I personally hate when people say “true love is dead” after a celebrity couple breaks up. Celebrities may be called odd, kooky, out-of-touch aliens, but they shouldn’t be called the epitome of ideal relationships. Like, I don’t think of moral high ground when I think of many celebrity couples, with the exception of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn. It’s weird that we hold their relationships in a higher regard than even our own.
But maybe you could say that I felt true love died when Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake broke up. Mr. and Ms. Denim Couture, “Pinky” and “Stinky,” the Pop Prince and Princess — I was personally obsessed with both of them. (Although JC Chasez was my true boy-bander of choice.) In 1999, when Justin and Britney were first rumored to be coupled up, I was 12, living in Texas and wearing the lowest-rise flare jeans I could find without putting my father into a premature grave. (They had a lace-up crotch.) That, along with cropped tank tops and Sketchers were the uniform of Britney stans; the uniform I wore when I wasn’t ordered by school dress code warriors to cover my navel. I actually permed my hair in 9th grade to have something in common with Justin. I spent entire summers from 1999 to 2001 following *NSYNC concerts across the state. Britney in particular, though, held huge significance in my life: a pop star that said “y’all” somehow made me feel like, perhaps, I was cut out for something bigger as well. I wanted my life to mimic hers.
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She had it all: the career, the curves, the curly-haired boyfriend. I got my first boyfriend in January of the new millennium. He was a poor man’s JT if we’re going on looks alone, and I blame my decision to date him on the fact that he shared Justin’s likeness, and thus, gave me something in common with Britney. I stuck with him, loyally, for 30 days too long (our relationship lasted a solid month) before he broke up with me over AIM using the screen name “GrlsJustLuvMe.” I can hear the door slamming like it was yesterday.
Years after my first heartbreak, Justin and Britney called it quits in March 2002. I can’t remember where I heard about it, perhaps TRL? But I remember feeling like the wind had gotten knocked out of me. It was wrong. Uncomfortable. Was it even possible? I couldn’t imagine a world where they weren’t together. This affected me heavily, maybe more than I cared to admit at the time. And not even because of the breakup or how it happened — it was rumored that Britney had been unfaithful — but because their breakup signified the death of my youth.
2002 was a wild ride: I was venturing into adulthood. There was a lot of change both in my personal life and pop culture news. It began when *NSYNC went on an indefinite hiatus (without warning) that same year — not surprisingly, Justin released his first solo album, Justified, that November. Britney took a hiatus of her own. But outside of these pop culture interruptions, I would become a legitimate high schooler entering my sophomore year, no longer in the kiddie pool of the freshman center. I would get my license that December and be required to get my first job: an usher at a movie theater. I’d learn to budget my own money, obey a curfew, have free rein to experiment with makeup and to date. I’d learn the relationships I’d had previously were nothing compared to the heartbreak I’d soon endure. And it would be the year I started to focus more on adult concerns, like what the hell I was going to do with my life. What classes should I take? Where would I apply for school? Would I apply for school? Will I know any of these people in 10 years? Should I move to LA and get a head start?
There was always the hope that Britney and Justin would find their way back to each other, perhaps because I wished I could go back to a simpler time, B.A. (Before Adulthood.) To this day, my serotonin still spikes when either star gets brought up together. Myself and my peers are nostalgic of the early millennium, when the biggest problem we had was if Y2K was going to shut down the planet. But if there’s anything I know now, almost 20 years later as an actual adult, it’s that some experiences and people are better left in the past, much like my perm.
Breakups That Broke Us is a weekly column about the failed celebrity relationships that convinced us love is dead.