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Dating a celebrity is the ultimate fantasy. A PR expert and a therapist explain if it can actually work.

Olivia Singh   

Dating a celebrity is the ultimate fantasy. A PR expert and a therapist explain if it can actually work.
  • "The Idea of You" stars Anne Hathaway as a divorcée who falls in love with a fictional boy bander.
  • The movie is the latest rom-com to romanticize a relationship between a normal person and a celebrity.

In the most famous scene in "Notting Hill," movie star Anna Scott declares her feelings for a bookstore owner named William Thacker.

"The fame thing isn't really real, you know?" she says. "And don't forget I'm also just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her."

The beloved 1999 film starring Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant is one of several rom-coms to depict a relationship between a celebrity and a normal person — including but not limited to "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!," "Another Cinderella Story," and the Disney Channel Original Movies "Camp Rock" and "Starstruck."

The dynamic usually follows a familiar arc. First, the normie is dazzled by the celebrity and their fame. Then, outside forces like the paparazzi or fans threaten to derail the relationship. But by the end, love prevails: The normie accepts the celebrity's lifestyle, and the couple overcomes their fame-related hurdles because rom-coms need happy endings.

"The Idea of You," now streaming on Prime Video, is the latest film in this sub-genre of rom-coms. Based on the novel of the same name, the film focuses on 40-year-old divorcée Solène (Anne Hathaway) who falls into an unexpected romance with 24-year-old Hayes Campbell (Nicholas Galitzine), the lead singer of a boyband called August Moon, after they meet at Coachella.

If this sounds like fanfiction, it's because Robinne Lee's book was inspired by Harry Styles, the One Direction member turned Grammy-winning solo artist whose wavy brown hair, chiseled jaw, and tattooed body inspired numerous Wattpad stories.

But as unrealistic as rom-coms often are, this premise isn't too far-fetched. Matt Damon met Luciana Barroso, his wife of 19 years, while he was filming a movie in Miami and she was working as a bartender. Taylor Lautner's younger sister introduced him to his now-wife Tay (née Dome), a "Twilight" fan who was on Team Edward. Jon Stewart and his wife, Tracey McShane, met through a blind date shortly after she began watching "The Jon Stewart Show" and told her friends she was looking for someone "funny and sweet" like the TV host.

But being in a relationship with a celebrity isn't all it's hyped up to be in the movies. Stardom has its perks, but the downsides — like unforgiving public scrutiny and a possessive, rabid fan base — can be major roadblocks for a couple. What happens when fame becomes the invisible third person in the relationship?

Business Insider spoke to a celebrity PR expert and a therapist to ultra-high-net-worth individuals to explore how realistic these dynamics are outside the glamorous, seemingly enviable way they're portrayed in rom-coms — and what it takes for these relationships to go the distance.

The glaring wealth and power imbalance is a major hurdle

The idea of dating someone who's the subject of magazine spreads and has money to burn may sound exciting for a civilian, but with more fame and money comes more problems.

"It's an unusual life, and I say all the time, money, wealth, and fame can be toxic. It can be dangerous," said Clay Cockrell, a psychotherapist who's been working with ultra-high-net-worth individuals for about 15 years. "There's not a lot of templates out there on how to do it well. And it's a lot to navigate. There's issues of isolation, issues of jealousy, of shame. Money and fame can be addictive."

For the celebrity, dating a regular person may also come with concerns that an outsider is getting close to them to benefit from their high status.

While wealth might be part of what makes a famous person attractive to someone — Cockrell acknowledged that "your money, your fame, is you" — if it's the only quality alluring to a non-celebrity, "well then we've got a problem."

Even if the attraction is deeper than a celebrity's pockets, there will still be plenty of hardships working against the couple.

"Based on my experience and based on my personal perspective as a publicist — and of course everybody's experiences are different — I don't see it as the ultimate fantasy at all," said Liza Anderson, the founder and president of Anderson Group Public Relations. "It is a very rare occasion, from my point of view, where it actually works."

