Katy Perry isn’t one to miss catching up with girlfriends. So on March 17 the pop star spent the morning hiking in Los Angeles with her pal Selena Gomez, then showed her support for the actress by checking out Gomez’s latest flick, Spring Breakers, at a movie theater. That same weekend John Mayer set up his own ideal night in Hollywood. The rocker was spotted at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre on March 16, hanging with close friends, including Saturday Night Live cast member Nasim Pedrad and comedian B.J. Novak, who performed that evening. “He was definitely low-key but looked like his usual self,” says an onlooker. “He was in a good mood and hung out in the lobby afterward talking to his friends.”
But one VIP (Very Important Perry) was missing from Mayer’s group—and has been notably absent from his side for almost two weeks. Following seven months jam-packed with relationship milestones—meeting the parents! house-hunting! a ring! (see right)—the once-inseparable couple have been spending time apart in L.A., showing signs that their romantic fireworks have flamed out. While reps for both Mayer, 35, and Perry, 28, had no comment when asked about the pair’s split, Perry may have said enough on Twitter. After gushing on March 2 during a getaway to Montana that “my boyfriend is taking me to a kitten shelter in his truck. I can’t think of a more perfect Saturday,” she was singing a very different tune on March 15. “Perfectly put, by Daughter,” Perry tweeted with a link to the indie-rock group’s single “Landfill,” which includes the lyrics, “Throw me in a landfill/ Don’t think about the consequences…I want you so much, But I hate your guts I hate you.”
Of course, Mayer has earned a reputation as Hollywood’s most outspoken heartbreaker, with a string of on-again, off-again romances with A-list women and a history of comparing his ex Jessica Simpson to “sexual napalm” and unwisely addressing his relationship with Jennifer Aniston in an impromptu press conference outside his Manhattan apartment. So when friends found out last summer that Perry had set her sights on him, worry set in. “It’s like wanting to find a solid guy and going to a meat-market bar to find him,” says the Perry pal.
And Perry had found herself in love with another Mr. Wrong before. As her 14-month marriage to actor Russell Brand, 37, unraveled in 2011, “I started to realize … that fairy tale that I had is not true for me right now,” Perry confessed through tears in her concert movie Katy Perry: Part of Me. Telling fans in the film that her perfect partner is someone who “won’t be threatened or have weird motives,” Perry hinted that her soaring success (she is one of the top 5 highest-paid female musicians of 2012, according to Forbes) was a cause of friction with Brand.
Some say the same tensions rose between Perry and Mayer. “He’s very defensive and comes across as extremely jealous of her career,” says one Perry insider. “He’s basically using Katy, who fits into his plan to stay in the spotlight right now,” a source adds of Mayer, who has been recovering from vocal granuloma surgeries and retreating to Montana while on vocal rest for the past year. “His whole moving-to-Montana stint didn’t get him the attention he wanted, and he has been going a bit crazy not being able to sing because of his vocal illness.” (A rep for Mayer had no comment.)
But those close to Perry contend that their mutual love of music brought them together. “They talked about music and food,” says the Perry pal. “They were trying to see all the Oscar-nominated movies together. They really do have things in common.” Adds the Perry insider: “It’s not like they were trying to outshine one another.”
When their relationship first took off last summer, though, “no one thought it was anything but a few casual dates,” says the Perry pal. Adds the insider: “It was a rebound thing after Russell.” In fact when the pair broke up for the first time after a few weeks of dating, “there was no drama,” says the Perry pal. “It was like, ‘Well, that was fun. See ya around!'”
Fast-forward two weeks and the pair reunited at the FYF Fest in Los Angeles on Sept. 1. “He called her out of the blue,” says the Perry pal. “And then it got serious really fast.” By February they were front and center at the Grammy awards, their first music industry outing together. Though they arrived separately, with Perry bringing her friend, Girls star Allison Williams, as her date on the red carpet, the couple reunited inside the show and hit the afterparties together, leaving no question whose arm Perry would rather be on. “He’s a better date!” Perry gushed to PEOPLE that night.
But is he a better man? Mayer himself has said he changed his womanizing ways. “I was 28 for four years,” he explained to NPR last year of his bad-boy behavior. “Now I just feel this capacity to love and to be happier.” And when rumors surfaced he was flirting and texting with other women behind Perry’s back last December, a friend came out to quickly deny the claims. “That is absolutely not true. John would never do that to Katy,” a Mayer source told PEOPLE at the time.
Regardless, the pop star is now behaving in the same way she did when her marriage to Brand ended. Surrounding herself with only her closest circle of friends, “she gets really withdrawn when there’s a change in a relationship,” says a Perry pal. “It would be all ‘Russell this’ and ‘Russell that.’ Then she suddenly stopped talking about him. That’s what has happened with John. She used to say things like ‘John’s working on new music.’ [Recently] she didn’t mention him at all.”
And for now their paths are only diverging further: Mayer will embark on a tour in support of his album Born and Raised, while Perry is in the studio working on a follow-up to her smash Teenage Dream. As for fulfilling her own dream of finding Mr. Right, “Katy would eventually like to settle down again,” says the pal. “She is worried about getting older, which sounds ridiculous considering she’s 28. But she does think about the long-term plans of marriage and babies.”