Why some celebrity milestones feel so personal

I remember very vividly when Hilary Duff got engaged.

And it’s not because I was some crazy fangirl, it was because I was so shocked that Lizzie McGuire was all grown up. And even worse: that she was one step ahead of me. It was like Lil’ Bow Wow dropping the lil’ all over again. I wasn’t emotionally prepared.

There’s something odd about growing up alongside celebrities. They’re these sort-of peers that you go through major life experiences with. We watch Punky Brewster get a training bra, and DJ Tanner get her driver’s license, and Kelly Kapowski get asked to prom. And we’re going through much of that alongside them. So without meaning to we can view their lives as chugging right along with ours.

Until they don’t. So for me, seeing randomly online that Hilary Duff was engaged made me take serious stock of what I was doing in my dating life. Which, yes can seem totally ridiculous, but it was my gut reaction. It’s like she was marking the passage of time along with me, and suddenly the fact that she was taking her romantic life seriously, made me wonder if it was time I do the same. Silly, I know, but I was young and impressionable—or so I thought.

This week proved that the odd impulse to internalize celebrity milestones doesn’t ever quite go away.  And just when I thought I’d made it through the seasonal onslaught of Facebook engagement announcements, no less. Sure enough celebrities I feel I know and love have to go and do something grown up without asking me how I feel about it. Yes, I’m looking at you, Blake Lively and Cameron Diaz.

For those out of the loop: This week Cameron Diaz got married and Blake Lively had a baby.

Now, that should ideally have nothing to do with you or me, right? Because, of course, we’re aware that good things are also happening in our lives, and, of course, we know that comparison is the thief of joy and, of course, we know that the online story never tells the whole story. . .but still.

Still, it can sometimes make you question your own timeline, or dramatically ponder where the time has gone (like when you realize the Olsen Twins are 28 years old now and just yesterday they were mispronouncing ice cream). And it’s not just an age thing: Blake is younger than me, and Cameron is older than me, for example. So it’s not about that as much as how other people’s lives can make you question your own. Should I be having babies? Shouldn’t I be getting married? Maybe yes, maybe no.

Perhaps more than anything, especially with these celebrity happenings, we feel they’ve broken some sort of contract with us. Blake is supposed to be a Gossip Girl, not a mom! Cameron is supposed to be a single, anti-monogamist, not a wife! Everyone is supposed to just chill out and remain in the roles we’ve cast them in forever.

Oh right, they’re human and they’re going to grow and change and evolve too. So why is it so surprising when it happens?

Maybe it just goes back to the ‘days of Duff’ and expecting to be on track with the imaginary friends we’ve all grown up with, despite our very different lives and choices.

Celebrity lives are like macro versions of virtual friends on Facebook. And when we’re feeling particularly sensitive, the milestones they hit, hit us right in the gut. They’re time-checks and reminders of where we’re at in our own lives. And that’s not always such a bad thing, if we haven’t ‘checked in’ with our own goals in a while.

It’s strange that celebrity news can bring out such complicated feelings, but then again, it’s not surprising. The stars we relate to function as funhouse mirrors of our own identities, reflections that approximate who we might be or who we might want to be.

But again, they’re just people. And so are we. I guess the only thing to do is be happy for those famous folks for moving forward in their personal lives and to be happy for ourselves for moving on in our own lives—even if it’s just in little, non-headline-making ways.

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