Being a celebrity is an oft-thankless task, but to take on the mantle of the spouse of a celebrity, whether or not you yourself are famous, is a whole other level of pain. It’s a position that requires all of the fortitude, protection, and emotional steeliness of being an A-Lister but with none of the safety nets. We’ve seen more times than I can count the ways that women who become romantically involved with beloved male celebrities are thrown to the wolves by the media and fans alike. My own grandmother is still mad at Yoko Ono for ‘breaking up the Beatles’, even though the Beatles were perfectly capable of splitting up on their own.
The past few months have seen a number of notable instances of famous guys, often ones with ‘internet boyfriend’ status, finding love, or going public with a new girlfriend. Chris Evans has reportedly married actress Alba Baptista. Harry Styles has been seen around town with Taylor Russell. Timothee Chalamet has gone public with Kylie Jenner. Most people reacted with, you know, a sense of proportion and got on with their lives. Some, however, went in an entirely different direction. Russell has faced racist comments from some Styles fans. Evans was called a predator for marrying a 26-year-old ‘child bride’ and had previously received open letters from so-called fans declaring their outrage over his private life. One already-infamous Chalamet fan account spent a whole dang hour on Twitter Spaces ranting about how the actor was clearly being forced into a PR romance with Jenner.
There are many other examples, of course. Look at how Olivia Wilde was treated when she started dating Styles, or the literal death threats women like Sophie Hunter and FKA Twigs received. Meghan Markle became the British media’s biggest enemy for daring to date a balding former soldier from an awful family. Sometimes men face this ire (see Zach Braff when he dated Florence Pugh) but it’s largely a misogynistic phenomenon. Is anyone surprised by that?
The most basic explanation for this ceaseless fury is one of mere jealousy. Hey, didn’t we all secretly want to be The One for the hunk we fancy? Even those of us not steeped in delusion can find it difficult to turn off our urge to fantasize. There’s a reason that publicists past and present have preferred to manufacture celebrity images that suggest a kind of romantic availability. It’s something that’s particularly prevalent in the K-pop world but has its roots in the Hollywood studio system. A woman in the picture spoils the illusion, so the logic goes. There is some truth to that. Human beings are not blank slates. We have quirks and specificities that cannot be easily replicated. A big part of being famous, especially if you’re marketed as a sex symbol, is being a vessel for others’ ideas and emotions. Suddenly, there’s a woman on the scene, one with her own beauty and accomplishments and there must be something about her that draws this ‘perfect’ man to them. How do you compete? How do you put yourself into her shoes when she’s not you?
When you make your idol so inhuman in their majesty, so untouchable in your mind, the only person who can fit the bill as the ideal romantic partner is yourself, because only you know the image you’ve crafted. Fandom can stoke your ideas but it ultimately becomes a solitary belief. Once the mirror is broken, it’s hard to put it back together again, even if that celebrity’s relationship doesn’t last.
No woman is ‘good enough’ for Evans to a certain subset of fans. As much as they rant about Baptista, try to blame her for things she didn’t do and strip her of her autonomy by claiming she’s still a child, it’s not as though they’ve ever treated any of Evans’ other girlfriends well. Jenny Slate was horribly bullied online for being yet another woman who wasn’t good enough for America’s ass. Those who think Chalamet is intellectually superior to a multi-millionaire mother of two don’t think any woman could get to this mythic level. The latter is especially entertaining, if also infuriating, because it reminds us of how often these men are robbed not only of basic humanity but also career savvy. What, you think that Chalamet is a serious artiste who never engages with the press and rejects celebrity as a tasteless display? Did you see him on SNL? Or when he open-mouth devoured Eiza Gonzalez in the hot tub? Come on. That punctured the fantasy for some more than Jenner holding his hand.
Many of these people wrap their hatred up in displays of concern. They just want what’s best for their favourites, and it coincidentally happens to be making sure they’re single forever. Such thinking often gets deeply conspiratorial, descending into crackpot AQnon-adjacent lore involving malicious temptresses and fake pregnancies. It all boils down to an age-old lie: that women can never be trusted. The goalposts for celebrity girlfriend acceptability never stop moving. Unknowns aren’t right. Famous women starting their careers aren’t either. Don’t even think about older women, or younger. Certainly not those more or equally famous. Don’t be gorgeous, but never be plain. If you’re not white then prepare for the worst.
Whenever I see one of these ridiculous conspiracies about celebrities, I end up asking the same question: why is your torturous version of this celebrity’s life preferrable to you over reality? What is it about imagining that Benedict Cumberbatch’s wife is a sex trafficker keeping him hostage with fake children that makes you happier than accepting that he’s just a nice guy with a wife and family? Are you truly so committed to this misogyny, this painful eradication of someone’s personhood, that you’d rather they suffer than be happy? Honestly, I think they would, because then they would always be right. Conspiracies aren’t designed to come to a satisfying conclusion, and neither is misogyny. The only true victor is total annihilation.
The irony is that, if one of these obsessed fans were to win the lottery and date their fandom icon, all of their fellow fans would start the cycle anew with them. What a bitch, she’s all wrong for him, he’s clearly not happy with her, it must be a PR stunt, and so on. Same as it ever was. If it truly compromises your enjoyment of someone’s work, or disrupts your entire being, to see a celebrity kissing someone else, then perhaps it’s time for another hobby.