‘Love Is Dead’: Why Do We Care So Much About Celebrity Breakups?

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Love is dead. Or so it feels for many fans after two celebrity couples announced their breakups this week. Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello have called time after seven years of marriage, "taking some distance from each other to contemplate their future". Meanwhile Ariana Grande and Dalton Gomez have also separated, after getting married in 2021.
Admittedly, I'm one of them. Like many fans, I was devastated when I heard the news and overwhelmed with a sense of sorrow and disbelief. It can't be true. Everything seemed to be going so well. I almost wanted to cry.
But in a world where Hollywood splits are so common, why do we care so much about the relationship breakdowns of famous people we've never met?
'Relationship goals' is a term often thrown around when it comes to celebrities, because they tend to publicly portray the ideal or fantasy of what a relationship looks like or can aspire to be. The stars tend to be attractive yet down-to-earth, and have busy careers but still find time for dates and cute grocery trips together. Inadvertently, they project the idea that your romance can survive the odds, no matter what.
"Many of us are interested in celebrities and other public figures and are naturally curious about their lives," psychologist Dr Marny Lishman tells Refinery29 Australia. "At some level, their lives are so unattainable and almost fantasy-like to us, but at another level, many of the same trials and tribulations they endure are not unlike our own."

When couples you look up to split up, it kind of gives you a 'romance and love are dead' feeling, which sucks.

nina, 23
It's because of this that we live vicariously through them when we're single, and unconsciously strive for the relationship success they have when we're in a relationship of our own. With that being said, it only makes sense that when a celebrity couple calls it quits, we too feel a sudden loss.
Nina, 23, felt this when Lisa Bonet and Jason Momoa broke up in January 2022, before Phoebe Bridgers and Paul Mescal also called time on their romance later that year.
"While I definitely don’t get upset about all the famous breakups, these ones truly made me sad," she tells Refinery29 Australia, explaining she was inspired by certain aspects of each couple's relationships.
"When couples you look up to split up, it kind of gives you a 'romance and love are dead' feeling, which sucks. They gave the impression that even relationships with barriers — age differences, dealing with so much fame and gossip or personal drama — stood a chance."
Lishman explains that we're often only exposed to one version of reality when it comes to celebrity relationships. This makes our disbelief that much stronger when the romances collapse.
"We idolise their relationships too as we idolise the celebrity, so when the ‘seemingly perfect’ relationship ends, we grieve for the ending of what we perceived as perfection," says Lishman.
"We see a fairly edited version of reality, so it’s hard to understand why a seemingly perfect relationship would end. At times we are shocked because it ‘looked’ so good."
Nina agrees, saying that she has "put celebrity couples on a pedestal" in the past, looking to them for "inspiration and confirmation of romance in the world". So when it all comes crumbling down, it's a bit of a reality check.
"When they break up, it’s just a sad reminder that no one is immune to the realities and difficulties of love and commitment," she says.
Lishman explains that this realisation is very normal. While it's hard for many of us to process the news when a seemingly perfect celeb couple breaks up, we know that to some degree (without the fame and fortune), they are just like us.
"They are complex, imperfect creatures that go through highs and lows in life, just like we do. They lose love, they break up, they grieve, they get rejected — just like the rest of us."
Social media has only exacerbated our passionate responses to celebrity splits. In a time when we watch so many celebrities carefully curate their TikToks with 'relatable' couple vids, or flirt up a storm in the comments section, how can we not get deeply invested in their blossoming romances?
"Social media allows us to connect more with them [celebrities], and also be more informed about what’s going in their lives. It gives us more information than traditional media, so we seem to be more invested," says Lishman.
We're also seeing more celebrities who find love on a reality TV dating show or on the set of a film, which makes us feel like we've been on the journey with them — from the first date to the breakup announcement post on Instagram. I felt this hard when Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens split in 2010. I watched their young love grow while filming the High School Musical films over the years. I recall their affection and red carpet cuteness fondly. I even remember emulating Hudgens' red carpet hairstyles at my school formals, in the hope it would land me my own Zac.
As the likes of Vergara, Manganiello, Grande and Gomez navigate their respective breakups, there will always be fans like me who are still rooting for them. I'll shamelessly keep caring about my favourite celebrity couples (and their breakups), in the hope that there will be just as many moments filled with joy as there will be grief.
After all, how many of us have secretly harboured the hope that Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt will rekindle their flame one day? For some couples, a breakup is certainly the right decision. But as fans, it's easy to hope that some of our favourite couples will get back together (think Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, or Jessica Biel and Justin Timberlake). Regardless of whether the split is temporary or permanent, we just need to remember that hope is not dead, and neither is love.
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