Celebrity Break-Ups: The Science Behind Why We Care So Much

Victoria Stokes finds out why we're so invested in #RelationshipGoals celebs... turns out, it's more than just hero worship.

Victoria Stokes wonders why we’re so invested in #RelationshipGoals celebs, and finds out that there’s much more to it than plain old idol worship.

When Anna Faris and Chris Pratt announced their separation in August, it’s fair to say fans did not take the news well. “I’m honestly more heartbroken over Chris Pratt and Anna Faris getting divorced than my actual parents,” read one tweet I found after sifting through the innumerable grief-stricken memes, statuses and comments that had been posted in the wake of their split. “If Anna and Chris can’t make it work, what hope is there for the rest of us?” read another. To thousands of fans worldwide, their announcement dealt a particularly devastating blow.

Of course, Chris and Anna’s breakup isn’t the first split to garner such a reaction. Remember Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner? Brad and Angelina? Seal and Heidi Klum? God help us if Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds ever call it quits.

But let’s get real here: we don’t really know these people. At least not in the true sense of the word. Our only access to the Chris and Annas of the world is through public appearances, red carpet shots and social media, so it seems pretty crazy that we’d be so distraught over the relationship demise of two perfect strangers. Why is it then when celeb couples split it comes as such a death knell to fans?

One reason, says relationship coach Annie Lavin, is because their agony can be triggering. Been through a particularly painful split yourself? That pain can come rushing back if a celeb couple you’re invested in decides to call it a day. Those old feelings can easily resurface when you’re mourning what your favourite A-list pairing once had.

Mostly though, it links back to the illusion of intimacy created between celebs and their fans.  “Thanks to social media you can be instantly connected to the lives of these people,” Annie points out, “and social networking sites create the illusion of knowing a celebrity personally.” That bond strengthens the more details we know about their life too, in much the same way that we feel more connected to a friend when they tell us their secrets. Of course, with celebs we’re just getting the image, not the real deal, meaning we can start to imagine what a great couple they are behind closed doors.

Annie references the Halo Effect, a psychological theory that suggests if a person is successful in one aspect of their life, we’re likely to assume they’ve got it licked in all other areas too. When it comes to super talented, genetically blessed celebs like Anna and Chris, it’s easy to see how we can get carried away in our assumptions and it can feel particularly devastating when that image is shattered.

What’s more, our reaction to celebrity splits, makes an interesting point about our natural urge to compare in general. How many times have you caught yourself idolising that overly affectionate couple on Facebook, wishing your relationship could be more like theirs? Or assumed that your friend and her boyfriend are the definition of perfect? The difference with celebs, says Annie, is that we tend to see them as living in some sort of parallel universe, when in reality we know there’s no such thing as perfect.

Fortunately, comparing ourselves to others, A-list or otherwise, isn’t always a bad thing, but you do need to proceed with caution. “Comparison can have both a positive and negative impact,” Annie states. “It can provide inspiration and hope, help you to understand how to overcome your relationship challenges and motivate you to improve, but it can also increase feelings of envy and low self esteem.” In turn, that can have a damaging effect on your love life. “It can create a habit of turning away from your relationship or partner rather than turning towards which is damaging if practiced over the long term.,” Annie warns.

So where’s the happy medium? Is it okay to care when your favourite celeb couple calls it a day? The trick is to be empathetic but not overly invested. In some countries, Celebrity worship Syndrome is a bonafide disorder so it’s important to know where to draw the line. “It can be dangerous to continually look to the outside world for explanations, believing celebrities hold the answers,” Annie surmises. Basically? Take #CoupleGoals culture with a massive pinch of salt and when it comes to celebrity romances don’t believe everything you see.

This article first appeared in the November issue of STELLAR Magazine. Our December issue is one shelves now.

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