Last week a cry was heard ’round the Internet as news broke that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are divorcing. I know, I know. You thought that outrage and anguish was the result of another news report about ISIS or the devastating stories of black churches being burned.
Settle down. I’m well aware a person can be upset about all of those things, all at once, because we are complex and compassionate people. But no matter what else is going on in our world and in the news, I am still shocked by our collective reaction to the personal lives of celebrities.
And I say “our” because I’m no different. For example, I’m afraid that no matter how much work she does for the United Nations and starving children (or whatever it is she does for the U.N. I don’t actually know!), I will never stop thinking of Angelina Jolie as The One Who Broke Up Brad and Jen. Even though that was TEN YEARS AGO. And, oh yeah, these are people I DO NOT KNOW.
Yet…I still care. Strangely enough. Why IS that? Why do we care so much about celebrity marriages?
We think we know what’s best for other people.
Just like when I decided that I’d found the perfect job for my best friend the other day (I’m serious. It would be PERFECT for her, and she should apply for it right now. No, I don’t know if they’re hiring. That is beside the point!), we tend to think we know what’s best for celebrities, too. We read tiny nuggets about their lives, see a few strategic photos, watch a late-night interview – and all of a sudden, we’re experts on a celeb’s personality, values and needs.
Obviously if he’d quit traveling so much or if she’d quit working with such handsome actors or if he’d ease up on the self-tanner or she’d stop hogging the camera or — Right? We can figure out exactly what’s going wrong and just how to fix it!
Probably because this is practically make-believe for us. These are real people we’re making assumptions about, but we make up our own realities for them and their lives and their relationships.
We can’t separate fiction from reality.
Which brings me to this. You know you do it, too. You saw them in that movie together, and they were so cute! And then they were interviewed together on Ellen, and oh my gosh, they were hilarious! Of course it’s no surprise that they’re a real-life couple now; it only makes sense. But we forget when our favorite actors meet cute on the set that they’re not actually the characters they portray on screen. And what we see as obvious chemistry and compatibility might just have been excellent writing or savvy marketing.
It’s easier to worry about someone else’s marriage than our own.
A writer for one of the entertainment sites I read is obsessed with Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield. Rumors of a breakup earlier this year sent her into a GIF-filled tailspin. She was simply distraught at the mere mention of trouble in celebrity paradise. I agree Stone and Garfield seem adorable together, and the posts that writer published about her devotion to their relationship success were funny. But I had to wonder – when was the last time I got that worked up about my own marriage?
And that’s really what this comes down to for me. While it is fun to ‘ship characters in our favorite shows (Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt for the win!) or feel certain that you and your spouse would just have the most fun with a celebrity couple (Kristen Bell and Dax Shepherd would TOTALLY be our BFFs…if only they met us.), it’s really not healthy to spend more time and energy focused on other people’s relationships than on your own.
Our addiction to celebrity relationship news isn’t completely removed from our own lives and concerns, though. Because, deep down, I think part of our fascination stems from our desire that fairy tales be true. We look at these beautiful, talented people who have all the advantages the world can offer and can’t imagine that their stories don’t have happy endings. After all, if THEY can’t make it work – with their personal chefs and nannies and maid services and makeup artists and personal shoppers – well, the rest of us might as well give up now.
We pin our hopes for marriage on these people who seem like shinier, prettier, better versions of ourselves – but who are really just as human and flawed as us. We forget that fame and fortune don’t alleviate all the stresses of the world, and they don’t make us immune to temptation or pride or other struggles. We ignore the reality and focus on the illusion and believe these super-humans must have super-marriages, and we build up their shiny pedestals of People magazines and interviews with Fallon.
That’s why, when we hear that another famous couple is getting divorced, our reaction can be extreme – and more what we’d expect to be reserved for bad news about our actual friends and family members. It can feel like a personal blow, a twisted fairy tale – and a valid reason to give up hope that anyone can ever make marriage work.
If there’s one thing many of us need, it’s hope. We are desperate for hope, for a reason to keep believing – in marriage in general and in our own marriages. Marriage is hard, and sometimes it feels like the odds are stacked against us. Money is tight, jobs are stressful, kids are demanding, and dinner always needs to be fixed. We don’t have time for intensive therapy or weekend getaways or even a romantic dinner. So if the pretty people with charmed lives can’t figure this thing out, well, how could our relationships possibly survive?
If you know me at all, then you can probably guess that I don’t think all marriages are doomed now that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are calling it quits. Just the opposite, actually.
Despite my commentary about the warped reasons we get so crazy about celebrity couples, I think it’s a good sign for marriage if the end of one breaks our hearts. Even if we are a little starry-eyed and impractical in our longing for “happily ever after,” the importance we place on marriage – both the ones we know personally and the ones we see from afar – is a good thing. It means we care, that we haven’t given up, that we value marriage itself.
It also means we’re longing for role models, for evidence that marriage can last, that happy marriages aren’t fantasy. So instead of peeking at the pictures on the magazines as we stand in line at the grocery store, why not search out an older couple at church? Spend time with them as friends and let them mentor you. Learn from their lives together, from the way they have fought for their marriage over decades.
And maybe, instead of winding down with E! News or your favorite entertainment site tonight, take a few minutes to connect with your spouse. Spend time focusing on your own marriage. Don’t drift apart. Put each other first. Keep learning what makes the other one tick. Dream together. Laugh together. Maybe watch a movie together.
Just…maybe not Daredevil. (You know, the one starring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner? Too soon?)
Who’s your favorite celebrity couple?