I am 30 years old, and I like to think I'm pretty mature. I pay my bills on time, I've recently become a skilled meal prepper, and I'm a couple of decades removed from my days of scrapbooking photos of the Backstreet Boys. I am full-on, smack dab in the middle of responsible adulthood. And yet, for the past week, I've been reading, Googling, and Instagramming, searching for any possible piece of evidence that Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez have officially gotten back together.
And though one might think that I should be ashamed or embarrassed by this fact, I am not. Sure, I'm at an age where I should be well beyond obsessing over a barely-grown-up celebrity couple. But here I am, and I am not alone. This potential Bieber and Selena reunion has dominated not just the headlines, but my work small talk, Twitter feed, and my group chat with my fellow pop-culture loving sister Amaiya and BFF Joseph. "He's turning a new leaf and she had a scary life altering moment — they had to find their way back to each other!" Amaiya wrote as we swapped photos of the smile-y couple bike riding together. "Ugh, I was rooting for her," said Joseph. "It feels too soon! I don't want her to waste her new kidney on him!" Several of my co-workers have also admitted that even though they aren't even fans of either pop star or their music, they haven't been able to resist speculating over every detail either.
When it comes to the never-ending saga of Jelena, it seems, we're all in this together. Even Bieber told Access Hollywood in 2015 "I'm never going to stop loving her. I'm never going to stop checking in on her. I don’t think if you end a relationship, you should end that, unless it was super toxic." These 20-somethings have evolved into the Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton of our day, a glamorous couple whose grand romantic gestures (Bieber gave Burton some competition when he rented out the Staples Center so he and Gomez could watch Titanic in 2011) and dramatic breakups-to-makeups live under a microscope. Except, one might argue, this duo might even be even more larger than life than Liz and Dick, thanks to a never-ending news cycle and the black hole that is social media. But how is it that otherwise sane, well-adjusted adults melt into squealing fanatics whenever a new photo of Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez bike riding, or leaving hockey practice, or driving in a car pops up on the Internet? It turns out there are a few reasons we're all so invested in this teenage-turned-adult love affair.
After I couldn't stop sharing with friends my theory that the pair are eerily similar to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (sorry for the rambling, friends), I decided to turn to Nancy Schoenberger, the author of Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and The Marriage Of The Century to back me up. Schoenberger agrees there are many similarities between the two couples, and says the reason we've been enraptured by both is because of one word: Fantasy.
"Taylor was also a child star who was practically born famous, and as a couple she and Burton were also extraordinarily alluring," she says. "Celebrities are the closest things we have to the Greek gods. They're larger than life, often beautiful beyond the physical blessings most of us make do with, and rewarded with money, fame, opportunity — the stuff of dreams. Just as the Greeks enjoyed tales of romantic entanglements with the gods, we voyeuristically enjoy being titillated by romantic couplings like these. They fuel our fantasies."
When those photos were first released and sent the internet into a tailspin, I couldn't help but think about my old stomping grounds Us Weekly, which was the first outlet to confirm the couple had officially gotten back together (via an anonymous source). From my experience there as an editor, I knew that news room must've been buzzing non-stop with reporters on the case, so I reached out to my old coworker, Deputy News Director Brody Brown. He confirms that everyone at Us Weekly was shocked — "aghast!" — and says he thinks our obsession with the pair's on-again, off-again situation is simply because we find them relatable.
"I think their drama fascinates us because we all love to see celebrities in situations that we've actually been through," Brown says. "Haven't we all been there where we have a friend that constantly goes back and forth with an ex? Eventually we get to the point where throw up our hands, because we realize it doesn't matter what we say or what advice we give, because our friend is going to do what they want anyway. That's Bieber and Selena. But as Selena herself has said, 'The heart wants what it wants!'"
Cooper Lawrence, author of Cult of Celebrity: What Our Fascination With the Stars Reveals About Us and host of The Cooper Lawrence Show, adds that Gomez and Bieber are like a movie we've all been watching for years — one that we can project our own lives onto.
"She's the pure-as-snow heroine and he's the talented pop star, they're a perfect couple, we see them traveling together and looking beautiful on red carpets, so we say Wow, I want a relationship just like that!" Lawrence says. "Then they break up, and we watch all the conflict, and we think Well, at least my romantic life is going better than Bieber and Selena's! And then there's Bieber's egg-throwing and his DUI, then Gomez moves on to another heartthrob, and then reveals she had a kidney transplant! Right when Bieber has found religion! I mean, you can't write a movie better than the love story of Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber."
Liz and Dick and Jelena aren't the only celebrity couples that have caught the public's attention, of course. Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and Rihanna and Chris Brown — they've all sparked endless speculation over the years. Even Kourtney Kardashian and Scott Disick remain in the headlines thanks to their rollercoaster romance. Lisa France, a senior writer for CNN Digital, says there's a common thread in these couples that keeps us tantalized: The good girl-bad boy dynamic.
"As a society, we've been dazzled by this kind of dangerous love story since Romeo and Juliet," France says. "These two are like a coming of age story mixed with adult romance, and that all feels heightened because we have the classic, innocent starlet who just can't stay away from the bad boy with a good heart. There's two sides to the coin, because we're all rooting for Bieber to be better, but we also feel like Selena Gomez was one of the best parts about him in many ways."
I also have to think that perhaps there's a reason why none of us can resist this story right now. In a world where our televisions and newsfeeds are flooded with stories about terrorism, racism, sexual assault, and political shadiness, I find comfort in spending my lunch break zooming in on Jelena paparazzi shots or engaging in intense group chat discussions with my best friends about whether this couple is meant to be.
And ah, there it is. The final reason we're all so engrossed in the Jelena love affair is we're searching for the answer to one question: Are Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez star-crossed lovers with no shot of lasting forever, or are they truly destined to be together?
"If this was a movie, the fairy tale ending would be that these two get engaged by Christmas and live happily ever after," Lawrence says. "But we have to remember they are very young. I have a feeling there's still a lot more to Selena and Justin's story."
Call me a hopeless romantic (or just a Belieber in Jelena...too far?) but I'll be here with my fingers crossed that this love story will turn out better than Liz and Dick's. Either way, I'll have my outfit ready for a wedding viewing party.
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