#Couchguy shows us we’re too close online

By Katie Sanchez, Staff writer

If you’ve been on the internet in the past couple weeks, simply reading the words “Couch Guy” probably elicits some sort of strong emotion from you. You’re likely already thinking about all the “evidence” you have for your opinion: but I’m not here to discuss whether or not the claims are true. Instead, I’d like to take a step back. 

If you’re not familiar with Couch Guy, the gist is this: On Sept. 21, Purdue University sophomore Lauren Zarras posted a video on TikTok in which she makes a surprise visit to her long-distance boyfriend, Robbie. In the video, Lauren enters Robbie’s dorm room as he hangs out with several friends and finds him sitting on a couch with three girls. Robbie, clearly surprised, smiles and rises to hug his girlfriend. An Ellie Goulding song plays in the background. 

Lauren clearly meant for this video to be a simple, sweet video to commemorate a highlight in her relationship, but the internet quickly turned that narrative on its head. 

As the video spread throughout TikTok, many were quick to criticize Robbie’s reaction, arguing that his response was lackluster and delayed for someone whose partner had traveled to surprise them. Internet sleuths zeroed in on the other girls from the couch, insisting that the video was dense with clues that Robbie must be cheating on Lauren. 

The video quickly became one of the most talked-about videos on TikTok. Videos tagged #Couchguy have over 800 million collective views. Lauren’s original video has over 61 million views and 132,000 comments. 

“It breaks my heart that people can watch such a special moment and bring so much negativity. Please think before you assume anything about my relationship,” Lauren wrote, 

To be clear, Lauren is not a celebrity in any form. Her TikTok videos pre-Couch Guy averaged around 10,000 views, but she was in no way well-known on the internet. She was just an ordinary college student posting casual videos with her friends and boyfriend, until she accidentally hit the TikTok algorithm just right and became internet famous overnight. 

The phenomenon of Couch Guy exposes something that is becoming increasingly true about the nature of boundaries on the internet. Online, a false degree of intimacy often arises that makes people think that they personally know someone whose content they consume on the internet. 

Psychologists call these imagined bonds “parasocial relationships,” a term dating back to the 1950s that was originally coined by researchers Donald Horton and Richard Wohl to describe a type of fascination with the lives of television and movie stars.  

Parasocial relationships have evolved as mass media has changed, with the age of the internet making access into personal details of celebrities’ lives much closer. Tabloids and paparazzi photos satisfy that desire to be closer with someone that you idolize. They make you feel attached to the real side of a person, and so you feel as if you truly know them. 

There are countless examples of the frenzy of parasocial relationships in the past couple decades, most recently the internet uproar over comedian John Mulaney’s divorce and subsequent relationship with actress Olivia Munn. 

It’s one thing to obsess over the details of a celebrity’s life, but it’s another to do the same thing to a normal, everyday person. 

Celebrities don’t deserve to be harassed or for their privacy to be violated, but those have been in the public eye for a while must acknowledge that they live life in the public eye. Cases like Lauren’s are different. Lauren posted a public video on the internet and can’t complain that people saw it and have opinions about it. However, there was no way for her to imagine that an account that she probably posted on mostly for friends and family to see would lead to hundreds of thousands of strangers publicly tearing apart her relationship. 

We didn’t care about Lauren and Robbie before and likely won’t ever again in about a week when the internet inevitably moves onto a different obsession, so why do we feel like we deserve to be inside the lives of people we don’t know anything about?  

Thousands of videos announcing that Lauren’s boyfriend must be cheating on her will forever exist on the internet, and there is no way, even if their relationship is completely faithful, that this situation hasn’t put some sort of strain on their relationship. 

I can’t deny that it can be fun to pick apart things like Couch Guy, and I don’t mean to bash anyone who’s invested themselves in the story (I certainly have.) But we have to realize that this is only 22 seconds of an entire relationship about which we know nothing. Most of the speculation is well-natured and doesn’t mean to be invasive, but we have to remember that we are separated from strangers on the internet by much more than a screen. 

I’m not just talking about Couch Guy; nobody is portrayed fully and honestly online; the internet is simply a sliver of one’s life that projects only one image of a person. His situation just exemplifies perfectly how far the internet has come in making us feel closer.  

The problem is that we’re starting to feel a little too close. Just take a step back sometimes and acknowledge that your uninformed speculation can have power. 

In the words of Couch Guy himself, “Go get some fresh air. Take care.”