After some 15 years writing about Hollywood, I can’t believe I still have the capacity to feel hurt by celebrity breakups. I thought I’d learned my lesson when, to the mockery of my colleagues at ABC News, I was genuinely upset by Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey’s 2005 split; or that of Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt the very same year. (A very bad year, obviously.) A seasoned entertainment news producer did not hide his disappointment in me: “C’mon, Ruiz,” he shook his head. “They all break up eventually.”
With the exception of Goldie and Kurt and Tom and Rita, this depressing maxim has largely held true. And yet I still—still—managed to manufacture the sting of shock and sadness when I learned that Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth were separating after about eight months of marriage and 10 on-and-off years together. I’m sorry to report to my wiser former colleagues that 15 years after the demise of Nick and Jessica, I am still a lovelorn, 23-year-old fool at heart, because I continue to mourn the end of a celebrity pairing that has always intrigued me.
Of course, there is an intensely splashy tabloid element afoot, as Miley, who has identified as pansexual, was photographed making out with Brody Jenner’s newly ex-wife Kaitlynn Carter on a glamorous Italian vacation fit for Leonardo DiCaprio. Carter and Jenner split earlier this month just a year after their wedding off the coast of Indonesia. And, yes, there is no shortage of epic @CommentsByCelebs drama unfolding on Instagram, with Jenner posting a pensive photo of himself captioned, “Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today,” and later joking, “watch out! Pics of Liam and I holding hands on the beach coming soon,” only for Miley to @ Jenner: “go take a nap in your truck and cool off #HotGirlSummer.”
Perhaps it’s a little personal projection: Miley and Liam broke up and got back together over a 10-year period before finally getting married; my husband and I did the same. It strikes me as extra sad when an on-and-off couple ends up off: Miley and Liam had come so far since The Last Song; they’d survived his rebound makeout sessions with random people, her short-lived relationship with Patrick Schwarzenegger and the Malibu fire that destroyed their home. She even got a tattoo of Vegemite, Liam’s preferred, distinctly Aussie condiment.
For some, an inability to stay together in the first place would be a red flag. In some cases, it may well be. But in my fertile, overactive imagination—and to an extent, in my experience—going your separate ways but finding your way back to each other can also be proof of your bond. That despite your searching, there can be no one else. I believed this acutely about Miley and Liam’s intimate December wedding in her Nashville living room: The tightness of their embrace. The casual nature of his Vans. The way he lovingly cradled her head, which I’m sure a body language expert hired by a celeb weekly would just love.
Thinking about it while listening to “The Climb” on YouTube, I’m in my feelings about “Miam” because of what they represented: that a sex-positive, queer, frequently half-naked woman with a penchant for twerking was in a loving relationship with a traditionally hot, more stoic stud. Their pairing always signaled hope for the rest of us loud women that you don’t have to be terribly proper, or chaste, or conforming, to be loved. That opposites might really attract and doing the kind of weird and wacky thing you really want to do deep down—like lick your significant other in public (in Miley and Liam’s case, on the red carpet)—could actually work.
But upon further reflection, I think it’s Miley’s wild, rebel spirit that I truly love, more than her relationship dynamic. It’s not that Liam should deign to tolerate a woman like her, but that she may not want a traditional relationship like theirs. At the risk of speculating, of course. “We’re redefining, to be fucking frank, what it looks like for someone that’s a queer person like myself to be in a hetero relationship. A big part of my pride and my identity is being a queer person,” Miley told Vanity Fair after the wedding. “I mean, do people really think that I’m at home in a fucking apron cooking dinner? I’m in a hetero relationship, but I still am very sexually attracted to women.”
I remain irrationally sad about Miley and Liam’s breakup—my heart might never be sufficiently hardened to the tumult of Hollywood marriage. But no matter who she’s with, I’ll always have Miley—one of the rare famous women who seems to do exactly what she wants, despite societal and sexual norms. I can’t wait to see who she licks on the red carpet, who she sasses on Instagram, and what condiment tattoo she gets next.