The Truth About Young Love in the Spotlight: 10 Confessions from Former Teen 'It' Couples

Former couples reveal what it was really like when the teen dream became their realities

Zac Efron, Vanessa Hudgens
Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens. Photo: Michael Bezjian/WireImage
01 of 10

Vanessa Hudgens on Zac Efron

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Hudgens dated Efron for five years during the height of their High School Musical stardom. They filmed three installments of the franchise, playing fictional couple Troy and Gabriella while thrilling fans with an IRL romance. "It started off really organically," the actress recently said of their relationship on The Hollywood Reporter's "Awards Chatter" podcast. "I could not have been more grateful to have that relationship at that time."

"We kinda blew up. It was this massive phenomenon all of a sudden and [all] eyes were on me," Hudgens continued. "And it's just a really weird foreign thing to go through, and by being in a relationship, I feel like it kind of kept me stabilized and grounded, and I had someone to lean on who was going through it as well."

Despite their supportive dynamic, Hudgens and Efron's relationship faced some bumps before their 2010 split.

"Of course, everything is not always happy and dandy," she revealed. "I remember one time we did have a fight and it was while we were at rehearsals. And I remember [director] Kenny Ortega coming around the corner with the most concerned look on his face like, 'Oh no, is our movie going to fall apart right now?' "

02 of 10

Justin Bieber on Selena Gomez

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The pop superstar called the former Disney Channel sensation his "baby" during an on-and-off 2011 to 2014 relationship. The pair also briefly reunited in early 2018 prior to Bieber's marriage to Hailey Baldwin.

In a2015 Complex interview, Bieber confessed that their relationship may have moved too quickly. "I moved in with my girlfriend when I was 18. Started my own life with her. It was a marriage kind of thing. Living with a girl, it was just too much at that age," he said. "But we were so in love. Nothing else mattered. We were all about each other. But when it's like that and you get your value from that, people will always disappoint you. Your girl or your dude, they're always going to disappoint you. Your full identity can't be in that person. My identity was in her. Her identity was in me."

"When stuff would happen, I would lose my freakin' mind, and she would lose her mind, and we would fight so hard because we were so invested in each other," the singer continued. "Love is a choice. Love is not a feeling. People have made it seem in movies that it's this fairy tale. That's not what love is. You're not gonna want to love your girl sometimes, but you're gonna choose to love her. That's something in life that I had to figure out."

03 of 10

Sarah Jessica Parker on Robert Downey Jr.

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Parker and Downey Jr. were just 19 years old when they embarked on a seven-year relationship in 1984. During that time, the Brat Pack member was in a battle with addiction that didn't end until he got sober in 2002.

"I learned how to take care of myself," Parker told PEOPLE about being with Downey Jr. during his struggle. "There was a huge amount of time spent making sure he was okay. At a certain point, I had the courage to say, 'I'm going to walk away and I'm just going to pray that you don't die.' "

Parker added that she "didn't know" about the actor's substance abuse issues "for a long time." "I was like, 'Why is his heart beating so fast? Don't do so many pushups before bed!’" she said

"I will say, I don't regret any of it," the star added. "I don't resent the time spent."

04 of 10

Blake Lively on Penn Badgley

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Sparks really did fly between the actors while filming the hit New York City teen series Gossip Girl. According to Lively, the relationship exacerbated the blurring of lines between fact and fiction.

"I remember there was one point where we were just afraid of how our personal lives overlapping our work life could be perceived by our bosses," Lively said in a Vanity Fair piece that reunited the cast and crew in honor of the show's 10-year anniversary. "[But then] we were like, 'Oh no, that's exactly what they want.' They wanted us all to date. They wanted us all to wear the same clothes that we're wearing on the show. They wanted that, because then it fed their whole narrative. People could buy into this world."

"At the time, I was wearing the same clothes and doing fashion shoots, and dating the same person that my character was dating … and because of that, what people were projecting onto me was that I was [my character] Serena," she continued. "We look the same, and we acted the same as far as they could tell, because I wasn't doing anything but that show. If [Penn and I] were photographed walking down the street, they didn't know if it was a paparazzi shot or if it was a shot from the show."

The pair broke up in 2010 after three years of dating, but managed to keep their split a secret on set. "The shocking thing was, I found out on the set of the season 2 finale that Blake and Penn had broken up months before," co-producer and writer Joshua Safran told Vanity Fair. "They kept it from everybody, which is a testament to how good they are as actors. Because they did not want their personal drama to relate to the show."

