There are few relationships as obsessed over as Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber's. So naturally, when Selena immediately reconnected with Justin at the end of her 10-month relationship with The Weeknd, the internet went wild. The frenzy over their brunches and bike rides makes sense: Selena and Justin first became a public couple SEVEN years ago. Spanning more than half a decade, Jelena delivered us the highs and lows of any highly addictive soap opera: sensual black-and-white Instagrams, public fights, emotional talk show interviews, and, of course, single after single about the trials of their relationship.
Despite their predictable pattern of breakups, people still root for the rise of Jelena. Here, Dr. Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist, author, and speaker, and Dr. Azadeh Aalai, assistant professor of Psychology at Queensborough Community College in New York, explain exactly what makes Jelena's love story just so addictive.
It's The Perfect "First Love" Story
Jelena originated in 2010, when the two were seen holding hands in Philadelphia. The two teen stars started off as friends and swatted away dating rumors for a while. But once they became official, there was no holding back—they went to red carpets together, kissed backstage, and seemed completely consumed with each other. No matter how you feel about Justin Bieber now, you have to admit that him carrying Selena's dress train is a swoon-worthy boyfriend move.
Soon after, the early years of their relationship experienced quite a few lows—a paternity suit involving Justin, Instagram posts from both parties hinting at breakups—yet, for years, they always managed to come back together.
If young people especially ship Jelena, chemistry may be to blame. “Our brain grows a lot between 13 and 25," says Dr. Greenberg. "At that age, things are more dramatic—the colors are brighter, your heart is more broken. [Your brain doesn't] have as much self-regulation. So there is more drama, and some might refer to as romantic.”
“First love is magical and exciting, and can be volatile and hard to forget,” says Dr. Aalai. “[Jelena activates] nostalgia for adults—we romanticize our first love because there is a sense of innocence and openness when we approach love for the first time that a lot of us lose as we get older. We become more guarded and jaded and in a lot of ways are seeking to recapture the euphoria and notion of possibility associated with first love." And Selena and Justin just happen to perfectly embody the overwhelming force that is teen love. You either remember the exquisite joy of loving someone before ever being disappointed, or you want to know what it was like, making Jelena compelling for people of all ages.
Their Biggest Hits Are About Each Other
Yes, everyone loves following Jelena's every social media move, from out-of-the-blue selfies together to shady comments on each others' photos...but no deleted Instagram or interview quote holds a candle to the most emotional representation of their relationship: their music. When they broke up in 2013, Selena came out with “Love Will Remember”; Justin’s own takes on the breakup were featured in “Heartbreaker,” “Hold Tight,” “Recovery,” and “All That Matters." Selena released “The Heart Wants What It Wants” in 2014 and drove an audience to tears when she performed it at the AMAs. Then, in 2015, Justin recorded “Sorry,” “What Do You Mean?” and “Mark My Words,” confirming that they were about Selena on The Ellen Degeneres Show. And Selena’s 2016 single, “It Ain’t Me,” is about Bieber as well.
The crux of their musical careers as adults has been dominated by songs about each other – it’s practically impossible to separate their music from their relationship.“That fuels their whole story – that they never lost their connection," says Dr. Greenberg. "And music is a romantic medium, it’ supposed to conjure emotion,” she continues. It also helps that the lyrics themselves reflect a cycle of loss and regret, or, in Selena's case, loss, regret and moving on with confidence. "Consumers feel like they have a front row seat to the drama and thus they feel more invested in the outcome,” says Dr. Aalai.
You Want a Bad Boy to Be Better
The Justin we publicly know now is a stark contrast to his sweet boy image when he first became famous and, soon after, began dating Selena. In addition to mishaps like minor car collisions and #monkeyproblems, their song lyrics piece together a familiar narrative of a bad boy who "made mistakes once or twice or maybe a couple of hundred times" and "was staying out all night."
“There is a fantasy of the ‘bad boy’ being redeemed by his devotion and love from a ‘good woman,’ so those gendered stereotypes are also triggered by the narrative of this love story,” Aalai says.
Dr. Greenberg explains further, “Part of the hero story is the hero maturing or going through some sort of a journey. [It's also] such a romantic narrative. You see that in movies: ‘I’m changing because of you.'"
Justin, playing his role perfectly, has a history of trying to win Selena back, whether it was Insta-recording love songs for her or unofficially dedicating an album to her. But his Access Hollywood interview back in 2015 revealed another layer to the story: that he'd "never stop loving her."
Simply put: If you’ve ever loved someone who hurt you, this is the outcome you secretly dream of (but would never admit to your friends who all tell you he’s trash)—that he is filled with regret for years because he lost you, despite having dated other people. It's the ending people want, but are (rightly) skeptical of in real life.
"There are many people who get infatuated or fixated on a person who may not be right for them and imagine that they could be the one to ‘save’ or redeem the person," says Dr. Aalai. "I think some of that mythology is triggered by the Justin-Selena pairing – she appears to soften him and redeem some of the rougher edges of his character. In turn, it gives consumers ‘hope’ that true love can conquer all."
Jelena is more than another tabloid-nourishing celebrity couple—they’re two people who’ve been a part of each other’s lives, whether dating or not, for so long, and through so many stages. While their track record might hint at another inevitable breakup, their history points to possibilities of something else. They’re older now. They’ve spent some time apart, with different people. And the moment Selena’s relationship ended, they apparently picked up again, almost as if nothing ever happened, like only true best friends could. No one can predict how long Jelena will last, but it’s safe to say that many people still crave that same old love.