The fan response to celebrity breakups is extreme because they are our gilded ideal, says Prudence Wade.
In the uncertain world of celebrity relationships, one thing is for sure: if any of our favourites break up, the public outpouring of grief is going to be intense. Just look at Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth, who split last week. The response on social media was devastation.
To judge by the emotional tweets and Instagrams, you’d be forgiven for thinking thousands of people had personally known the couple, who had been married less than a year. A rep for Cyrus said: “Ever-evolving, changing as partners and individuals, they have decided this is what’s best while they both focus on themselves and careers. They still remain dedicated parents to all of their animals they share, while lovingly taking this time apart. Please respect their process and privacy.”
Neither Cyrus nor Hemsworth have publicly addressed the break-up, but Cyrus has posted a cryptic Instagram message, talking about “evolution” and how “change is inevitable.”
In just 15 hours, this racked up 2.3m likes and 14.7k comments from people speculating on their relationship and bemoaning its demise.
Because of social media, it’s become weirdly normal to treat the relationships of celebrities like those of family or friends. Have you been posting about your friends’ relationships on Twitter?
Of course, you haven’t. Those tweets are reserved for the likes of Brangelina and Bennifer.
But why is it that we’re all so collectively obsessed with these high-profile relationships, and then absolutely gutted when they break down? We speak to psychologist Dr Meg Arroll to find out more...
Even pre-Instagram, society has elevated celebrities to godlike proportions. It’s become impossible to see movie stars and singers as normal people who have become famous.
“We idolise celebrities — they are quite literally our idols and models, who we admire and, in some cases, feel extreme emotions towards,” says Arroll.
This is why watching our favourite celeb couples crash and burn can be hard, Arroll says. “It can feel more upsetting than seeing our good friends part ways.” Because we view them as shiny, perfect examples of people, it can be tough to watch our heroes fall.
It also buys into society’s obsession with couples and relationships. Most break-ups happen for a reason, but huge outpourings of grief can send a message that suggests staying in a relationship — regardless of the circumstances — is better than calling it quits.
Thanks to social media, we can ‘get to know’ celebrities better than ever. Through constant tweets and Instagram stories, we feel like they’re our friends — we think we know their skincare routines, favourite food, and, yes, their relationships.
However, they are presenting us with a carefully curated view of their lives: it’s not the real deal, but a shiny veneer of perfection.
And because we have so much access, we believe we’re close to the stars we follow.
“With the introduction of social media, it’s been much easier to get an ‘insider view’ of our favourite celebs, bringing us much closer to these individuals than was possible in the past,” Arroll says. “Hollywood stars’ private lives used to be kept secret, adding to their allure.
It also means celebrities aren’t allowed the same privacy as ‘normal’ people.
Because they live in the public eye, there’s a perception their private lives are fair game.
While you might not comment on the relationships of acquaintances, it feels altogether too easy to air your opinions about famous faces. That’s considered ‘part of the deal’ if you enter the public eye.
We’re not upset for them, but rather what they represent.
Social media makes it easy to believe these celebs have perfect lives: after all, they’re rich, famous and beautiful, and we tend to only see the good stuff in their lives.
“When it all comes crashing down, the sense of loss can be overwhelming for some,” says Arroll.
“Because we want to believe in the fairy tale: that people meet, fall in love, and live happily-ever-after. But the truth is that these people are just that: people.”
The first time they met and fell in love immediately ... 10 years ago ... Today they separate, again... Miley and Liam always... ❤💔❤💔❤💔 pic.twitter.com/plgn4dO60h— Miley Cyrus (@MileyOfficialy) August 13, 2019
For some, following these perfect relationships helps us believe in love. Arroll says: “We’re upset not just ‘for’ them, as we would be with friends, but because they represent an ideal life.
“Basically, the underlying feeling is that if celebs can’t make it work, who can?”
Because we elevate them as bastions of perfection — with all the money, beauty, and talent in the world — it can make us feel harder on ourselves and our own relationships. However, Arroll notes that it is this public pressure which can harm relationships: “Sometimes, because of these very expectations — that they must look, sound, and act perfectly, indeed ‘be’ perfect — it can be very hard to maintain a relationship.”
Let’s just hope Chrissy Teigen and John Legend stay solid.We don’t think the world is quite ready for that one to end.