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Is it right for us to speculate on Paul Mescal’s private life?

As the ‘Aftersun’ and ‘Normal People’ star reveals that speculation about his private life makes him ‘mad’, Ellie Muir says we need to stop obsessing over his relationship with musician Phoebe Bridgers – no matter how public their union once was

Wednesday 15 February 2023 16:54 GMT
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Paul Mescal and Phoebe Bridgers make their red-carpet debut in November 2021
Paul Mescal and Phoebe Bridgers make their red-carpet debut in November 2021 (Getty)

The courtship of Paul Mescal and Phoebe Bridgers was straight out of a romcom. He was the sensitive, chain-wearing adonis who had just met fame via the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People. Bridgers was the indie singer-songwriter with a sack of sad-girl anthems in her pocket and a legion of online fans. An initial Twitter exchange between the pair in May 2020 got fans hooked.

“Finished Normal People and now I’m sad and horny oh wait,” Bridgers tweeted, to which Mescal replied: “I’m officially dead.” They then spoke virtually for the first time, on a live-stream for Wonderland magazine, that same month. Watching it was like third-wheeling a first date. Mescal blushed as he sipped on wine and introduced his houseplant, Henry. Bridgers, wearing a pyjama top and fiddling with her duvet, uncontrollably grinned as they exchanged flirty jokes.

By July, Bridgers was seen in Mescal’s native Ireland visiting him IRL, and the pair confirmed their relationship – after 16 months of speculation – in November 2021. Fans quickly crowned the 27-year-old actor and the 28-year-old singer the internet’s golden couple.

In a way, they gave fans exactly what they wanted: PDA, cute selfies, flirty exchanges. It had all the makings of a high-profile Brangelina-style coupledom. In December, however, rumours suggesting that the pair had split left their shared fandom frustrated – neither star has confirmed or denied the claims. On social media, many continue to demand answers. Here’s a sampling from Twitter: “Phoebe Bridgers and Paul Mescal cannot break up they are my emotional support relationship’’; “I don’t think I’ve ever been as distraught about a celebrity breakup as I am about Phoebe and Paul”; “I am a child of divorce.”

That fans feel a sense of ownership over the relationship is unsurprising – its entire lifespan has been Extremely Online. But having a public relationship does not require Mescal to give live updates on it at every turn, nor does it mean that his privacy is fair game. Truthfully, it’s no one’s business. Mescal said as much this week, when – in an interview with Vanity Fair – he pledged to keep the status of his relationships “private” moving forward.

“When Normal People came out, I was very forthright in interviews, and it didn’t actually serve me,” he said. “But the temptation still exists to be like, ‘Shut the f*** up. This is my life.’” He admitted that the attention around his personal life can make him “mad” and “upset” at times. In other words, he’s drawn a clear line: he doesn’t owe anyone an explanation for what’s (maybe) happened between him and Bridgers.

Admittedly, the pair’s mutual fandom has a point: Mescal and Bridgers previously opened the floodgates to their romance via public interactions and professional collaborations – namely the video for Bridgers’ single “Savior Complex”, in which Mescal appeared. They then slammed the floodgates shut. No wonder fans have been left confused.

At the same time, though, there is a level of possessiveness over the pair that borders on strange. It’s not a stalker-like fascination, but it’s close. Fans map Bridger and Mescal’s public sightings together, create video compilations of their relationship timeline, and still obsess over clips of their Wonderland interview. It’s worth asking if anyone needs to be this invested in the sex lives of total strangers, even if they are incredibly talented and beautiful famous people.

The pair aren’t the only celebrity couple to have their alleged break-up put under the microscope recently. Megan Fox and rapper fiancé Machine Gun Kelly – aka Colson Baker – were photographed leaving what appeared to be a couple’s therapy session on Tuesday, after Fox deleted all the photos of the pair from her Instagram page. Earlier, she’d posted a cryptic update about “dishonesty”, sparking rumours about an alleged split. It all felt incredibly voyeuristic.

Bridgers and Mescal’s initial Twitter courtship (Twitter)

Situations like Bridgers and Mescal’s, or Fox and Baker’s, differ entirely from celebrity break-ups that feel deliberately attention-seeking: the separation of “Hips Don’t Lie” singer Shakira and footballer Gerard Piqué, for example, has been practically foisted upon the public ever since Shakira released a diss track about their split – Piqué himself happily retaliated soon after.

Fascination with celebrity romance is entirely justified and often entertaining, especially when, like Shakira and Piqué, the stars themselves seem to play up to the attention. For instance, seeing model Emily Ratajkowski and comedian Eric André confirm their relationship in a comical – and nude – Instagram post yesterday was brilliant. But when the social media posts stop, interview responses become ambiguous, and both parties seem melancholy rather than happy and in love, is it not time to stop looking?

There comes a point where every celebrity decides they can only give so much of their personal life to their fans. Mescal has reached his limit. His mother is undergoing treatment for cancer, while he could win an Oscar next month and is about to embark on the West End run of A Streetcar Named Desire – he has enough on his plate. It’s been more than two months since rumours surfaced that Mescal and Bridgers were over, and still, neither of them has addressed them directly. Everyone should get the hint.

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