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Thursday, May 3, 2018 12:10 am

Putting the removes on someone

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
I recently had my addiction recovery memoir published. I’m very honest and vulnerable in it, and readers feel super-connected to me because of it. Most just briefly thank me for how it changed their life, etc. However, a few have really latched on to me via social media. I respond to their first message, and then they write back with pretty much a whole novel and message me constantly. I don’t want to be mean, but this is time-consuming and draining. – Unprepared

Not to worry … that fan won’t be stalking you forever – that is, if you’ll just sign the medical release she’s had drawn up for the two of you to get surgically conjoined.

In writing your book, you probably wanted to help others get the monkey off their back – not point them to the open space on yours so they could line up to take its place. The interaction these fans have with you is a “parasocial” relationship, a psych term describing a strong one-sided emotional bond a person develops with a fictional character, celebrity or media figure.

These people aren’t crazy; they know, for example, that Jimmy Kimmel isn’t their actual “bro.” But we’re driven by psychological adaptations that are sometimes poorly matched with our modern world, as they evolved to solve mating and survival problems in an ancestral (hunter-gatherer) environment.

Though it still pays for us to try to get close to high-status people – so we might learn the ropes, get status by association, and get some trickle-down benefits – the adaptation pushing us to do this evolved when we gathered around fires, not flat-screens. This makes our poor little Stone Age minds ill-equipped to differentiate between people we know and people we know from books, movies and TV.

Psychologist David C. Giles and others who study parasocial relationships were used to these interactions remaining one-sided, as until recently, it was challenging to even find a celeb’s agent’s mailing address to send them a letter (which might only be seen by some assistant to their agent’s assistant). However, as you’ve experienced, that’s changed thanks to social media, which is to say Beyonce’s on Twitter.

But the fact that you can be reached doesn’t mean you owe anyone your time. As soon as you see someone trying to hop the fence from fan to friend, write something brief but kind, such as: “It means a lot to me that you connected with my book. However, I’m swamped with writing deadlines, so I can’t carry on an email exchange, much as I’d like to. Hope you understand!”

This message establishes a boundary, but without violating your fan’s dignity. Dignity, explains international conflict resolution specialist Donna Hicks, is an “internal state of peace” a person feels when they’re treated as if they have value and their feelings matter. Preserving a person’s dignity can actually make the difference between their hating you and their accepting your need to have a life – beyond waiting around to respond to their next 8,000-word email on their dating history, their medication allergies, and their special relationship with cheese.

© 2018, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show:  blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon

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