An Expert Explains Why We're Fascinated By Strangers' Breakups

It's hard to not eavesdrop on a bickering couple at a restaurant or speculate why you never see your favorite influencer post with their boyfriend anymore. Let's be honest: Strangers' relationships are fascinating. And these mysterious unions are, admittedly, especially fascinating when they seem to fall apart. Even if you tend to keep your nose out of other people's love lives, you've probably gossiped about a failed celebrity relationship or read a magazine article about a buzzy divorce.


Of course, when dealing with your own heartbreak after a breakup, you may not want the whole world to know until you've had time to process and grieve — after all, divorce and marital separation are among life's most stressful events (even ranked above the death of a close family member).

So, why is it so hard to look away when strangers go through a breakup? Shontel Cargill, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the regional clinic director at Thriveworks, shares what's really behind our piqued interest.

It's normal to be curious about other people

Humans are social creatures, and we learn by watching other people and taking notes. That's why, as Shontel Cargill explains, it's completely normal to be interested in strangers' love lives. "This interest can go even further with celebrities, turning into a parasocial attachment where we might feel a strong emotional connection even though we've never met," she adds.


Think back to your first celebrity crush in childhood or even an actor or social media star you've closely followed as an adult. Chances are you knew what their relationship status was at any given time and which famous names they were romantically linked to. And because you felt like you knew them so well, news about their breakups likely stirred up some emotions, just as it would if you found out your friend broke up with their S.O. Whether you felt relief or devastation, Cargill says these reactions are a natural product of our fascination with other people.

Strangers' breakups might make you reflect on your own relationships

Successful celebrity pairs or even your hand-holding neighbors may seem to have it all together from the outside, which is why it can come as a shock when you hear they've broken up. And, as a result, you might start questioning your own chance at finding — and keeping — love. "When these seemingly perfect couples can't make it work, it also stirs up our own relationship insecurities," Shontel Cargill reveals. "If you're single, it might make you question whether you'll ever be able to have a successful relationship. If you're in a relationship you might wonder, could this happen to me, and seek to learn as much as possible about the breakup to find out."


Comparing your romantic life to others' experiences isn't always such a bad thing. According to Psychology Today, social comparison can be helpful when it's used as motivation in personal development. For example, watching someone else's healthy relationship habits may inspire you to follow the same behaviors, while learning that a celebrity broke up after a cheating scandal may remind you to stay faithful to your partner to avoid a similar fate.

However, it's important to maintain some boundaries when relating your love life to others'. Cargill advises, "Essentially, interest in others' relationships is natural. When that interest becomes obsessive or starts influencing your own relationship or prospects, it might be time to seek help."