Whenever one of the A-list celebrity couples breaks up, I think of an old joke by Tina Fey on Weekend Update. Referring to a photo of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, Fey said, “In entertainment news, if these two are tired of having sex with each other, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
More than a decade later, in 2016, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the woman he (allegedly) left Jennifer for, announced their divorce. Once again, two beautiful people couldn’t quite make it work.
Then, over the summer, Chris Pratt and Anna Faris announced they were separating. Their statement read in part, “We tried hard for a long time, and we’re really disappointed.”
So were my friends. One friend was celebrating her wedding anniversary on the day of the announcement, and she posted a (mostly) joking message to social media asking how she and her husband could make it work if Chris and Anna couldn’t.
Obviously, none of my friends are going to leave their spouse simply because Chris Pratt and Anna Faris broke up, but I think a little anxiety about celebrity break-ups is common.
A lot of it goes back to the Tina Fey joke from above, and the idea that somehow, love is supposed to be easier for beautiful rich people. They’ve already hit the genetic lottery, and they’re making millions in film or TV or music; how hard can it be to find another pretty person to fall in love with? Sure, maybe they’ll fight occasionally, like everyone else, but most people can’t hash out their differences in the comfort of a Malibu mansion outfitted with fourteen bathrooms. I’d love to be able to distract myself from an argument by ranking every bathroom in my house from one to fourteen.
Unfortunately, that line of thinking is a lot like those “FAIRY TALE WEDDING” tabloid covers: They fall apart under even the slightest amount of scrutiny. Tabloids run those Big Wedding Stories because readers respond to them, but the only thing readers respond to more are Big Divorce Stories. If a tabloid runs photos of a celebrity wedding, all the quotes will be about how the couple in question is “made for each other.” A year or two later, when the couple divorces, the same tabloid will find “sources” who have no problem declaring, “There have been signs of trouble for a while.” The narrative can change in an instant (unless you’re Jennifer Aniston, who, if you believe the tabloids, was pregnant or trying to get that way for roughly fifteen years straight).
So what’s the truth? It’s Hollywood, so we’ll probably never know. Not that it stops me from having oddly strong opinions about certain couples anyway. For instance, I think Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton will stay together for as long as people find their relationship confusing and wrong (so forever). I want Jennifer Lawrence to get together with a guy who isn’t old enough to be her father, but she’s been playing roles designed for older women for most of her career, so maybe 40-something men truly seem like they’re in her age bracket by now.
Put aside the money and the mansions and the magazine covers, and maybe stars really are (somewhat) like us: They’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got, and they’re doing it on a way bigger stage. When I broke up with my last boyfriend, I could at least go out for Mexican food without tabloid editors mistaking my post-meal bloat for a baby and declaring me “PREGNANT AND ALONE.” And if I ever do get pregnant, I can go to Target without TMZ declaring that I’m “showing off my baby bump.” Celebrities, especially if they’re women, can’t just exist in a public space; they must always be on display.
Love isn’t dead, or at least it’s not any deader than it’s always been (I’m a real romantic, I know). Famous people don’t know the secret to love any more than we do, even if they can afford the most expensive marriage counselor in Southern California. Making it in show biz doesn’t imbue you with some magical relationship power. There are always trade-offs for all that glitz and glamor, and I don’t know if I’d trade the body of a starlet for the knowledge that my actor husband makes out with other women as part of his job.
I’m trying to get back into dating, but one mildly creepy OKCupid message is enough to send me skittering back to the safer confines of Netflix. I’m trying to find the value in trying. I know the “fifty percent of marriages end in divorce” stat is mostly a myth, but it still feels all too common. Plus, there’s no real way to account for the people who have been together for 50 years and unhappy about it for 49.
The odds aren’t great, but we humans—celebrities and non-celebrities alike—are going on dates and falling in love anyway. We’re fighting for as long as there’s something worth fighting for, and sometimes well beyond that. “Couple in love is going to do their best to stay that way” doesn’t sell as well as the fairy tale, but at least it’s honest.
Featured still from "Take Me Home Tonight" via Universal Pictures