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The psychology behind why we care so much. Hint: It’s not because we’re super empathetic.

August 07, 2015

The summer of 2015 might go down in history as the season in which all of your favorite celebrity couples met their demise. Jen and Ben. Miranda and Blake. Gwen and Gavin. And now: Kermit and Miss Piggy? Say it isn’t so!

Along with the rest of the Internet, we’re still in mourning.

But that brings up an important question: Just what is it about celebrity divorces that makes us so sad?

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Well, one reason is that our culture puts so much emphasis on the things celebrities have: money, power, and beauty. “We’re a secular society, and we look to them as successful role models,” because they have it all, explains Andrea Press, PhD, a professor of media studies and sociology at the University of Virginia. “We can [also] construct a fantasy around them to fulfill some of the needs we have." We love to hear the story of a celebrity with a difficult childhood who overcame the odds to make it big on the screen or stage. “We think, ‘that could be me someday,’” Press says.

As if that’s not enough pressure, with all the glamour and media spin, it's easy for the misconception that celebrities have it easy to take hold: They have everything they need (and more), and, therefore, shouldn’t fail at anything, including marriage.

“You see [celebrities] as successful, confident, secure, and capable people, and to suddenly see them as vulnerable can evoke anxiety,” explains Jane Greer, PhD, a New York-based marriage and family therapist and author of How Could You Do This to Me? ($13, amazon.com)

On top of that, in some ways, we see celebs as idealized reflections of ourselves: We admire our favorites for their hard work and their success, and we think of our favorite stars as being reflective of our own values. Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, for example, were for many fans an ideal couple because they were traditional; Shelton reportedly asked Lambert's father for her hand in marriage. “Celebrities are symbols of strength for many people, and to see them weak can make people insecure about their own relationships,” Greer says. Insert the “if they can’t make it, no one can!” outpourings on Twitter.

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When two people who we love to watch on screen (Argo! 13 Going on 30!) announce their separation, “it’s similar to a friend breaking up,” says Greer, who explains that it's not uncommon for people to feel personally invested in celebrity relationships.

It’s only natural that we do, Greer adds. “We cut our hair like they do, we buy their perfume and clothing. By being like them, it helps us feel better about ourselves.” And that can be a good thing in some ways, she explains: “They can encourage us to maximize as much of our personal talents as we can.”

But it can also mean we take celebrity divorce too personally—and it's all the more common now, thanks to social media. With Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to be connected with stars. “Celebrities’ private lives are widely available,” says Greer. “Many of them are keeping us in touch and [we’re] informed as to what they’re dealing with. People feel very much a part of their lives.”

The important thing to remember is that what you see on TV or on Instagram is not the whole story—in good times or bad.

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