On Nov. 17, 2021, a powerful union fell in three sentences and four red heart emojis.
"Hey guys, we've decided to end our romantic relationship, but our love for one another as humans is stronger than ever," Camila Cabello and Shawn Mendes wrote on their Instagram stories. "We started our relationship as best friends and will continue to be best friends. We so appreciate your support from the beginning and moving forward."
The statement, jointly signed by Cabello and Mendes, marked the end of the couple's two year relationship. But for me, it signaled something even bigger: my romanticization of the friends-to-lovers pipeline wasn't the foolproof relationship route I had thought. If these two crazy kids couldn't make it work, then what hope did I have?
I first became aware of Cabello and Mendes when I got my driver's license. My 1997 Saab, a relic of Swedish auto manufacturing, had no aux cord and a CD player that was liable to stall from so much as a funny look. So I relied on the radio and quickly became well-versed in every Top 40 hitmaker of the mid-2010s, including Mendes and the Cabello-fronted Fifth Harmony.
I developed a particular soft spot for Mendes, who's only a few months older than me. While I may not have a Teen Choice Award for Choice Male Hottie (nobody's perfect), I empathized with the Canadian crooner who, like me, harbored a very conspicuous crush on a friend.
Mendes and Cabello met on tour in 2014 and developed a will-they-or-won't-they friendship in the years that followed. Their media appearances did a terrible job of convincing anybody of their platonic friendship. In an interview with James Corden, the two pleaded to the incredulous host that they'd never made out. They covered Ed Sheeran's mushy ballad "Kiss Me," and spent much of 2017 and 2018 gushing about each other publicly. "speechless.. goosebumps all over. You're incredible," Mendes tweeted about Cabello's song "Crying in the Club." In spite of any insistence otherwise, their chemistry was clear.
Inspired by the duo, I decided to make a move of my own. Unlike Cabello and Mendes's eventual outcome, my pining for a friend was met with brutal rejection. "Oof," he winced when I spit out my feelings. "Yeah, I kind of picked up on that." But where I failed, Mendes and Cabello thrived. The duo's horny summer anthem "Señorita" sent rumors swirling. With lyrics like "You say we're just friends / But friends don't know the way you taste / Cause you know it's been a long time coming / Don't you let me fall," the two all but confirmed their relationship.
By July 2019, Mendes and Cabello were official, corroborating what had been "a long time coming." Seeing the two fawn over each other was equal parts vindicating and depressing. While it was great to see that friends could actually work as lovers, I wondered since their once-platonic relationship was going so well, why wasn't mine?
Mendes and Cabello, it seemed, were undertaking a new role as the couple I loved to hate. Perhaps my residual hurt feelings had a hand in this, but they certainly weren't doing anything to dissuade me. Shortly into the relationship, they shot themselves into notoriety with a tequila-fueled, face-licking makeout video posted to Mendes's Instagram.
The beginning of the pandemic was something of a renaissance for the two singers. Suddenly, they seemed to be everywhere. They picked up social media traction for their bizarre zombie walks, which many saw as a ploy for paparazzi attention, but allowed me to shed my bitterness. I became obsessed. I loved their unabashed public cringiness; the prop-like empty coffee mugs, their hodgepodge outfit choices, the seeming inability for their feet to leave the ground, and the bafflingly slow pace. They didn't care that people thought they kissed like fishes or that their strolls were getting roasted online — they were giving Cher, dammit! And really, who could want more than that?
Mendes and Cabello's breakup left me surprisingly heavy-hearted. Beyond my schadenfreude, I found myself mourning my own friendship that had crumbled under the pressure of ambiguity. I was jealous of Mendes and Cabello, because no matter how cringey I found them, they were able to live out my friends-to-lovers dream, even for a little while.
Breakups That Broke Us is a bi-weekly column about the failed celebrity relationships that convinced us love is dead.
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