Why Are We So Obsessed With Celebrity Relationships? A Psychologist Weighs In


The lives of celebrities have long been a point of cultural fascination. From their beauty tips and favourite brands, to their diet and exercise routines, we can’t seem to get enough of our favourite A-listers.

But in the current age, our appetite for celebrity culture has been more rampant than ever for one aspect in particular: relationships.

It’s a fascination fueled, in part, by the digitisation of media.

Date nights are broadcast across the internet as they happen. Secret rendezvous are made public by the eager eye of gossip pages like Deux Moi. Break ups are speculated long before divorce papers are filed. Celebrities too, drip-feed us more and more of their private lives, via Instagram photo dumps and off-the-cuff TikToks. 

As a result, we’ve been privy to even the most mundane aspects of some of the most famous relationships of 2023.

From Travis Kelce’s “adorable” nickname for Taylor Swift (spoiler alert: it’s just ‘Tay’), to exactly how many times Kylie Jenner has sat through Timothee Chalamet’s Wonka (at least twice), and whether Selena Gomez’s mum ‘liking’ Benny Blanco’s Instagram posts mean the pair are dating (it does), few details of our favourite celebrities’ love lives have been spared from headlines.


So where does this intrigue stem from, and what does it mean? 

According to Elisabeth Shaw, clinical psychologist and CEO of Relationships Australia NSW, it’s not entirely unusual to take an interest in celebrities’ lives more generally.

“We are trained from birth to look up to others; initially our parents, teachers and then other role models [like celebrities] who we can learn from and aspire to,” she tells marie claire Australia.

It’s an intrigue that can also be explained by the current phenomenon of parasocial relationships, which, according to the National Register of Health Services Psychologists, are one-sided connections formed when one party extends energy, interest, and time, while the other person doesn’t actually know they exist. 

When we cultivate a parasocial relationship, the connection goes beyond just following a public figure and engaging with their content. Our level of investment in their lives may see us begin to view a celebrity as someone we know and trust — a friend. 

Except for one important detail: They don’t know who we are.

But, as Angela Help points out in her Time article on this topic, while they might sound sinister, parasocial relationships aren’t always as toxic as public perception makes them out to be. Instead, decades of research suggest that they’re good for the majority of people who engage in them — and for the celebrities on the other side.

Affirming this, Shaw says, “Following ordinary life struggles, such as finding love, managing ups and downs, recovering from break ups, then taking an interest, and even feeling like we can learn something from their lessons, needn’t be harmful.”

Fan frenzy around Taylor Swift’s new found love with Travis Kelce, then, perhaps comes from the comfort we get from seeing a female find renewed happiness, even after having her heart (very publicly) broken.


And with some estimates suggesting 51% of Americans have been in parasocial relationships, though only 16% will admit to it, it’s certainly not an usual experience to deeply invest and care about milestones in a public figure’s life.

But, Shaw warns, “We have to remember that we don’t know all the information [about celebrity relationships] and are actually reacting to media spin and speculation, so it is likely to lack the detail that would truly make it useful in any way for us.”

Heeding this advice, we should be careful of placing Travis and Taylor on too high a pedestal by acknowledging that we will never truly know the ins and outs of their connection… despite how good they looked embracing after her Eras show in Buenos Aires. 

And it’s not just the good parts of celebrity romances that have us captivated. Celebrity breakups have a unique ability to send shockwaves through the news cycle — something we witnessed more than a few times in 2023. 


When Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas broke up earlier this year, fans mourned the illusion of perfection that surrounded their relationship. The duo appeared to have it all: enviable careers, young children, and a seven-year romance that had withstood it all.

It was a facade they maintained as close as three weeks before their divorce hit the press, when Sophie was spotted in the audience at a Jonas Brothers concert. 

Their shock split then, left us searching for the kinds of answers you would in the wake of your own breakup. Was it all an illusion? Is love even real?

According to Shaw, even though — or perhaps because — celebrities live such different lives to us, their relationships offer a special kind of assurance. 

“To a large degree, this is because much of society is looking for reassurance that a lifetime commitment is still achievable, and it can be hard to find examples even in our own lives,” she explains.

The whirlwind romance of a former Disney singer and an in-demand actress is the perfect fodder for this kind of idealisation. But when relationships that seem to have every resource at their disposal crumble, it’s a sobering reminder that no one is immune to the trials and tribulations of love and commitment.

So what happens when our fascination with celebrity relationships crosses into the territory of unhealthy obsession?

Shaw outlines a few warning signs that your intrigue has become unhealthy.

“If your interest in a celebrity means that you try to emulate them —   or put your own life goals on hold to focus on them, then that would be a problem,” she says.

“It can also be a problem if you have identified to such a degree, and have such expectations of the celebrity that you can feel betrayed by their life choices.” 

In any relationship, parasocial or not, there’s the potential for it to affect us in a positive or a negative way. When it comes to our obsession with celebrities — and their relationships — we’d do well to take stock of the impact it’s having on us, and whether it’s a relationship worth creating space for in our lives.

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