Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt Were Too Hot to Fail

They were perfection personified — and I loved them for it.

Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow Were Too Hot to Fail
Photo: Getty Images

When Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt began their romance in 1995, they were the first celebrity couple to ping my radar. With their golden locks and cerulean blue eyes, standing shoulder to shoulder in perfect lock-step radiance, they were the Golden Couple of that era, the couple too effortlessly beautiful to fail.

Theirs was a match made in Hollywood heaven: Their meet-cute took place on the film set of the relentlessly grim Se7en, where they played doomed lovers. But while that film ended with her head in a box and him destined for jail, in real life, they were suddenly connected at the hip on the cover of every American tabloid. I inhaled the pages of the glossies near the checkout line, internalizing every carefully meted out detail: Her parents loved him! He got along with her younger brother! He asked her father for her hand in marriage!

They even seemed to morph into one another, as if time spent in each other's company spurred their very molecules to assume their paramour's likeness. It started out sartorially — Gwyneth's white, columnar shirt-dress pairedwith Brad's pale pastel sweater vest; matchy-matchy formalwear at the Golden Globes and tousled, we-don't-even-have-to-try hair. And let's not forget the ubiquitous, round-framed sunglasses — small, so as to not obscure their refined bone structure. But the pinnacle remains their 1997 appearance at The Devil's Own premiere in matching side-swept bobs, sun-kissed with errant ends tucked behind the ears.

Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow Were Too Hot to Fail
Getty Images

Gwyneth and Brad's love pre-dated US Weekly's popular column, "Stars, They're Just Like Us," by a couple of years — but come on, who are we kidding, the duo was as close to "us" as Pluto is to Earth. They personified perfection — individually and together. Gwyneth, then in her early twenties, became an actress and muse for directors like Douglas McGrath, who selected her among countless contenders for the part of Emma, the winning Austen heroine blind to her own desires in the book of the same name. The role reflected the up-and-comer's sparkle: The New York Times called her "resplendent," comparing her to a "young Katherine Hepburn," while Brad garnered praise for performances that subverted his pretty-boy persona like the volatile anti-hero in Twelve Monkeys. In his Golden Globes acceptance speech for the role, he thanked "the love of my life, my angel, Gwyneth Paltrow" and the rest of us swooned.

If Gwyneth and Brad were the sun, then I was their polar opposite: Inexperienced, awkward and, as one of the few Chinese Americans in my town, painfully aware of how different I was from my peers. My world of school, weekend visits with my grandparents, and squabbles with my brother was oceans away from their jet-setting glamour. But whether they were dressed to the nines at a gala or donning T-shirts and jeans for a stroll in Manhattan, they always seemed to be enjoying themselves (and each other). Maybe that's why they sparked such admiration and, if I'm being honest, envy in me.

Without realizing it, I started to formulate romantic ideals based on their relationship. I hung on every adoring gaze, every tender embrace, every profession of love. I fantasized about my boyfriend dropping by oh-so-casually while I was hard at work, à la the black and white photo of the two in the August 1996 issue of Vogue, or walking and picking up after my dog. So their abrupt breakup a mere few months after they announced their engagement was devastating. Somehow, in my naïveté, I thought their relationship was unassailable, not subject to the mundane concerns of ordinary mortals.

I spent months waiting for the turnaround, the denouement, the "fooled ya, we secretly eloped on a remote island" announcement that never came. The media, similarly at a loss, breathlessly followed every lead until Gwyneth put the kibosh on the rumors that Brad had cheated. In time, both would move on to other people. Gwyneth dated a succession of heartthrobs and married twice; while Brad coupled up with America's Sweetheart and then America's Vixen before hitting the dating scene once again.

Relationships, it turns out, are far messier than my immature '90s-self realized. There are breakups, reconciliations, conscious uncouplings, and the children caught in between — all the complicated realities of building a life together. I should know — while I write this, I'm hiding out in a closet for a moment before prepping lunch for my three kids, ages 5, 8, and 10.

But there's a corner of my heart that continues to pine for the perfection that was Brad and Gwyn — a corner that periodically re-ignites. Like when they were briefly unattached at the same time or, most recently, with the revelation that Brad came to Gwyneth's aid when Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed her during the filming of Emma. But maybe my veneration is OK. After all, we're never meant to reach the sun, just admire it from afar.

Breakups That Broke Us is a weekly column about the failed celebrity relationships that convinced us love is dead.

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