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Celebrities break up all the time. What makes KathNiel so different?

By Angel Martinez Published Dec 01, 2023 12:16 pm

I think I’ll always remember where I was when I saw the news: stuck in standstill traffic along Commonwealth Avenue, reciting Kathryn Bernardo’s statement out loud to my dad behind the wheel, and unconsciously bursting into tears like I was delivering a slam poem. If I listened close enough, I would have heard the sound of a million other hearts shattering alongside mine.

In case you haven’t been filled in (but then again, how?), Kathryn and her boyfriend Daniel Padilla took to social media on the evening of Nov. 30 to confirm that their relationship that lasted over a decade is no more.

One Twitter user claimed that all passengers of the UV Express they boarded were reading Kathryn’s statement at the same time, like an impromptu book club session. Jeff Canoy of ABS-CBN reported that everyone in the newsroom had their eyes on the screen as the breaking news was delivered. Scripts for live anchor reads usually reach two pages, at most. TV Patrol’s Gretchen Fullido summarized KathNiel’s confirmations in seven.

The reactions might seem too much, but many, including the titos and titas of today who had to live through Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion's breakup in the 80s, understand.

But it’s safe to say that KathNiel was always different. Our generation’s defining couple made some of the most memorable and profitable projects in modern Philippine show business, all of which were testaments to our collective belief in true love. 

Whether we witnessed them as timid teenagers in Growing Up, polar opposites in She’s Dating the Gangster, or star-crossed lovers in Pangako Sa ‘Yo, their tandem was present throughout some of life’s major highlights. We remember the children we were as we tuned in to Princess and I on weeknights after TV Patrol or relived our past heartbreak as we watched The Hows of Us for the nth time.

In a way, we used their growth as markers of our own and watched them reflect our stories right back to us. Some might even say that they gave us our first glimpse into what love could look like.

Most importantly, the love KathNiel’s characters shared surpassed mere onscreen chemistry: it was something they also embodied in real life.

Having met as kids attempting to make it big, Kathryn and Daniel made a name for themselves together, with each one’s presence enriching the other. They carved an unprecedented path to superstardom that set the bar for every love team that followed and eventually gained the admiration and respect of supporters and naysayers alike.

After all, in an industry as inauthentic as show business, it says something that KathNiel found the real deal in each other. Regardless of the many plotlines they act out, they proved that the best way to fall in love was to simply grow up beside our person.

This is probably why this celebrity breakup hurts more than others: because we’ve come to identify with them, despite our difference in social stature.

“Empathy plays a significant role in why we feel the pain of others going through unfortunate events like break-ups,” psychologist Rainier Ladic told PhilSTAR L!fe. “Some may have created an ideal ending where the love story of these actors proves a type of love that persists. That’s why when their love story ended, their ideal world starts to crumble and they experience grief.”

One would argue that KathNiel’s case hurts even more than usual because, despite the closure that was supposedly granted, many questions remain unanswered.

“If there are issues of infidelity or third party, all the more that people are empathetic of the individuals involved. That’s why it’s a common theme in teleseryes,” psychologist Wenna Brigaste told L!fe. “People become even more emotionally involved and may tend to blame the other partner for causing the breakup.”

This is the end of a love story we genuinely thought was going to last forever, between two people who were much more than the movies they made.

True enough, as I looked through the inevitable highlight reels of their relationship that surfaced on social media, I couldn’t help but wonder: if these two people who seemed to have everything couldn’t make their love last, what makes us think I can? If consistently investing time and effort over the years still isn’t enough, then what is?

Our illusions of happily ever after are shattered and our childhood fantasies come to a rather abrupt end. As Brigaste summarized so poignantly: “The KathNiel breakup is a snap back to reality, a reminder that not all individuals end up together no matter how ‘ideal’ they seem to be. It humanizes the experience of losing love.”

So although our mayors have refused to formally declare this as a national day of mourning, just know that it’s perfectly normal to walk to class or clock in for work still a bit shaken by last night’s news. I know I am.

This doesn’t just mark the end of a momentous career built together: this is the end of a love story we genuinely thought was going to last forever, between two people who were much more than the movies they made.