prominent with the advent of podcasts, YouTube, Twitch, TikTok and other forms of digital media. First there’s the fact that creators are incentivized to push out as much content as possible. Podcasts, come out on a weekly basis, YouTubers and Twitch streamers will often post multiple times a week, often with videos or streams that run for hours at a time, and short-form digital media like TikTok encourages a veritable deluge of videos. The literal weeks of content that come out from creators on a regular basis can accelerate that sense of familiarity and connection like someone attached a NO2 injector to the engine.
Then there’s the fact that a lot of digital content creators – especially streamers and YouTubers – have financial incentives to create a sense of community and intimacy with their audience. Giving people this feeling that they’re on a first-name, intimate basis with their favorite streamers or podcasters or what-have-you encourages not just emotional investment but financial investment… either indirectly through views or directly through merch sales or crowdfunding.
(And we will pause to appreciate the irony of my saying this while I very pointedly do not look over at the Patreon and Ko-Fi links on my site…)
As the medium and the industries have progressed, this sense of community and access has grown to include private online communities like Discords, where people feel like they have even more direct access to their idols and favorite creators.
And hey, I get it. One of the things that’s been keeping me sane as an extrovert in lockdown has been going for long walks while listening to episodes of Rebel FM, Behind the Bastards, You’re Wrong About and Critical Role; having those regular voices with me as I go through my day at least partially scratches my need for company. I can completely understand that sense of “yes, my friends, I know them well.”
They may be fairly open with their lives, even willing to talk about shit that’s going on… that’s not going to be the same as an in-person friendship.
Speaking of in-person, let’s talk about the other side of this particular problem: namely that you’ve never actually met them in person.
However, even when you’re a regular on their Discord, it’s not the same as actually getting to know them or having an intimate relationship with them
Now I freely admit: am an Old Man of the Internet. I got on the Internet proper before The September that Never Ended, at the birth of the World Wide Web. Even back then, there was a lot of hue and cry about people falling in “love” over USENET and email and MUDs despite having never met in person. But here’s the thing: 99% of the time? Because the truth is that – even when people were exactly who they said they were – there’s more to attraction and chemistry than how well the two of you get along in a textual medium. For that matter, there’s more to it than how you attractive you find someone when you’ve only seen their pictures or seen them on video. As the sage once said, love isn’t brains children, it’s blood. There’re hosts of physical and social cues that affect who we’re attracted to, in ways that we can’t consciously perceive. And, just as importantly: we can only determine those cues in person. It’s not just how they look or how well the two of you get along online or chatting, it’s in how they smell, how they taste, the timbre of their voice, even little social clues like how they treat others (such as, say, the waitstaff at the restaurant or bar). Without those… well, you’re making your best guess and hoping that the rest actually falls in line. And a lot of times… it doesn’t.