Forget the fairytale endings on which Hollywood usually runs; right now, they’re on the down and out. Hardly a week goes by without another famous couple announcing that the forever dream has died and they’re splitting up.
While it might not be all that surprising to see celebrity couples crumble—with all those difficult work schedules, egos, and on-set affairs (sorry, alleged on-set affairs)—what does seem to be different is the tone. Forget the trend, in recent years, for trying to keep any acrimony under the radar. The latest A-list divorcees are coming out swinging: the joint statements are passive-aggressive, the details are public, the race to claim the narrative and paint the other person in an unflattering light is on. To wit: the era of the ugly celebrity divorce is back.
The most explosive lately is the impending divorce between Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas, with claims of poor parenting and kidnapping flying around—both of which have been denied. They’re in good company. Kevin Costner and Christine Baumgartner recently settled their “nasty,” public custody battle. Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello are divorcing after seven years, with the rumour-mill in overdrive about his desire to have children and her feeling “suffocated” in the marriage. Wicked co-stars Ariana Grande and Ethan Slater are both divorcing their spouses after allegedly getting together on set—although they claim nothing happened until both were single—amid public shots being fired by Slater’s estranged wife.
Shall I go on? In the UK, Alice Evans and Ioan Gruffudd are still embroiled in a bitter and tabloid-friendly battle over their two daughters. Tori Spelling is divorcing her husband of 18 years, against a backdrop of deleted Instagram posts and her staying in a $100-a-night motel. There’s Britney Spears and Sam Asghari, with (denied) accusations of cheating and unreasonable financial demands. Plus, Natalie Portman and film director husband Benjamin Millepied are apparently heading for divorce after he allegedly had an affair with a 25-year-old climate activist. Nice.
Perhaps the pendulum was always going to swing back the other way. It’s been almost 10 years since Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin announced to the world that they were “consciously uncoupling,” using a term invented by therapist Katherine Woodward Thomas. Oh, how we mocked them for employing the sort of up-themselves therapy-speak that meant nothing to us mere mortals. And yet, it brought about a vibe shift—not least because they actually appeared to achieve it—with their collaborative approach to divorce trickling into the mainstream. There seem to have been fewer big blow-up celebrity splits since then; instead, it’s all been coordinated Instagram announcements, wishing each other the best, and resisting the urge to hit “unfollow.” The market for divorce coaches dedicated to keeping things friendly and collaborative has grown. Even normal people like us now announce our divorces in tandem, via social media.
Which makes the recent flare-ups all the more noticeable. Make no mistake: We’re moving into a post-conscious uncoupling world. And is it any wonder, with millions of dollars, multiple houses, vineyards, private jets, and public profiles that have taken years to curate at stake—as well as, you know, children and pets. Those things always mattered, but over the last decade, finding yourself, growing, and moving gracefully into the next phase of your life (especially if you had a wellness brand) mattered more. Now? In an era of anger, with tempers frayed by the pandemic, maybe even a façade of friendliness has no purpose when you’re divorcing in the public eye.
And, let’s be honest—a part of us prefers it this way. It speaks to a bygone era of the sort of A-list drama immortalised by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Turner claiming that she found out Jonas had filed for divorce via the media took me straight back to 1994, when Phil Collins was accused of ending his marriage to his second wife via fax (something he has said is untrue). Or, Matt Damon announcing his break-up with Minnie Driver on Oprah in 1998—which, as it turns out, was news to her.
These tumultuous, scandalous love stories remind us that being rich and famous doesn’t guarantee you a perfect life. Mean-spirited it may be, but there’s no denying that it makes us feel just a tiny bit better about our own existence. And because many of us have grown up in a culture that’s encouraged us to salivate over any details we can get our hands on—privacy be damned—and view gossip as gospel truth, we can’t look away. So we read between the lines, trying to work out whether the word “amicable” in a divorce statement is code for a separation being anything but, or whether asking for “privacy” really means “no one but us can feed the press bitchy stories.”
Some years ago, scientists at Harvard and other universities concluded that couples were 75% more likely to divorce if a friend did. Tragically, no one has studied whether this contagiousness could apply to an entire industry. Still, at least someone in Tinseltown is winning: the divorce lawyers.
This story was originally published on Vogue.com.