Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson called off their engagement on Sunday night, launching a torrent of “told you so” headlines and tabloid speculation about why they split. There have also been a slew of "love is dead" posts from those who had been rooting for them to make it.
The A.V. Club crowed their breakup proves “love cannot survive on Big Dick Energy alone.” People magazine aggregated all the signs their romance was doomed. TMZ claimed the death of Mac Miller, Grande’s ex, was to blame. Fans lamented the news on Twitter or decried that love is a lie. Everyone, it seems, has something to say about America's favorite young lovers.
There were plenty of reasons to think the romance might not last. Grande and Davidson coupled up this spring and got engaged in June, just three weeks after People broke the news of the relationship on May 21. Their courtship seemed quick, even by Hollywood standards. Davidson is 24 and Grande is 25, making them kind of young for marriage compared to the national average. Plus, they’d each ended significant (and reportedly tumultuous) relationships just weeks before getting together.
Unless you’re Grande and Davidson, there’s no way to really know what caused their breakup. TMZ reported Grande was at SNL on Saturday supporting Pete, and people who were there said they looked “boo-d up” backstage. It’s a mystery what changed on Sunday, but it’s also none of our business. Considering the year Grande has endured, people need to respect that.
Celebrities give up a certain amount of privacy in exchange for the privilege of fame and fortune, but there’s a point when gawking crosses a line and normal interest in a public figure turns into the public feeding on their pain.
There’s a reason fans feel disproportionately invested in the lives of the rich and famous. In a recent piece delving into Grande, substance abuse, and Miller's death, human behavior expert and therapist Patrick Wanis, who counts celebrities among his clients, discussed the phenomenon of "para-social" connection with celebrities. He told VICE that “celebrities help shape our own identity, from our looks, to our fashion, to our attitudes and beliefs. As a result of that, we have an emotional connection and attachment.”
Grande and Davidson’s breakup isn't terribly shocking. While the couple gave us glimpses of their adorable bliss—an Instagram of Grande and Davidson in Harry Potter robes; an engagement trip to Disneyland; an ode to their love on her album Sweetener called “Pete Davidson;” a since-deleted tweet referring to the size of Davidson's manhood—women everywhere can probably attest that the man who’s got you “walkin’ side to side” isn’t always the one you want around forever. There were also red flags, like when Davidson went on the SNL premiere and joked about swapping Grande’s birth control with Tic Tacs “to make sure that she can’t go anywhere.” The comment struck a nerve with a lot of women, especially coming off the Kavanaugh hearings. At best, Davidson’s joke about messing with his girlfriend’s bodily autonomy was in bad taste. At worst, it was making light of birth control sabotage, a ploy abusers use to trap a woman in a toxic relationship.
On September 24, Davidson went on Howard Stern and said he used to “jerk off” to Grande, when asked how he deals with other men objectifying his fiancé. In response to the "BDE" kerfuffle, Davidson said he has an “average sized penis” and Grande just thinks it’s huge because “she’s tiny” and “everything’s big to her.”
Under normal circumstances, the jokes are gross, not damning. But Grande was mourning Miller, who’d overdosed less than a month earlier, and she’d been trolled by people who blamed her for his death. With every tasteless joke, Davidson put the focus back on Grande when she wanted to withdraw from public scrutiny.
Grande’s team announced in mid-September she’d be taking some much-needed time off to heal after a difficult year that saw her face Miller’s death in early September and the terrorist attack at her concert in Manchester in 2017 which continues to cause her anxiety and PTSD. On September 27, the singer posted a series of tweets that indicated she was really struggling. “Can i pls have one okay day. just one. pls,” Grande wrote, before adding “i’m so fucking tired pls” and “jus wake me up when i’m supposed to sing or whatever. peace.”
The singer has clearly asked for privacy, and we owe her that, no matter how entertaining we find tabloids and reality TV. Healing can’t really be shoehorned into a tidy format for public consumption. It’s messy and takes time. I hope Grande finds solace and the quiet she's asked for. Just as importantly, fans need reminding that celebrities are human beings dealing with many of the same obstacles and hardships as anyone else, only under the intense gaze of millions.
The attachment fans feel is, in fact, one-sided—even if a star's music holds special meaning to them on a personal level, even if she has referenced her partner's dick size in public, and even if she's opened up about the loss of a loved one on Instagram. Love isn't really dead, nor is it a lie. Breakups just suck, and Grande and Davidson's is no different. And just like anyone else, they deserve their space to deal.
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