Picture the scene. It's you and your husband's third wedding anniversary, which just so happens to clash with a big, glitzy party you're both invited to. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, you forgo a more intimate celebration, get all dressed up and head out together, hand-in-hand.
But disaster strikes as you turn up at the venue. You hear the people around you shouting something, and soon recognise what it is: it's the first name of your husband's childhood sweetheart. Selena.
It sounds like a literal nightmare scenario, doesn't it? Yet for Hailey Bieber, it was a reality this September, as crowds chanted "Selena" at her and Justin Bieber as they walked the red carpet at the 2021 Met Gala. It was a reference, of course, to Selena Gomez – whom Justin dated on and off for almost eight years, before they finally split for good at the beginning of 2018.
The Met Gala moment was captured on video: the footage shows a tearful Hailey being comforted by her husband, who mouths "I love you" at his understandably upset wife.
No matter how solid your relationship, one would imagine that hearing your husband's ex's name shouted at you by dozens of people would feel crushing. So it's no surprise that Hailey reacted as she did. What is perplexing is that fans still feel entitled to weigh in on Justin's relationship choices, when it's been almost four years since the couple split for good.
This isn't an isolated incident, either. In December last year, Justin was forced to publicly defend Hailey after an internet troll encouraged fans to "go after" her during an Instagram Live she had planned. Justin wrote in his Stories: "This sad excuse of a human just encouraged people on video to literally go after my wife telling people to say that my previous relationship was better so on and so [forth.]... I just wanted to share this so people get an idea of what we face on a day to day." Social media is still consistently awash with comments comparing the two women.
So why do fans feel so entitled to pit Justin's two partners – past and present – against one another? Particularly when Justin and Selena's relationship is so firmly ensconced in the past.
Some might say it's misplaced romanticism. Selena and Justin dated for the best part of a decade, and their romance kicked off from when they were baby-faced teenagers (18 and 16 years old, respectively). While it's no excuse for cruel behaviour, perhaps some fans are projecting their ideals of young love onto the couple. And maybe it doesn't help, for the imaginations of some, that Selena has been single for the past three years – leaving a still-lingering flame in some fans' imaginations.
Let's get real, though: how many of us are still in the same relationships we got into in our late teens, or think it would be a good idea to have stayed? Exactly.
Then there's the sense of ownership that fans, or followers, seem to have developed over their icons – encouraged by the blurred, private/public nature of social media, which can often give the illusion of an intimate connection with someone you follow as you receive insights into their everyday life – even though you've never even met them.
All three parties have a committed follower base (Justin and Selena have over 200m followers each, while Hayley boasts a cool 38.6 million). To add to matters, for years there was a huge crossover between the "Selenators" and "Beliebers" while the one-time couple were dating: a fanbase known collectively as "Jelena" fans.
It seems some so-called Jelena fans just can't let go – and unfortunately seem to be channeling this disappointment in an unkind way, which Hailey bears the brunt of as the woman who replaced Selena in Justin's heart.
But what's particularly insidious about this whole situation is the way that Selena and Hailey – both beautiful, talented women in their own right – are pitted against one another.
The uncalled for comparison has echoes of the Jennifer vs. Angelina narrative that sprung up when Brad Pitt split up with his wife of five years Jennifer Aniston in 2005, reportedly after Brad met Angelina Jolie during filming of Mr & Mrs Smith.
Rather than leave all parties to what was, no doubt, a messy and difficult situation for all involved, the tabloid media sprung to fabricate a bitter rivalry between the two women – while LA boutique Kitson brought out "Team Jolie" and "Team Aniston" T-shirts in the wake of the split, worn by the likes of Paris and Nicky Hilton.
Meanwhile, Brad himself – in the middle of this supposed love triangle – was mostly left out of the narrative, leaving the women involved to suffer media attention around what had happened.
While we think, in 2021, we might be past all that – and have made headway in supporting and raising up other women – this relentless pitting up of Selena and Hailey against one another suggests that the same history is repeating itself, albeit in a more modern way on social media rather than in tabloid headlines.
Oh, and let's remember the so-called "feud" between the pair isn't really a feud at all. The two women have shown public solidarity for one another, with Hailey "liking" several of Selena's Instagram posts – including the latter's ELLE cover in September of this year.
Selena has previously acknowledged the unpleasant tension, too, in an Instagram Live in 2019 – when she released her song "Lose You To Love Me", believed to be about her former relationship with Justin, and Hailey was trolled in the wake of it. "I do not stand for women tearing women down," she told followers.
So there you have it. All parties involved have shown a mature and peaceful stance – spelling out, in no uncertain terms, that they don't want to be pitted up against one another in a false rivalry. As time goes on, hopefully fans will realise that their truest way to show loyalty to Selena, Justin & Hailey is to honour that wish.