In Praise of the Honest (and Occasionally Messy) Celebrity Breakup

in-praise-of-the-honest-(and-occasionally-messy)-celebrity-breakup

Recently, news broke that the comedian John Mulaney had ended his seven-year marriage with artist Anna Marie Tendler. My instinctive response was a gross, nosy kind of curiosity I’m not proud of, one that has flourished on social media with all things related to Mulaney’s personal life, but when I saw Tendler’s statement—which reads, in full, “I am heartbroken that John has decided to end our marriage. I wish him support and success as he continues his recovery”—I suddenly felt as though I’d been let behind the curtain of their split in a way I hadn’t expected.

It’s so rare for a celebrity couple to end on anything other than allegedly mutual terms, that hearing Tendler describe herself as “heartbroken” and admit that it was Mulaney who chose to end their marriage feels strangely refreshing. Of course, there’s only so much about Mulaney and Tendler’s marriage and split that we can infer from a public statement—we don’t have all the details, nor should we—but it’s comforting to know that in celebrity romances, just as in normal ones, sometimes things don’t end well. Tendler’s admission that she wasn’t the one who chose to end her marriage feels like a bat signal for everyone who’s had a pandemic relationship end without quite knowing why.

Anna Marie Tendler and John Mulaney in 2019.Photo: Getty Images

Tendler isn’t the only example of a celebrity (or celebrity’s partner) publicly Going Through It relationship-wise; back in February, Jason Sudeikis made headlines for showing up to the 2021 Golden Globes in a hoodie following the end of his years-long engagement to fellow actor Olivia Wilde. Of course, nothing celebrities do happens in a vacuum—following the awards show, Sudeikis said he “100% knew” that his look would cause “a whole to-do”—but it was still weirdly relatable to see Sudeikis in his tie-dyed athleisure, refusing to throw on a tux and pretend he was totally fine for the sake of the cameras.

Of course, you can’t talk about thorny public breakups without mentioning Heartburn. Nora Ephron’s 1983 novel told the all-too-real story of her experience being cheated on by then husband Carl Bernstein while she was pregnant and raising a toddler, and its brand of comedic vengeance still holds up today (it even became a movie starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson, although, if we’re being honest, the book is far superior). Ephron’s mother constantly instructed her to “take notes” during her childhood, and that advice is well taken in Heartburn; by simply being honest, even at a slight novelistic distance, about the dissolution of her marriage and the toll it took on her, Ephron inspired generations of the lovelorn to get some of their agency back.

Obviously, you don’t need to write a thinly veiled autobiographical novel in the wake of a breakup to process the pain, nor do most of us have the ability to issue a public statement clarifying our position when things break down romantically. Nevertheless, watching people in the public eye—from Tendler to Sudeikis and Ephron, all the way back to the mid-20th-century novelist Jean Rhys—drop the pretense of perfection and admit that their relationships don’t always work out feels like permission for the rest of us to be as messy as we find it cathartic to be. Still grieving a split from three years ago? Unable to so much as open Tinder without wondering what your ex is doing? Don’t worry. You’re not alone, and no amount of money or fame can shield anyone from that feeling. It’s depressing, sure, but maybe it’s also kind of…unifying?

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