It happens every time there's a celebrity break up. Thousands of people take to Twitter and express their heartbreak. "LOVE IS DEAD!" the memes scream. "I'VE LOST ALL HOPE!" Most recently, it was Jenna Dewan-Tatum and Channing Tatum. Right before that, it was Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux, and Chris Pratt and Anna Faris.
Sometimes, even other celebrities get in on the act!
There have been a multitude of articles over the years trying to get to the bottom of why the public feels it so deeply when our fave celebs break up. Elizabeth Spiers, writing for The Washington Post, summed up the general consensus back in 2015, post-Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner:
"Ultimately, our interest in celebrity breakups and relationships isn’t really about the celebrities at all — not who they really are, anyway. It’s about our expectations for our own relationships, how we think they’re supposed to work, and particularly, how we think they would work if we had everything we think would make them better: money, looks, someone to do the dishes so that argument never occurs in the first place. And when that perfect narrative we imagine is disrupted with a weary proclamation by the good looking, wealthy, successful actor that marriage is work, it’s not white noise the way it would be if grandma or Ann Landers said it. We expect better from our fictions."
Here's the thing though... What if everyone is lying about being upset? What if all of the online declarations of disappointment have more to do with reveling in celebrity misery than actually being second-hand heartbroken? Everyone knows it's taboo to enjoy other people's relationship woes, so faux expressions of sadness provide a different way to roll around in the failure of very successful, very beautiful people, without having to actually admit that that's what you're doing.
Interestingly, the public can be perfectly open when it comes to enjoying stars dealing with meltdowns, nervous breakdowns, and even substance-abuse problems. That's the reason most people can immediately recall Amy Winehouse's blood-stained ballet shoes; it's why it's not difficult for us to remember exactly what it looked like when Bald Britney attacked a car with an umbrella; and it's why Charlie Sheen's mania was able to introduce #Winning into our everyday vernacular.
The public feels just fine indulging in those kinds of Famous People Problems because they feel so far removed from our own regular-people lives. Perhaps it just feels like too much of a karmic risk to openly enjoy their relationship fails too, when -- gulp -- we have those too.
Despite denials about enjoying it, proof of public hunger for celebrity love-related misery is right there on every newsstand in the country. There is an entire portion of the tabloid magazine industry built around it. OK! magazine is the most unabashed when it comes to providing this service (Star magazine runs a close second), dramatically declaring affairs and abandonments and heartaches, which end up being completely false at least half of the time.
These magazines rely heavily on the public wanting terrible things to happen in the relationships of famous people -- and they're clearly doing just fine with sales, whether the stories are true or not.
There is a desire, on some level, to drag celebrities down a peg or two, and to know that, no matter how much money they have, or how beautiful they are, or how big their house is, they still can't figure out how to manage their own personal lives. When their perfect-from-the-outside love lives start sucking, anyone who's ever been in awe of a celebrity relationship can breathe a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that stars really are just like us.
Shout out to this girl for keeping it more real than most:
After Brad and Angelina broke up in 2016, The Debrief consulted clinical psychologist, Dr Jessamy Hibberd, who noted: "A celebrity marriage or break up is almost like a soap opera playing out. The ups and downs of any narrative are... interesting."
So maybe, on the odd occasion when there genuinely isn't subconscious pleasure occurring, when a person expresses sadness over the end of Brangelina, or Braniston, or Bennifer, or whoever it happens to be this week, it's probably only as sad as they felt over Carrie dumping Aiden, or Ross and Rachel being on a break, or Luke being crappy to Lorelai. None of it is really real to us.
In a September 2016 issue of Newsweek, psychotherapist Mark Vernon summed up the weirdness of our celebrity relationship sensitivities perfectly. He suggested that when people express pain over high profile splits, "it's to borrow from their suffering... perhaps it's a kind of schadenfreude that the golden couple have fallen, implying perhaps that you have a hidden longing for wealth, beauty, or fame."
Is there anyone who doesn't?