November 26, 2012 12:00 PM

Fans who were chosen to meet Selena Gomez during a Nov. 11 appearance at a Kmart in White Plains, N.Y., were given one firm directive: No questions about Justin Bieber. Although news of her split from the pop superstar had gone public two days earlier, “Selena had a smile on her face the entire time,” says high school senior Daniela Hernandez. “I said, ‘Everything is going to be okay. Your ‘Selenators’ will always be here for you.’ She said, ‘Thank you so much.'”

While Selenators and Beliebers variously reacted to the split with sympathy, shock and unabashed glee (sample tweet: “@justinbieber This is crazy but you’re single now so date me maybe?”), the two young stars have kept their feelings more hidden. When asked about the split on Nov. 10, Bieber, 18, who’s on tour, told radio host John Garabedian, “I don’t know really what’s even going on in my life, so…to even assess [the breakup] doesn’t make sense.” As for Gomez, 20, who broke things off around Halloween amid “trust issues,” a source who’s spent time with the former couple says, “She’s strong and she’s sad”-but she’s pressing on. “She has a lot of commitments and she’s following through. She has family and good friends around her too.”

After nearly two years of dating, what went wrong between pop music’s unofficial Prom King and Queen? “Their lifestyles are changing,” says a Bieber pal. “She’s getting more reserved, and he’s getting into his wild-boy phase.” When the pair first got together, he was pop’s newest star (and, y’know, barely old enough to drive) and she was a Disney Channel darling thanks to her starring role on Wizards of Waverly Place. “He liked that she was beautiful and hardworking,” says a music industry source. “She thought he was gorgeous and talented, and she was giddy over him.” Though his mother, Pattie Mallette, 38, told PEOPLE in September, “I really like her. He has really good taste,” not everyone was convinced they were a perfect match, including some of his rabid fans, who hurled online death threats at Gomez. The singer-actress’s own “professional jealousy” was a cause of tension, says another industry insider, a notion the source close to the couple calls “insane.” While a postpubescent Bieber became swaggier, Gomez (who scored a hit with “Love You Like a Love Song”) focused on expanding her career, with movies, a fashion line and fragrance. Adds the source who knows them: “With them being apart so much, it got complicated.”

And yet Bieber was hardly shy about flaunting his commitment to Gomez, telling Oprah Winfrey in an interview set to air Nov. 25, “I never make her separate from me [because] I don’t want her to ever feel like I’m ashamed of her.” Still, as grown-up as their relationship seemed-she wore a sparkling “J” ring; he rented L.A.’s Staples Center for a private Titanic screening-the music industry source notes, “they are kids. It was as serious as something could be for two people their age.”

In the wake of the split, Bieber has been acting like a man about town. On Nov. 7 he basked in attention from the models at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, where a source says he asked for model Candace Swanepoel’s number. The next night he was spotted picking up two young women at Manhattan’s Alex Hotel-one was model Barbara Palvin, 19-then headed to a Broadway performance of The Lion King, where they joined a larger group. He and Palvin entered separately, and she later tweeted, “hey everyone. please calm down. he is all yours!!:)”

Now that the teen idol is single, the Bieber pal predicts, “the ‘friend’ card is going to be played for a while. His camp is smart; it’s all about his brand. He’s not going to replace that love right away.” Might he and Gomez reconcile? “The trust stuff is a significant factor,” says the source who knows them, but adds-quoting a Bieber hit-“Never say never.”

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