05 of 10

Joe Jonas on Demi Lovato

Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato
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The Disney darlings coupled up in 2010 after starring in the Camp Rock franchise together.

"One relationship that meant a lot to fans was the one I had with Demi Lovato, who I've known for years," Jonas wrote in a 2013 essay for Vulture. "We had been friends forever, we were both Disney kids, and because we played a couple in the Camp Rock Disney Channel specials — and fans liked seeing us together— we eventually dated for a month."

"I really got to know her and got to see the ins and outs of what she was struggling with, like drug abuse," he continued. "I felt like I needed to take care of her, but at the same time I was living a lie, because I wasn't happy but felt like I had to stay in it for her, because she needed help. I couldn't express any of that, of course, because I had a brand to protect."

06 of 10

Sophia Bush on Chad Michael Murray

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After meeting on the set of One Tree Hill, Bush and Murray tied the knot in 2005 but separated just five months later. In 2018, the actress told SiriusXM Radio host Andy Cohen that she had felt pressure from producers to marry her costar, saying "it was not a thing that I actually really wanted to do."

"Because how do you let everybody down? And how do you, what's the fight? And when you have bosses telling you that you're the only person who gets a person to work on time and 200 people either get to see their kids at night or they don't because our days start on time?" she said.

Murray later slammed his ex-wife's claims in a statement to PEOPLE.

"Chad conducts himself in a completely professional manner and would never marry for any reason but love," his representative said. "Thirteen years since his divorce from Sophia, he has a very happy family life with his wife and children. He has completely moved on and doesn't feel the need to engage in this type of behavior."

07 of 10

Kristen Stewart on Robert Pattinson

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The stars' actual relationship only added to the already out-of-control hype surrounding the Twilight phenomenon. Reflecting on her early career in a 2017 interview with The London Sunday Times, Stewart explained how she evolved from keeping her relationship with Pattinson extremely private to publicly opening up about her sexuality and dating women.

"I didn't talk about my first relationships that went public because I wanted things that are mine to be mine," she said. "I hated it that details of my life were being turned into a commodity and peddled around the world. But considering I had so many eyes on me, I suddenly realized [my private life] affects a greater number of people than just me. It was an opportunity to surrender a bit of what was mine, to make even one other person feel good about themselves."

"If it didn't seem like a relevant topic, like something that needed help, I would have kept my life private forever," the star continued. "When I was dating Rob, the public was the enemy — and that is no way to live."

08 of 10

Ryan Phillippe on Reese Witherspoon

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Witherspoon and Phillippe walked down the aisle just three months after the premiere of their steamy teen hit, Cruel Intentions. The pair share kids Ava and Deacon, but announced their separation in 2006.

"When we got together we were so young," Phillippe told Larry King in 2015. "I think it can create issues with two people in this industry because there's so much noise that goes along with it."

Witherspoon expressed similar feelings about their early marriage when she touched on it during a Lorraine episode two years later. "I got married when I was 23 and I had two kids by the time I was 27," she said. "So I don't know, you know, sometimes it's good to know yourself."

The actress added, "I would never change anything. I've said to my daughter, I think, you know, [at] 25, you start to know yourself a little bit better."

09 of 10

Harry Styles on Taylor Swift

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The chart-toppers lived under a microscope while briefly dating in 2012. "When I see photos from [our second date] that day, I think: relationships are hard, at any age. And adding in that you don't really understand exactly how it works when you're 18, trying to navigate all that stuff didn't make it easier," Styles reminisced about the romance in a 2017 Rolling Stone article. "I mean, you're a little bit awkward to begin with. You're on a date with someone you really like. It should be that simple, right? It was a learning experience for sure. But at the heart of it — I just wanted it to be a normal date."

"Certain things don't work out," Styles went on. "There's a lot of things that can be right, and it's still wrong. In writing songs about stuff like that, I like tipping a hat to the time together. You're celebrating the fact it was powerful and made you feel something, rather than, 'This didn't work out, and that’s bad.' And if you run into that person, maybe it's awkward, maybe you have to get drunk … but you shared something. Meeting someone new, sharing those experiences, it's the best s— ever. So thank you, [Taylor]."

10 of 10

Rachel Bilson on Adam Brody

Rachel Bilson and Adam Brody
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The O.C. stars dated for three years before splitting in 2006. "I just had absolutely no idea that all that — being on The O.C., dating Adam — was going to end up being so invasive," Bilson told Lucky magazine in 2012. "I don't mind being the center of attention as a character, but in real life it's not for me."

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