The first time I really heard the name Austin Butler, it was too late.
I was having a 2012, post-college career crisis, and in an attempt to find myself, I signed up to be an extra on the Sex and the City prequel, The Carrie Diaries. The show's leading man was CW-cute, but what surprised me most about this blonde-haired, blue-eyed dude was that he was nice enough to strike up a casual conversation with me during a break in filming.
"How are you liking being an extra?" he asked, attempting to make small talk. And me, being caught off-guard, unable to think about anything but the '80s outfit I was wearing, replied in the most awkward way possible: "Well, I like my yellow knee-high socks." (To be fair, they were very fun.)
It wasn't until I left the set and texted a friend about the strange (on my part) encounter that I found out the news: that guy was Austin Butler, and Austin Butler was actually Vanessa Hudgens' new boyfriend.
After recovering from the sting of delayed embarrassment (I picked the socks?!), I found myself wanting to follow this cute, cool couple's relationship journey. I wasn't a massive fan of either of them, but a hopeless romantic at heart, I did care enough to root for their love. I would melt at the occasional photo of Butler cuddling Hudgens at sporting events, or scroll to see them laughing while getting gas in their car. In terms of celebrity couples, they just seemed so … normal. Fun. Like they actually cared about one another. And as months turned to years, I hoped they were in it for the long haul.
Part of my semi-obsession with these two came from a selfish place. I'm just a year younger than Hudgens (who turns 33 this year), and my own relationship began around the time she started dating Butler. Once my relationship hit the five-year mark and I started getting more serious about marriage, I would often seek out celebrities in similar situations — sort of as a way to convince myself that not getting engaged after a number of years was 'normal.'
Maybe I didn't have a ring on my finger, but neither did Hudgens, and she seemed content. Just like me and my boyfriend, both she and Butler seemed focused on their careers. Sure, their careers were completely different than ours (a fashion editor and a news anchor/reporter), but just knowing that someone out there was in a similar situation as me made me feel better. Did getting married by a certain age really even matter? No, not really. Especially when what you have is working for you.
After Joshua Jackson and Diane Kruger (my other relationship role models) broke up, Hudgens and Butler became 'it' for me. I couldn't, and still can't, think of many young-ish, longterm, non-married couples with zero kids — both in Hollywood and among people I actually know. In a world of whirlwind romances, they were moving at a pace I was happy with, too.
And then, in early 2020, Hudgens and Butler broke up, too.
I wouldn't say I was distraught about the ending of this eight- or nine-year relationship, but it was a breakup that definitely stayed on my mind. "Imagine," I would say to myself, my friends, my coworkers — anyone who wanted to talk celebrity gossip —"You're with someone for that long and then you have to start over?" In a way, I was voicing my own fears. By that point, I really did want to get married, and it felt silly to continue waiting for more money, more success, more … something, in order to say 'I do.'
Soon after, however, the pandemic hit, and I, like many people, went into a spiral about my future. What did it look like? Was I with the right person? Would I ever have kids? What the hell were we doing here? My boyfriend and I began fighting more than usual, mostly out of stress, and when we reached a point where I thought we might break up, Hudgens ended up coming to mind.
This actress — someone whose life I mostly knew about from Instagram, paparazzi photos, and movies like High School Musical and The Princess Switch — was once again my role model of sorts. After all, she was doing surprisingly well considering it probably wasn't easy parting ways with someone you loved throughout your 20s. Just looking at her post-breakup — chilling with friends, wearing sexy outfits, moving on — made me feel reassured. Deep down I knew that no matter which direction my relationship went in, I would be OK, just like she was.
Long story short, things got better between my boyfriend and I. We worked out whatever issues we were having, which made our relationship stronger, and this past September, he became my fiancé — proving, once and for all, that some people really do date for nine years before getting engaged. (Seriously, screw societal pressure and do what works best for you — no one else knows or has experienced your specific situation!)
On the flip side, things seem to be going just fine for Hudgens — and Butler, too. She's now in a relationship with baseball player Cole Tucker, who she brought to the premiere of her new film, Tick Tick…BOOM!, while Butler is playing Elvis in 2022's biographical musical (and was spotted making out with Lily-Rose Depp last summer).
I'm also in the process of moving onto a new spiral: celebrities who had kids in their mid to late 30s. Please send all the names, thank you.
Breakups That Broke Us is a weekly column about the failed celebrity relationships that convinced us love is dead.
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