OMG, Heidi Klum and Seal Split: Our Cultural Obsession with Celebrity “Storybook Marriages”


Earlier this week Huffington Post announced what had been rumored for days: that Heidi Klum and Seal, the celeb couple touted as having perhaps the storybookiest marriage of them all, are splitting.

When I scanned the “Heidi Klum and Seal” trending results on Twitter, I was struck by the pervasive heartbreak and rug-has-been-pulled-out-from-under-me-ness of the tweets. A sampling:

@tonimr: Nooooo, Heartbreak!

@JackynuCarreonb: I lost hope in Celebrity love

@PBJstories: Does anyone else feel like if life’s true fairy tale couple can’t make it, no one can?!

@juliesnow1978VM: There’s no hope for anyone

@JRosellenM: Ohmygosh, I have no hope at all left in true love or believe that marriage can last. So shocked!

Really, @JRosellenM? Really? We’re all doomed because Heidi and Seal are ending their marriage?

I wondered two things, while browsing oodles of 140-character breast-beatings over two celebrities not personally known by any of the tweeps kvelling:

1. Why do I appear to be the only one who is not particularly surprised by news of the Heidi-Seal split?

And:

2. Why do any of us look to celebrities as examples of model marriages?

Imagine, for a moment, what it’s like to be surrounded by bowing-and-scraping groupies who never tell you “no,” or “you’re being a total jerk,” no matter how heinous your behavior is. What it’s like never actually to pay for anything because you live on swag. What it’s like to jet from one VIP vacation spot to the next, to buy an island just for kicks, to sell the first photo of your newborn — a newborn that does not look all that different from every other newborn — for a few million bucks.

Now, if this were your life, do you think you would have acquired the skills to weather hard times, to work though long stretches in which you and your partner feel disconnected, to accept that after years of being with anyone, no matter how gorgeous and charismatic that person might be, that day-to-day life with one’s same-ole spouse can feel, well…dull?

My guess is no! You would not have acquired these skills because many of us who don’t expect every day to feel like a jet ski romp down the French Riviera haven’t acquired them either.

So when news hit that Heidi had begun the process of becoming unSealed, I was not at all surprised. Because I can predict which celebrities have expiration dates on their marriages based on sexual and soul-matey hyperbole.

Certain celebrities are famous for bragging to Oprah, to the tabloids, to the barrista at Starbucks, about the fabulosity of their unions. Whenever I read about the often stupendous boasts of these luminaries, I wonder how long it will be before HuffPo Divorce is breaking the news of their marital demise.

Here’s what Heidi Klum told People Magazine upon first meeting Seal:

“When I saw him, I was like, wow! He is different and so tall and dark and just handsome. I saw the package — and I mean the whole package, literally. I was like, ‘That is a man.'”

Jada Pinkett Smith, whose split from husband Will Smith is rumored to be imminent, is also known for her TMI blasts about her sexploits with the (soon-to-be?) X Man:

My husband and I always make time for sex! Always! No matter how busy we are. And if I told you the places! You would not even believe! It’s crazy the risks that we take!”

Another technique to invite domestic trouble? Assure the world, often on live TV, that you and your celebrity spouse are soulmates, will be together forever and/or have dropped zillions on lavish marriage proposals and nuptials.

Remember when Katy Perry and Russell Brand got married in October ’10? The Ritz Carlton wasn’t good enough for them. No sirree. They exchanged vows inside a tiger reserve in India. They made numerous TV appearances declaring happily-ever-after love. Brand even announced on the Ellen Show, just one month before he filed for divorce: “I’m married to Katy perpetually, until death do us part!”

My theory is this: the likeliness of a celebrity split is in direct proportion to the degree of bragaddocio.  Celebs tend to crave adulation. They want to be the biggest, the best, the fairy tale-iest. Yet when reality sets in–and it always does–when you’ve renewed your vows six times at your cliffside estate in front of 200 or so of your closest friends, how, pray tell, do you continue to up the endorphin ante? Who can sustain such non-stop romantic hijinks?

There are plenty of celeb couples who last but no one ever thinks of them because they’re not giving interviews about their soul-matiness or the quality of their significant other’s genitalia. They do not propose atop glaciers and exchange vows on game reserves. They most certainly do not ask E! Entertainment to pay for their nuptials. They raise families in normal places like Connecticut and Montana. They do not tip off the paparazzi before they head to the mall.

Consider: Jessica Tandy was married to Hume Cronyn for about 150 years and as far as I know she never once publicly referenced his package. Paul Newman bragged way more about Newman’s Own than about Joanne and they stayed contentedly wed until he died of cancer. Amy Madigan and Ed Harris are so on the down-low that people don’t even remember they’re married, or who Amy Madigan is, for that matter.

So why is it that we continue to describe the showiest celebrity couples with qualifiers like “storybook” and “fairy tale”? Actually, I would agree that those marriages do fall under the fairy tale category, because they are often just that — fairy tales! 

Why do we look at photos of Heidi and Seal and assume they’re in forever love? Is it because they’re gorgeous? That they stroll around Aspen with their posse of adorable, superbly-dressed, mixed-race children? Heidi and Seal, like most celebrities, are performers. And performers sell products: their images. Images, as in, on the surface. As in appeareances are deceiving.

Even if Heidi and Seal were to remain happily married, why do we view their relationship, or any celebrity relationship, as a template for ours?

