First Susan and Tim, now Sam and Kate? The last few months have featured some breakups of celebrity couples I thought were rock-solid. No, I don’t actually know any of these people personally, but I was as upset about the Mendes/Winslet breakup as I was when two of my friends ended their engagement last year. I haven’t taken a not-involving-myself breakup this hard since Jo told Laurie she wouldn’t marry him. Although Jo and Laurie are fictional characters, Sam Mendes and Kate Winslet aren’t. Yet because they’re public figures it’s easy to construct a narrative for them and read enough interviews to think that you know them as well as you would any actual friend. In other words, it’s like fanfiction, but with real people in it.
Is it right to be sad when two celebrities you like end their relationship? No. But then why is it acceptable, even normal, to be sad when a celebrity dies (just recently: Corey Haim)? Or when their kid dies (John Travolta and Kelly Preston’s son Jett)? If one form of sympathy for a person you’ve never met is socially acceptable and the other one isn’t, how do we draw the line?
If celebrities can earn money from selling their wedding and baby photos to OK! magazine, it’s hard to turn around and say that regular folk need to butt out of stars’ lives. That’s why I usually end up rolling my eyes at publicist-crafted press releases that ask for celebrities’ “privacy during this difficult time,” because people who want actual privacy don’t usually need to send out media alerts about said privacy. That said, it’s one thing to want to know the gossip but it’s another thing to take it as seriously as I would take a breakup of my own. I don’t know Kate Winslet. I’ve never met her. I’ve never even seen her at a Starbucks or taking her kids to the park. Hell, I didn’t even see her Oscar-winning turn in The Reader. So why is it, just because she’s done some interviews that I read, I feel like I have some right to know about her divorce and how she feels about it? Truth is: I don’t. She shouldn’t have to stay in her marriage so that I can have some kind of metaphysical reassurance that some couples can make it work out. It’s not her job to live her private life in a way that makes perfect strangers feel better about themselves. Yeah, I was bummed that Tim and Susan didn’t make it work because I liked the awesome never-married-but-still-committed success they’d had in their relationship. But if a celebrity couple breakup is all it takes to destroy your faith in romantic love, maybe you didn’t have much faith to begin with.
So, on that note, I’m off to go hang out with some people I know in real life.