It happened: Benedict Cumberbatch announced his engagement to theater director Sophie Hunter — and the hearts of a thousand Sherlock fans cried out in disappointment. But, why? Did we actually think we had a chance? Well, kind of. It turns out we are beginning to believe that we actually know celebrities — and that we could date them.
Even in the world of social media, friendship circles have a limit. Evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar has suggested we really only have the bandwidth to juggle around 150 friends. But, with Twitter, Instagram, and the like, we can pay equal attention to both our actual friends and the stars. Plus, fame is somewhat democratized on social media: All you need is a Twitter handle and a moderate amount of wit and/or creativity to build up a fan base. With us feeling more like celebrities and celebrities seeming more like our friends, we are beginning to believe we could actually meet and get to know them. Of course, the fact that we can shamelessly watch them perform for hours without having to actually put forth any real human interaction on our end is a plus as well.
Also, there's no getting around the fact that most people who become celebrities are pretty attractive, conventionally or otherwise. When we think someone is good-looking, a little thing called the "halo effect" makes it more likely that we'll see that person in other positive ways, even if he or she doesn't really deserve it. Studies have shown that when we rate people as being more attractive, we also tend to rate them as being more competent, trustworthy, and powerful. Some have hypothesized that "overgeneralization" could be responsible for what's happening here. Basically, if we see a celebrity as broadly successful, we'll generalize that to his or her specific traits as well, seeing that person as nicer and funnier than others.
So, what does that leave us with? Nice, attractive, successful people who also seem approachable — a.k.a. the perfect recipe for a crush. And, although stars do sometimes date us normal humans, it's probably better not to get our sights set on a person whom the odds say we'll never even meet. So, even if we say we're happy for Benedict — and even if there is a tiny part of us that really is happy for Benedict — we can still be disappointed. Because, we actually kinda thought we had a chance.