I have absolutely no idea.

But I’m clear about this: I feel sad for Heidi and Seal. Divorce is world-shattering for anyone, celebrity or not, and especially when kids are involved. One might argue that celebrity children of divorce have it rougher than regular kids because so much in their life is not stable, nor rooted in reality.

If Heidi and Seal go through with their divorce, as it appears that they are going to do, I wish them and their children the very best.

But my advice to Ms. Klum, should she choose to walk down the aisle a third time: move to Montana, donate the money you plan to spend on vow renewals to charity, and keep your man’s package between the two of you.

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About perilsofdivorcedpauline

I am a survivor of a world-class gnarly divorce. My dastardly ex-husband is suing me for full custody of my son, and more time with my daughter. He’s super-rich and I’m super-not. You get the picture.
This entry was posted in Divorce, Custody, and Parental Alienation and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to OMG, Heidi Klum and Seal Split: Our Cultural Obsession with Celebrity “Storybook Marriages”

  1. We need to stop. To just stop: The belief that love is a fairy tale, that marriage is a “happily ever after,” that we all “deserve” personal happiness above all else, and that celebrity marriage has anything to do with the rest of us.

    What ever happened to our adult capacity to reason? To understanding that life is mostly grays, with little that is black and white, and that there are moments of joy as well as heartache and plenty of work, work, work to everything? Not to mention a bit of luck – especially when it comes to love?

    • Well-put, BLW. Not so long ago, concepts such as personal happiness and self-actualization were not ones that most people could even conceive of because they were too busy trying to survive. I was someone who bought the “fairy tale” version of marriage the first time around…sure didn’t turn out the way I’d planned.

  2. Navhelowife says:

    I think your point about the more they gush about their marriage, the more likely it is to crumble is totally on target. I feel that way about politicians too – if it is a ‘moral’ issue, the more they rally against it, the more likely they are involved with it.
    But I think people in general focus too much on the wedding and not enough on the drudgery of marriage – it’s not stars and sunshine all the time no matter who you are. And everyone needs someone who will tell them the truth until they hear it, and I think celebs miss out on that.
    We all have to remember that we are not all that and a bag of chips all the time 🙂

  3. phoebes-in-santa fe says:

    Most “Hollywood” marriages should simply not happen. They don’t last and they make a joke out of the commitment needed to make a marriage work.

    I’ve always though of most actors as “High Maintenance” people. They’re able to receive love, but not able to return it. So where two “High Maintenance” people get together, neither can give the other what he or she needs. The marriage cannot last because neither can do the work or make the compromises necessary to make it work. It’s really farcical when these people do marry. Maybe they do expect it to work. I don’t know, but I’m never, ever surprised when I hear of a divorce among actors, sports stars, etc. Even when both partners AREN’T “High Maintenance”, the care and feeding of the “High” person by the “Low Maintenance” one gives limited amounts of love and caring back to the “Low” person. Marriages like that can work only when the one giving and not receiving doesn’t mind the non-equality. But when the do, divorce is the only answer.

    I think many political marriages are of “High” married to “Low”. The marriages often remain intact because of societal demands on them. Look at all the wives of philandering political men who stand by their husbands in disgrace. They haven’t the gumption to leave them. “Shakes head in sadness…”

  4. The annul lavish vow renewals were a sign there was trouble in paradise.

  5. Missy says:

    I remember hearing Jada Pinkett-Smith make that comment about her sex life with Will Smith. I felt my marriage was so dull and boring compared to theirs. Now, after over 15 years together, I’ll take dull and boring any day!

  6. Sarah says:

    I agree with you, especially when it comes to the boastful public exclamations of forever love, soulmates, and sex.

    But money, fame, and the constant performative nature of their jobs aside, do you think celebrity lifestyle is the root cause of the divorce or a major problem with the marriage? To your point, many celebs successfully navigate the marital waters and arrive at a place of smooth sailing and it’s not just because they keep the relationship private. I think there is a certain type of celeb, just like there is a certain type of person. Perhaps, like most of us, Heidi and Seal got caught up in the fairy tale aspect of love and forgot that marriage and raising a family is the HARDEST job one will ever love (I notice a general generational trend that when the going gets tough people jump ship instead of weathering the storm). Or maybe that’s the problem…they just have too many jobs that they can’t devote the necessary time to. Or maybe once they got past that great sex they were just wrong for each other.

    You ask: “Even if Heidi and Seal were to remain happily married, why do we view their relationship, or any celebrity relationship, as a template for ours?” I wonder the same thing, but also question why we view any relationship — even our best friend’s — as a template for ours. If we do that, we’re in a way setting ourselves up for failure since no two people, no two relationships, and no two lives are alike.

    • Hi Sarah: you ask a lot of good questions. I don’t think celebrity marraige is the underlying reason so many of them don’t work, but I do think it makes it much harder. I think many people who are drawn to the entertainment business and become big stars are less likely to make the kinds of accomodations necessary to sustain a long-term marriage. I agree with you 150% that projecting marital perfection on ANY couple, famous or not, sets us up for failure.

  7. What a great article you wrote! I thought I was the only one who picked-up on Heidi’s comment on what made her fall for Seal in the first place. It was on Oprah, and I thought at the time that they should have edited it! That’s why she fell for him? He had on bike shorts and she could see…….? I’m just surprised that someone who jumped up and down on a couch is still married……..

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