It’s a familiar pattern by now: Celebrity boy meets girl; celebrity boy’s ex-girlfriend gets hounded for comment on said ex's new relationship.
Ex-watching has become a sick game of spy for tabloids and Internet trolls, who have found plenty to investigate in the recent engagements of two young couples, Ariana Grande/Pete Davidson and Justin Bieber/Hailey Baldwin.
Selena Gomez and Cazzie David -- Bieber and Davidson’s respective exes -- are in the eye of the ex-stalking storm. In lieu of any actual statements from the women, speculative news stories have analyzed the text on Gomez’ t-shirt for clues, or suggested that David’s Instagram posts from the beach are actually a vindictive stunt to show off her “revenge body.” Fans are also clearly hungry for answers, if the sea of comments on their recent Instagram posts are any indication.
There’s an undercurrent of entitlement in these comments and press coverage -- the implication being that, since these women are in the public eye, they owe us a response, and until they provide one, they’re fair game to be followed and photographed and scrutinized. Gomez may have 138 million Instagram followers, but she owes it to none of them to say a single word. David is allowed to document her glass of wine on Instagram without it being a “relatable” breakup post, or post an alluring vacation pic without it being called a "clapback" to Davidson.
Meanwhile, the male exes in the picture — Grande dated rapper Mac Miller for years, while Baldwin was linked to singer Shawn Mendes — have largely been spared the articles about what their fashion choices or resting facial expressions reveal about their feelings on the engagements.
And while the misogyny of tabloids is nothing new — Gomez and David can look to Jennifer Aniston for how enduring the dejected-woman stereotype can be — the false intimacy between stars and their social media followers is something newer generations of stars have to grapple with. The more they open up their world to their fans online, the more these fans feel like they're a part of their lives, and the more curious they will be about the details stars intentionally keep offline.
Just as Aniston never deserved to be reduced to "Poor Jen," Gomez and David don't need the press and fans' voyeuristic sympathy. We don't know how they're doing. That's intentional on their part. Their Instagram posts are neither clapbacks nor cries for help, and their t-shirts may just be t-shirts.