Celebrity couples keep breaking up. Why do we care so much?
They are just the latest celebrity couple to split up this summer, with others including Britney Spears and Sam Asghari, Justin and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Ariana Grande and Dalton Gomez, Sofía Vergara and Joe Manganiello, Ricky Martin and Jwan Yosef and Billy Porter and Adam Smith.
There were plenty of big-name breakups even before that: Taylor Swift and Joe Alwyn, Reese Witherspoon and Jim Toth, Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott and Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner – just to name a few.
In fact, so many high-profile pairs have called it quits in recent months that some people have deemed 2023 the year of celebrity breakups.
And with every Insta-worthy divorce announcement comes the inevitable churn of headlines and rumors — as well as social media posts and group chat texts from the many fans who most definitely have opinions.
Contrary to the stereotypes, it's not just women who care about celebrity gossip, says Alice Leppert, a media and communications professor at Ursinus College who focuses on stardom and celebrity culture.
"Most people have at least one celebrity figure (broadly construed, be that an athlete, a social media influencer or YouTuber, or a more traditional celebrity) that they care about, and whose personal life they're invested in in one way or another," she told Morning Edition over email.
In other words, most people are liable to find themselves reacting strongly to a celebrity breakup at some point or another.
Experts told NPR that those feelings don't necessarily just reflect how people see celebrities, but also their own lives. And even if we think celebrity breakups have nothing to do with us, there are some lessons we can learn from them.
Why do we care?
Why do we care about celebrities' relationship status at all? Experts offer a few theories.
First of all, Leppert points out that our culture — from Disney movies to The Bachelor — places high value on monogamous, romantic love. So most of us are conditioned to want and idealize "happy, long-lasting couplings."
Plus, people tend to either envy, look up to or see something of themselves in celebrities.
But celebrities may often perform an image or identity that doesn't always align with their authentic selves, she adds. Their marital problems can come as a shock "if all the public saw was a happy family."
Dr. Andrea Liner, a clinical psychologist and breakup coach, says that's especially true because celebrities share so much of their lives online, creating an "almost artificial sense of intimacy" that obscures what's happening behind the scenes.
She told NPR in a phone interview that parasocial relationships — a one-sided connection between a viewer and public figure — have become more of an issue over time, in large part because social media has increased the level of access to public figures. The COVID pandemic, which forced so many of our interactions to take place virtually, is also a factor.
"Before the internet, it was just whoever happened to be booked on the talk show that night and what magazines were coming out that week — we didn't get as much into their personal lives," Liner says. "Now, celebrities take their cell phones with them into the bathroom and are showing their morning routine."
These public figures represent a lot of our highest goals, Liner adds. They tend to be attractive, wealthy and considered successful, which many people assume makes them immune to a lot of life's problems.
"So when we find out that beautiful, gorgeous, wealthy celebrities are getting cheated on or divorcing or breaking up, it kind of humanizes them and can be validating for us to see that they have problems, too," she adds. "But it can also confuse us because we think that they shouldn't be having problems like that if they've achieved these levels of success."
And if the rich and famous are having problems, what does that mean for everyone else?
What should we do?
If the Jonas and Turner divorce is sending you into any sort of spiral, know that you're not alone — and that there may even be some uplifting takeaways.
Liner says breakups can be particularly ego-damaging because they're such a personal form of rejection, and one that can make people think they're not good enough, when that's not true. She hopes that seeing celebrities go through the same experience can be validating.
"I don't think anyone would say there's something wrong with either of them," she says, referring to Jonas and Turner. "So we can apply that to ourselves and maybe not take it quite as personally."
Another applicable lesson, according to Liner, is the damage that gossip can do. She notes that while couples try to announce their splits diplomatically and often request privacy, the tabloids and social media are constantly aflutter with gossip, often from unnamed sources.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't reach out to your network for support, she says. Just be careful who you trust with certain information.
"That also means you want to take things you hear about other people's relationships and breakups with a grain of salt," she adds. "You never know what's really going on or what someone has to gain from trying to get that information out."
Leppert, the communications professor, points out that some people delight in seeing how certain relationships fall apart, such as the "Scandoval" affair on Vanderpump Rules. Others enjoy looking for evidence of cracks in the facade of a partnership, like noticing a missing ring before an announcement.
"We want to see love conquer all," she adds. "But we've seen so many celebrity relationships crumble that we're skeptical about most of them from the start."
Liner has worked with clients who worry there isn't anyone else out there for them. She says that's not true, though that mindset may well make it harder to find a partner. There's always hope, she adds, and the proof is at least in part in pop music.
"I know Olivia Rodrigo found love again after writing that scathing album," Liner says, adding that the same is true for Swift, whose catalog is full of beloved breakup songs.
Getting older means changing, meeting new people and seeing your compatibility shift, Liner says.
"There's more to learn from every relationship you're going to have," she adds. "And celebrities rarely stay single for too long. So if they can do it, we can do it."
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