What is it that keeps us going back for more? Even celebrities aren’t immune to that compulsion to return to the familiar.
In some cases, it can be as simple as two exes who just can’t quit each other – sometimes it leads to drunken phone calls, sometimes for sex and other times, even marriage. But, as the film He’s Just Not That Into You taught us: that is the exception and not the rule. Relationships in real-life can be complicated as it is, with the unique pressures of Hollywood stardom, it’s newsworthy. Brad Pitt’s recent appearance at ex-wife Jennifer Aniston’s birthday party had the internet collectively screaming for a reconciliation, but they aren’t the first pair in showbiz to flip flop from one another.
Liz Taylor and Richard Burton’s love story has inspired myriad films, tv dramas and inspirational quotes on Instagram, despite the fact that theirs didn’t have a happy ending, even after two marriages. After they first met on set of Cleopatra in 1962 Liz, fresh off four divorces with four more on the horizon, married Burton in what would be described as “the marriage of the century”. His infidelity led to their first divorce in 1974 and wed again just once year later, but by 1976, it was over – for good this time. The two remained close friends until his death in 1984.
In their case, both also suffered with well-documented substance abuse issues, in addition to being “addicted to each other”.
Although they may be the most famous case of the ex, modern Hollywood is filled with on-off couples; most recently Liam Hemsworth and Miley Cyrus wed in a secret ceremony in their Nashville home. They first met – like all Tinseltown romances – on a movie set – in 2009’s The Last Song. Within one year, they had broken up, and reconciled, twice. By 2011, they were happy, in love, and seemingly rock solid and engaged by 2012…until they weren’t.
By 2013, their relationship was over and so began the wild period of Miley’s career, with that infamous performance of Blurred Lines just a few months later, and she also came out as pansexual. A few months after her split with Irish Victoria’s Secret Angel Stella Maxwell, in October 2015, she and Liam were back on – and so was the engagement ring.
“You fall in love with who you fall in love with; you can never choose,” he said. Newylweds Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin also decided to marry after a brief fling when they were teenagers, before he reconciled once again with on-off girlfriend Selena Gomez. “Fizzled would not be the right word. It was more like a very dramatic excommunication. There was a period where if I walked into a room, he would walk out,” Hailey said in a recent Vogue interview. But after bumping into each other last year, Justin said he remembered how happy his now-wife made him all those years ago and never wanted to forget that feeling.
This see-sawing between commitment isn’t exclusive to the bright lights of Hollywood, but also for ‘normal people’. Occupational therapist Peter Connolly, founder of Lifestyle Awareness, said that celebrities, are to begin with, often wired a different way in their desire to seek fame.
“What compels someone to want to be a celebrity – why they are coming to that work – they may have underlying issues. There might be a need for limelight and attention, and sort of approval. People might be coming with sort of attachment style, they may be anxious or avoidant or have unresolved issues from their childhood, which, like all of us, can get played out in relationships,” he said.
Often, in the case of on-off relationships, Peter says we are not looking enough within and seeking validation from external factors, which could come down to a person’s attractive lifestyle or the simple fact they are familiar.
“You’re going back to someone who is familiar and who you crave to some degree, someone who feels comfortable. Even if they’re not meeting your needs, they can seem more appealing than being on your own,” he said.
In the noughties, P!nk split with husband Carey Hart, the former BMX rider who broke her heart, immortalising their break-up in her music video for So What in which she took a chainsaw to a tree with his name carved in a heart. She said their separation in 2008 was down to their busy schedules making it increasingly difficult for them to spend time together and they would try to fix their relationship’s broken elements in a short burst of time before not seeing each other again for months at a time.
“I’ll look at [Carey] and go: I’ve never liked you. There’s nothing I like about you. We have nothing in common. I don’t like any of the s**t you like,” she previously told The Guardian. “I don’t ever wanna see you again. Then two weeks later I’m like, things are going so good, you guys. Then you’ll go through times when you haven’t had sex in a year. Is this bed death? Is this the end of it? Do I want him? Does he want me? Monogamy is work! But you do the work and it’s good again.”
There is also the spectacle of celebrity adding another layer of complication, their every move is calculated and covered by paparazzi and tabloids can create issues where there aren’t any.
“You don’t have the privacy us mere mortals have, if your marriage ends, your friends, family and co-workers may know, but it’s not gossip for the entire world,” Peter explains. “In the same way when I work with someone particularly well known, they are people at the end of the day, although they might have different driving forces. There might be a fantasy of what it might be like to married to someone with a similarly strong brand, or in some way, what it would be like to marry someone with a great job – traditionally, like a doctor or pilot – the reality is to be married to someone with that lifestyle, you have to ask could they meet your needs?”
Brian Austin Green and Megan Fox married in 2010 and she filed for divorce in 2015 before announcing eight months later she was expecting their third child. They remain married, but fiercely private, although the former 90210 star said marriage is often difficult.
“Marriage is hard. It’s work, I think for anyone. I think when you get to the point like we have, where you have kids and you’ve been married for a while and we’ve been together for a long time, it’s – you just take it day by day,” he said.
In addition to the psychologist structuring of relationships, there is also the professional element: publicity. Some celebrities need to keep the showbiz news cycle fixated on them for the purposes of promotion or simply, they’ve grown too accustomed to the attention. Sonia Harris, MD of Harris Public Relations, says: “Some couples thrive on the media interest and it sort of fuels the relationship. Even when you know something isn’t right, if there’s an audience judging you, you’re more inclined to stick with it. And hey, if you’ve got something to promote and it puts you in the spotlight, even better.”
“The timing of certain celebrity relationship milestones is really telling, and often coincides with the promotion of a new album or movie or book etc. Sure we’re interested in their stories, but they also understand the game, in most cases it’s about the fluff, not the talent.”
Sonia cites Pitt and Aniston at being most adept at playing the media at their own game with skillful advisers among their many resources. “Their actual relationship only lasted seven years, but that’s the Hollywood version of a ruby anniversary,” she says.