In high school I had a friend who spent most of our four years on and off with a boyfriend she’d had since grade nine. Sometimes she’d have a new boyfriend or sometimes he’d have a new girlfriend, but usually they would end up together again to the chagrin or exhaustion of whoever had feelings about it.
By their early twenties, they had both moved on, which is what many of us do: we fall hard for someone when we’re young, forget who we are outside the context of that person, and then realize we’ve grown up and out of whatever it is we had. It’s a #journey, and often an arduous one, with familiarity being a comforting thought in lieu of moving on and into the grown-ass life you actually want but where nothing is sure. During my teens and early twenties, I was sure I’d end up with a guy I pined after for most of my formative years.
Today, I couldn’t tell you where he lived and what he did for living. We ran into each other last year and I couldn’t even find the girl who spent the better part of a decade convincing best friends he really wasn’t that bad, that he’d be worth the drama when we both grew up. And maybe he is now, but neither of us grew into people who had feelings for each other.
This weekend, Justin Bieber’s mom, Pattie Mallette, weighed in on the on-again relationship with Selena Gomez and her son, articulating the thing I think many of us heard our parents or friends’ parents say in the wake of yet-another romantic (and ill-advised) resurgence of feelings.
“I don’t know so much about their personal relationship because he doesn’t share a whole lot, but I love her,” said Mallette. “I support anything [he does], if he loves her I love her, and I’ve met her and we have a special bond so I think she’s precious. I can’t really speak on their relationship, that’s between them.”
“I think he’s just keeping his focus on God, and really trying to figure out what counts and what matters,” she continued. “I think he’s trying to be somehow normal in such an abnormal world, trying to find that balance. I feel like he’s growing up and I’m really proud of him.”
Pattie Mallette, Justin Bieber’s Mom
Admittedly, it wasn’t surprising to hear that Bieber and Gomez had reunited in the wake of her breakup with The Weeknd back in October, particularly since their relationship seemed to be a comforting consistent for two hugely inconsistent people. Since 2010, the two have been linked and not linked and then linked again, with Bieber often waxing poetic about their time together and crossing lines to reminiscence on social media about his sometimes-ex. They’ve followed and unfollowed each other, written songs that could be applied to their romantic histories (see: Selena’s “The Heart Wants What It Wants” or Biebs’ “Love Yourself”), and found their way into paparazzi shots and Bible study, uniting over the one thing they will always have: each other. And we don’t really get to have an opinion on it.
As teens, we had the luxury of our mistakes and rebellions being erased quickly enough that we’ve come to reclaim them and retell them in our own ways. For Justin and Selena, they were watched, studied, written about, and analyzed.
Being young is hard. Being a teen in the most normal and boring of circumstances is usually the backdrop for some of our most terrible and traumatizing life moments, but add to this world fame, multi-million dollar contracts, and an industry for its consumption and destruction of youth, and the pressure seems unsurvivable. Especially if going it alone.
Fortunately, Bieber and Gomez didn’t have to. And as a result, they are war buddies: together, they have experienced the high-highs and the low-lows and the worst and best parts of a world none of us can really understand. As teens, we had the luxury of our mistakes and rebellions being erased quickly enough that we’ve come to reclaim them and retell them in our own ways.
For Justin and Selena, they were watched, studied, written about, and analyzed. Their teen mistakes were amplified and scrutinized by adults who used their growing pains to fuel the same type of narrative that many of us endured when we were the same age—just without the privilege of absolutely nobody giving a shit. And now that they’ve have reunited, their story’s been hijacked again: they love each other, they belong together, she’s good for him, he understands her. A couple that Bible studies together, smiles together, and has the blessing of Pattie Mallette.
If we’re being realistic, Bieber and Selena likely relate to each other in a way that many other people can’t. And if we’re being even more realistic, their bond may be what keeps each other afloat right now. But also, they have forged their own paths, endured their own pain, and evolved from the people they were in 2010. Seven years is a long time, and the chasm between 18 and 25 is wide and treacherous. Some do find The Person™ at an age most of us think Jello shots are a wonderful treat, but the vast majority of us do not. We outgrow those people, we move past those people, we recognize them as markers of who we were but not who we’ve become and certainly not who we will be. And that doesn’t make them bad, and it doesn’t make the relationship mean less. It simply means that change is constant, that growing up is painful, and that you can still love and not be in love with a person at the same time.
And Justin and Selena may be the exception. They may get married, have a million kids, and live happily ever after in a way previously reserved only for storybooks. Or, they may be like most of us and see each other as the anchor they needed once upon a time, but they’re ready to let go now because they’re ready for more. Either way, they know what they’re doing just like the rest of us did. Even if it drives everybody nuts. Even if they already know better but they’re just not quite ready yet. Even if in a handful of years they genuinely don’t know what the other is up to these days.