Zooey Deschanel and Ben Gibbard Were 500 Days of Summer Come to Life — and Then They Broke Up
If a shared love of indie rock couldn't make a relationship work, what could?
Urban Outfitters froze over in 2009, when Ben Gibbard and Zooey Deschanel announced that they had eloped after a year of dating. The union was nauseatingly cute. Deschanel was fresh off her star-making performance as the bangs-y, unattainably twee foil to Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer — a film about Joy Division, the Smiths, and the inept emotional terrorism that infects men who frequent record shops to pick up women. Ben Gibbard, of course, is the principal songwriter of Death Cab For Cutie, a band that specializes in writing songs to appease the exact type of guy that Gordon-Levitt's character embodied. Their real-life relationship felt like a fan-service retcon. At the end of 500 Days of Summer, Deschanel firmly puts an end to her relationship with Gordon-Levitt, for he is too clingy, too insecure, and too prone to spiraling moments of emo self-defeatism for her to see a future with him. In real life though, the sad boy got the girl, and dudes with Unknown Pleasures shirts the world over rejoiced.
I am a 29-year old millennial male who grew up reading Pitchfork, Stereogum, Tiny Mix Tapes, and every other indie rock blog I could find, so you probably won't be surprised that I desperately wanted to meet a girl like Zooey Deschanel for much of my life. I had no awareness of the hard work and compromise that is necessary to forge a healthy, long-lasting partnership; instead, I believed that love only blooms after meeting someone who shared a mutually intersecting Venn diagram of taste. Two people establish a shared context of music, movies, TV shows, and books, and then they spend happily ever after together rehashing the discussions they used to have in A.V. Club comments sections. Gibbard and Deschanel had it made. Their light would never go out. How hard could marriage be if every dinner table discussion centered around Velvet Underground B-sides?
I was proven spectacularly wrong three years later. Ben Gibbard and Zooey Deschanel filed for divorce in 2012, citing irreconcilable differences. Irreconcilable differences! How is that even possible? The public never got great insight into what went wrong. Zooey has never gone on the record about Ben. She got married again shortly after to producer Jacob Pechenik, and those two finalized their separation earlier this year. Gibbard commented on the breakup ever so vaguely during the run-up to Death Cab's 2015 studio album, Kintsugi. "I'm not going to change the way I've always written for fear of people correctly or incorrectly assigning a name and face to these songs," he told Billboard about the tracks that may or may not be about Deschanel. "I've always written about my life and the lives of people around me, and how everything intersects." (Gibbard has married again, this time to the photographer Rachel Demy.)
Deschanel's latest partner is an even sharper repudiation to my teenage romance philosophy. She's shacked up with Jonathan Scott, one of the nine billion Property Brothers, who is attractive and muscular. It's remarkable that the plaid-dress, ribbon-haired She & Him girl settled down with a Canadian bro with a net worth tied up in vacation rentals, over, I don't know, Justin Vernon or something. Honestly, is life even worth living if someone isn't writing songs about you?
This gets us back to 500 Days of Summer. The moral at the heart of that film is about how projecting an entire personality on someone because of shared appreciation for New Order is a terrible, toxic thing to do. True love is so much bigger than that, but young people, (especially young men,) fetishize cultural paraphernalia — liking the same Aronofsky movie or whatever — as if it's a checklist to determine romantic chemistry. In reality, record collection-driven dating is the saddest, most skin-deep method to seek out human connection. Joseph Gordon-Levitt spends the bulk of the film smug, elitist, and alone, envious of his many friends who are in fulfilling relationships despite radically different tastes and interests. Just because you both think Sonic Youth is overrated doesn't mean that you're supposed to spend the rest of your lives together.
Over time, Ben and Zooey were each proven emphatically right. Both are chilling and happy, charting beautiful lives outside of indie rock royalty. Eventually, I started to follow their lead. My current girlfriend and I agree on plenty of music, but she's also a humongous Hamilton stan, a former Directioner, and she routinely binges The Real Housewives of New York in 12-hour cycles. (Though she does kinda look like Zooey Deschanel, I do hold onto some biases.) But we're happy, because, well, we're happy. Our differences in taste are completely immaterial. Thank god, we have more to talk about than '90s indie.
Breakups That Broke Us is a weekly column about the failed celebrity relationships that convinced us love is dead.