On Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas and the Weird Pain of Celebrity Breakups

I'm not sure exactly why I care about the latest celebrity romantic casualty. But ... I kind-of do. Just a little.

Aug 28, 2013 at 7:26pm | Leave a comment

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I may be smiling, but inside my heart is dying. Just a little.

This morning, as I was settling in at my desk and catching up on the news, I saw a headline that almost made me spit my coffee across my keyboard. “MICHAEL DOUGLAS AND CATHERINE ZETA-JONES SPLIT,” the vile, hope-killing string of text blared at me.

I clicked through to find an adorable image of the now-former couple, looking all blissy and in love just a few months ago, plus a long-ish article explaining that the couple of 13 years has decided to “take a break” and spend some time apart. (Other tabloids report that Zeta-Jones is working on a $300-million divorce settlement, but I'm ignoring that blip because it’s too traumatic.)

But … why?! They seemed so happy! So solid! So … unified! My heart was heavy and dank, and I felt vaguely like someone had bashed me about the head with a bucket full of concrete. (OK, I might be exaggerating slightly. But I really did feel sad.)

After I mentioned it on Facebook, responses came trickling in -- I wasn’t the only person distraught by the end of a relationship I had absolutely the opposite of anything to do with. One friend noted, “You should have put a ‘Trigger Alert’ warning in red above that status,” before likening the couple's marriage to “when a daisy rises up out of the dung pile. You're like, ‘Awwww.’ Then when someone mows it down, you're like, ‘Awwwww!’”

Right, so that might not be the loveliest image, but it’s pretty apt, because back when it started in 1999, the Douglas-Z.J. connection initially seemed like a TOTAL pile of dung to me. I scoffed at the icky stereotypical May-December nature of their romance –- like, of COURSE Michael Douglas would go for a gorgeous Welsh vixen 25 years his junior. OF COURSE Zeta-Jones would end up with a gazillionaire who oozed smarm and money and family power. I was cynical about the longevity of their Thing, certain it would last a year or two, max.

But the longer they stayed together, the sweeter and more solid their relationship seemed. All the crap they went through -- the throat cancer! The bipolar disorder! The son's prison sentence! I started genuinely rooting for them -- as a long-time frustrated singleton (remember that term?), their relationship seemed to shine as an example of enduring loyalty, especially in Hollywood.

Then… this? Out of left field? I know it’s a bit ridiculous to be upset about the breakup of a couple I’ll never meet and don’t really care to. But this isn't about logic, you know? And I don't think I'm the only person who got a little stunned; take a bounce around the Internet and you'll encounter tons of shocked headlines about this stuff, with thousands of impassioned comments and tweets and blog posts from other horrified regular people who want to throw our hands in the air and yell, "WHYYYYYY?"

Of course, this isn't the first famous couple that's collectively stabbed us in the heart -- I was equally sad about Rhea and Danny; Heidi and Seal; Lindsay and Samantha; and OH GAWD Kim and Thurston (that one still smarts, especially because he supposedly started dating a much much younger scenester lady afterward).

Obviously these things don't pain us because they involve people we truly, deeply care about. They sting because they validate difficult truths we know but don't fully want to believe -- that every love has limits; that being an adult is f*cking hard; that a perfect-seeming relationship is never, in fact, perfect; that sometimes, what we consider love is more like longing and fantasy. Oh, and that it doesn’t matter what you look like or how talented you are or how fat your wallet is -- no one's spared from the heartbreak of watching a once-happy relationship dissolve.

What celebrity breakup (if any) has bothered you most?

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