Are They Like Us? The Fascination With Celebrity Divorce

It’s been cold lately. And dark. And often wet and windy. So in the wisdom (or perhaps wimpiness) of my old age, I have traded in my outdoor runs for time on the treadmill. Which also means I end up watching a lot of HGTV (because it’s that or news and I refuse to subject myself to the latter).

So I’ve become versed in two celebrity couples (Chip and Joanna from Fixer Upper and Tarek and Christina from Flip or Flop) whose marriages – and in one case case, divorce – are frequently being analyzed in the media.

Celebrity marriage can be a strange thing. In our daily lives, the interior of any marriage other than our own tends to be tucked away, kept hidden behind carefully curated Facebook posts and a belief that any blips are somehow abnormal and should be suppressed. Whereas with today’s media, we are often granted an intimate view inside the relationships of the famous. Even though the cameras are only sometimes on and the publicists attempt to control the release of information, we still see quite a lot and, even more importantly, we can begin to feel like we know the people involved.

I used to feel a little let down when I would turn on the TV over the treadmill and see Tarek and Christina’s faces. The show was fine, it certainly followed the formula of “Oh no! This house is worse than we anticipated! We’re over budget because of some sort of surprise repair. But we still have to buy these too-expensive cabinets/floor tiles/solid gold bathtub.”

My discomfort instead came from watching the interplay between the couple. I found myself cringing at Tarek’s visible contempt for his wife’s opinion. It was awkward watching them attempt to force a connection when it seemed as though one no longer existed. They both seemed to be more vibrant, more alive, with other people on the show rather than with their partner.

So I was not surprised when a history of marital trouble (including a secret separation) and impending divorce were announced. It became a bit of train wreck – people didn’t really want to know the salacious details yet they couldn’t make themselves look away.

Reactions were mixed. Overwhelmingly, people expressed concern for those involved, especially for the children. There was also a sense of vindication, of letting themselves off the hook. After all, if the good-looking, rich and famous can’t always make marriage work, how are the rest of us supposed to do any better with our money woes and childcare pressures?

The other couple I frequently see, Chip and Joanna, seem to be polar opposites of the first. They appear to have an overwhelming mutual appreciation and respect for each other and operate well as a team. Yet, the media seems to love to speculate about an impending split. Perhaps because they seem too-perfect and we can’t help but wonder if it’s real. (And maybe even secretly hope that it’s not.)

Celebrity culture is a strange phenomena. It makes us both want to be like them and also invites us to revel in their destruction. We both watch their marriages to feel better about our own and also to question if we are somehow lacking. We watch for signs of trouble brewing to reassure ourselves that we can catch sight of the red flags to convince ourselves that we are “safe” in our relationships. When a divorce does occur, it’s easy to view it as entertainment and to readily assign roles of good guy and evil villain and to minimize the emotional fallout that must be occurring behind the scenes.

My guess is that their marriages really aren’t that different than the rest of ours – sometimes great, sometimes terrible and all-too-often taken for granted. And their divorces may differ in scale and attention, but those at the core are still heartbroken.

As for me, my time on the treadmill these past few months has taught me a few things –

I can’t afford to live in California. I wish I could bring Waco housing prices to Atlanta. Painting everything gold is never a good idea and there is such a thing as too many clocks. And, more than anything else, I’m grateful that I don’t have to face speculation on the state of my marriage in the checkout line at the grocery store.





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