The celebrity breakup industrial complex is built on women scorned. There was Diana, Princess of Wales, of course, who was lured into a faux fairy-tale marriage with a man who longed—cringe—to be another woman’s tampon. Later came the damning photo evidence of Brad Pitt on the beach in Kenya with Angelina Jolie, his Mr. & Mrs. Smith costar and purported “other woman,” in the wake of his split from Jennifer Aniston. Ethan Hawke? After his divorce from Uma Thurman, he married the family’s nanny. Amid Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s separation, it was also Ben, not Jen, who took up with their children’s caregiver. Traditionally, when famous couples break up, the men “win”: they bounce back (if they ever stumble at all) and swiftly “step out” (to put it in tabloid-speak) with new, often younger women. Meanwhile, the female partners—no matter how talented, gorgeous, and beloved—are cast as one-dimensional sad emoji…until now?
In recent months, I have been astounded, in a good way, to see the rarest of sights in the celebrity wild: Divorced and otherwise uncoupled women over 35 living their best lives with new romances of their own. As she divorces Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, 40, appears to, indeed, be dating Pete Davidson—SNL star and Hollywood’s favorite seasonal boyfriend—who happens to be 12 years her junior. Kourtney Kardashian, 42, who has never been married but had a torturous on-and-off relationship with Scott Disick, is now crazy in love and engaged to rocker Travis Barker, who routinely showers her with extreme flowers. Their fellow goth couple friends, Megan Fox, 35, and Machine Gun Kelly, 31, are similarly subverting the usual trope. Following Fox’s split from ex-husband Brian Austin Green, she was the first to move on with a new, now highly public relationship with the rapper. In the case of Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis’s split after eight years together, she is the one globetrotting with a 27-year-old star: one Harry Styles.
This shifting breakup narrative has put some famous men in the vulnerable position that famous women have long occupied: licking their wounds while their partners move on in very public fashion. See: Disick’s reported direct messages lamenting Kravis’s PDA spree. Nothing is more typical than a recently “free” man popping up on a beach vacation with a “new love.” But over the summer, it was Wilde who surfaced on a boat off the coast of Italy with Styles.
We’re accustomed to female celebrities having to take ownership of splits (Garner disclosing that she and Affleck were already separated when he got together with their nanny, for one), but male partners are now having to publicly process what happened (oh, the horror!). Austin Green was the one who revealed on his podcast last year that when Fox went to shoot a movie (with Kelly), she realized she wanted space from him. “I was shocked and I was upset about it, but I can’t be upset at her because she didn’t ask to feel that way,” he said. “It wasn’t a choice she made, that’s the way she honestly felt.” Fox, meanwhile, engaged in the traditionally male post-breakup ritual (see: Pitt’s domestic bliss-themed W spread with Jolie) of effusing about her new relationship in an interview, likening Kelly to her “twin flame.”
Are any number of these women in the throes of midlife crises, as their husbands are expected to be? Maybe, and that’s entirely their business. Are their relationships mere rebounds? Does it matter? (It does not.) I don’t relish in anyone’s heartache—male, female, or across the gender spectrum—but I’m also not mad at seeing several women at or around 40—when Hollywood and some husbands tend to write them off and swap them out—getting another chance at love and not being particularly shy about it. Perhaps this is another step toward parity, or at least a long-overdue new tabloid narrative: Believe it or not, some women flourish post-breakup.