When Selena Gomez reunited with her on-again, off-again ex-boyfriend Justin Bieber again in 2017, I’ll admit that I joined in the chorus of groans. “You’re better than that,” we grumbled under our breath, lamenting that the star had seemingly fallen once again into a toxic relationship.
But while to some, Bieber may seem like a playboy whose record has been marred by DUI arrests and canceled tours, to Selena, he’s still the innocent boy she fell in love with. Before his tainted reputation, before her health struggles, they were just two kids in love.
“The impulse to reunite with young love is the impulse to return to innocence. Remember we knew them initially in a time period when all was good. We were not harmed or jaded by love, and neither were they. We didn’t carry the same amount of baggage or emotional chaos that ensued over the years,” relationship expert Susan Winter told InStyle. “They hadn’t been damaged by other people, so they can create a happy template.”
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Somewhere along the way, Jelena experienced their first breakup. According to Winter, the fissure was likely related to the couple needing to find their individual identities, something that can be even harder for those growing up in the spotlight. “If you look at the trajectory of a young adolescent whose claim to fame came so quickly, [Bieber] was such a goody-goody-two-shoes. He was a good boy, and then he had to break out of that to find his identity,” Winter said. “He seems to be coming back to his senses about what makes a really good girlfriend.”
And as for Gomez, going back to Bieber could have less to do with him and more to do with her own relationship experience. “We have unresolved business,” she said. “That person has a critical piece of your puzzle. I don’t think it’s about being lazy. It certainly isn’t about the fact that they have a limited selection of prospects. They’re both celebrities. They keep going back to the place that was the most correct, that felt the best connection.”
Jelena may have found their way back to each other, but for those rare couples who stay together from teenhood on, that “innocent” young love never ends. According to Winter, those relationships may even be stronger than those formed later on in life—under one condition.
“How many times can your heart withstand being broken before it creates some real damage? The first love doesn’t have that history of cracks and fissures. It’s still one unit, so therefore it is stronger," Winter said. "If we could continue with that, that would be an ideal situation, with the caveat that both people would still need to be able to grow and expand and become greater versions of who they were."
And as for the adage that young couples need to date around to know whether they’re truly with the right person, the relationship expert has some advice that all high school sweethearts will be happy to hear.
“If you’re lucky to hit it bullseye in the first shot, why would you want to keep testing the waters? It’s like a gambler. If I won $10,000 in the first hour, the smartest thing I could do is walk away from the table. Chances are I’m not getting any better than that,” she said. “So why would you hit bullseye with a first partner and then say, 'Gee, you know, I haven’t really dated all sorts of people. Let me let this one go.'"
Who said young love can’t be lasting love? Certainly not Jelena.