After less than a year of marriage, Miley Cyrus and Liam Hemsworth announced their split via a statement by Cyrus’s rep that rivals only Gwyneth Paltrow’s famous “conscious uncoupling” in terms of euphemistic nonsense: “Ever-evolving, changing as partners and individuals, they have decided this is what’s best while they both focus on themselves and careers. They still remain dedicated parents to all of their animals they share while lovingly taking this time apart.”
That statement, of course, came only after the real announcement: an Instagram post sans wedding ring:
Hemsworth and Cyrus began dating a decade ago, after they met filming the Nicholas Sparks adaptation The Last Song in 2009. Cyrus was just 16 years old to Hemsworth’s 19. The final season of Hannah Montana was yet to premiere. The nation was enraptured by the song “I Gotta Feeling,” flash mobs, and quotes from The Hangover. Conan O’Brien was (briefly) host of The Tonight Show. And at the time Cyrus and Hemsworth seemed they might be just as fleeting—they split in August 2010, got back together that September, and broke up again in November, seemingly for good.
But then in April 2011, while everyone was focused on Kate Middleton's wedding to a not yet entirely bald Prince William, Cyrus and Hemsworth quietly reunited. By 2012 they were engaged.
By now you get the pattern: After a yearlong engagement, the two broke up again in 2013. (This is when the world met a twerking, pixie-cut-wearing Bangerz-era Cyrus and a Hunger Games–famous Hemsworth.) But, to quote Cyrus, “We can’t stop. And we won’t stop.” In 2016 reports began surfacing the two were back together, with Cyrus even wearing her old engagement ring.
Cut to December 2018: Hemsworth and Cyrus are married. Nicholas Sparks himself tweeted, “This Makes me so happy” with #TheLastSong. Cyrus got Hannah Montana bangs. The world seemed to envelop itself into a warm circle of perfect nostalgia in which all memories of bad striped suits and Robin Thicke became nothing more than a quickly fading bad dream.
Until, of course, this week's separation announcement.
Miley and Liam's breaking up (again)—and so quickly after what was intended to be a lifelong commitment—makes me wonder about the nature of an on-again, off-again relationship. In rom-coms and romance novels, love doesn't have room for an on-again, off-again narrative: A couple meets (probably in an adorable New York Times "Modern Love" essay sort of way), falls in love at first sight, gets married, and embarks on a lifetime of Instagram captions of “This one is okay, I guess 😘.”
On television, though, pop culture has introduced a new narrative for the on-and-offs: the "meant to be." Ross and Rachel might have dealt with more than their fair share of breakups and makeups on Friends, but he was her lobster! No matter how many times they were or weren’t on a break, when Rachel got off the plane, it still felt right. Same goes for Carrie and Mr. Big on Sex and the City, Seth and Summer on The O.C., Nick and Jess on New Girl, and Luke and Lorelei on Gilmore Girls. Everything these couples went through made their relationship stronger, gave it history and depth that made the ultimate resolution all the more satisfying for an audience who'd been rooting for them for years.
But real life does not operate by TV rules (this writer, a genius, pointed out). Breakups are messy—cruel things get said, feelings get hurt, people become jealous or resentful. Coming back together isn’t always the magical reunion it so often feels like in the moment.
Think back to your high school physics class: A ball dropped from 10 feet in the air might bounce only eight feet back up after it hits the ground, then five feet, then two, and then no bounce at all. Wind resistance, friction, whatever—it all causes diminishing returns. A relationship can act the same way. Each new iteration of a relationship reintroduces the ghosts of old grudges, pet peeves, resentments thought dormant.
TV necessitates pacing and drama. But we don’t need, nor would we care for, drama in the relationships of whichever real-life couple in your orbit constitutes #CoupleGoals. Chances are, the healthiest relationship you know involves more nights watching Netflix and playing Scrabble than races to airports and dramatic declarations of love in the pouring rain. Ross and Rachel never need to exist in the dull, awkward, boring moments that aren't written by a crack team of sitcom writers. They’ll never need to exist with Rachel resenting the fact that she sacrificed her job in Paris for Ross, or realizing he was pretty screwed up for not being okay with a male nanny. (And we all know Ross never actually got over his indignation they were on a break.)
Are Miley and Liam still meant to be? Will they get back together one more time? Or is this finally it? Look, who knows. Who am I? I’m no one! Relationships are hard, especially combined with the pressures of fame and distance. And, in the wise words of a celebrity's rep, it’s important to remember we’re all “ever-evolving, changing as partners and individuals.”
Originally Appeared on Glamour