"I think it's very hard to be the non-celebrity in a relationship when your spouse is getting bombarded with constant attention and praise and accolades for just breathing," Anderson added.

The celebrity publicist also said that inequality in this type of relationship is unavoidable.

"Everything is at their disposal," Anderson said. "So it breeds a lot of insecurity for the person that doesn't have the same access."

It's no surprise, then, that so many celebrity power couples exist, from Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce to Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. In Hollywood, dating someone with a similar fame level is simply practical.

"I'm not saying that they're going to live happily ever after, but at least they have a chance," Anderson said.

Cockrell agreed. "You see celebrities marrying other celebrities because there's a commonality," he said. "You don't have to go through that work of bringing somebody into this bizarre world. And a lot of people don't want that. They want their privacy."

In some cases, stars pursue relationships with people who are Hollywood-adjacent and not necessarily actors or musicians, but people who might be at least a bit more comfortable with the quirks of the celebrity's industry. Julia Roberts married cameraman Danny Moder in 2002, Patrick Dempsey wed celebrity hairstylist Jillian Fink in 1999, and Keanu Reeves and artist Alexandra Grant made their first public appearance as a couple in 2019.

"He's really the only person I could think of that is so normal about having a relationship with a non-celebrity," Anderson said of Reeves.

"But he's a seasoned professional. He's not a young guy where all of this is new and different and exciting. He's been around, so he's got a lot of experience and knows what's important to him and knows the value of it. But otherwise, it can be across the board just very, very difficult."

A celebrity's high-pressure world is one of the biggest threats to the relationship

A couple can have good intentions, solid communication skills, love each other, and want a healthy relationship, but their romance can still be derailed by everyone else.

"It's not the people in the relationship," Anderson said. "It's the way that the people around you react. That takes its toll."

Movies about celebrity-normie relationships show the negative side of fame, like the constant, invasive paparazzi attention and vicious tabloid coverage. But onscreen, these hurdles are primarily used as a plot device, creating a conflict in the couple's romance that will predictably be resolved so viewers get a satisfactory, well-earned happy ending.

But in reality, these issues don't just disappear. In an age of social media, it's nearly impossible for a famous person to even go to a bookstore without a sneaky photo taken by a fan surfacing on Deuxmoi for the world to see. It's a big enough problem that celebrities use tactics like wearing disguises, switching vehicles, avoiding certain restaurants, and using fake names at hotels to reduce unwanted attention.

This persistent surveillance can be exhausting and strain a relationship, Anderson said. "And the fact that you have to be camera-ready at all times when you're going out with your spouse is a lot of pressure."

To work, these relationships need time out of the spotlight

Even though the odds might seem stacked against a celebrity and civilian couple, these relationships aren't necessarily doomed.

Cockrell said it's imperative to establish ground rules, be mindful of the power dynamic, and shed the embarrassment around wealth. If a financially unequal pairing progresses to marriage or a serious relationship, having open discussions about money allocation and ownership is crucial.

"People are more likely to talk about their sex lives than their bank accounts. It's just very, very private," Cockrell said. "You have to have these conversations, and they're hard to navigate through, but you just have to because things are going to be complicated really, really quickly."

In a public setting, Anderson said that the normal person has to accept that they'll be sidelined by their famous partner.

"If you go out to dinner with a celebrity that's very well known, and you're the plus one, you will literally get ignored," she said. "People can't help it because they just gravitate towards the celebrity."

The publicist said that it's impossible to have a "normal life" as a couple in LA or New York, so there has to be a willingness to relocate to a less centralized, more remote location in order to create a healthy environment for the relationship.

So while it's fun to fantasize about winning a date with a Hollywood bad boy or having a chance encounter with a music industry heartthrob at a music festival, most of the time, that's pretty much all it is — an escapist fantasy.

"Don't think you're missing out on anything," Anderson said. "I wouldn't want to be Hugh Grant in that movie."

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