What if Romeo and Juliet had lived? Their love could have lasted for all time. Or, he could have dumped her six months later for some hussy called Violetta.
That's not the way Shakespeare wrote it — and with reason. Once a famous couple becomes a fixture, the public can't bear to witness their relationship fall apart.
"These people, we see them as heroes, not only of our own culture, but also of our own personal lives," says "flirtologist" Jill Spiegel, a relationship and pop culture expert and author of Flirting for Success.
"We identify two people as a duo," says Gilda Carle, author of Don't Bet on the Prince! How to Have the Man You Want by Betting On Yourself. "When that duo comes apart, we feel as though our own lives are splitting up."
That's why, when a couple like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman split, the public feels personally let down.
"Everyone is really sad," says Spiegel. "They seemed so solid, so unified."
You Broke My Heart and Bruised My Psyche
When another Hollywood power couple, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, headed for divorce court, there was less surprise, says Spiegel. "Demi and Bruce both seemed to live such large lives. But Tom and Nicole always seemed really private."
Cruise and Kidman had been married for 10 years and starred together in films such as Days of Thunder, Far and Away and Eyes Wide Shut.
"If couples have been together for years, it almost bruises the American psyche" when they break up, says Anthony Mora, president and CEO of Anthony Mora Communications, a media relations firm in Los Angeles.
"There is a false sense that you know these people," he adds. "If you believe you know them, you believe you know what's best for them."
And it's hard to fathom that movie idols may have trouble keeping their relationships intact, just like any other mortal.
"We pedestalize these people, put them on pedestals, to the point they are not real people," says Carle. So if one half of the former perfect couple leaves and finds someone else, "we go back and question our own lives, how solid are they?"
When couples who seem to share a great love break up, says Mora, "they are wounding the fantasy in us."
"People are left with a sense of 'we were betrayed by this,'" he adds, even though "in the real sense, this has nothing to do with them."
He Loved Her, Yeah Yeah Yeah
When Paul McCartney, the "cute Beatle," married photographer Linda Eastman back in 1969, girls stood in the streets and wept. But as their marriage endured, they developed into an iconic couple. "That was a true ongoing love story," says Spiegel. "Every love song he wrote was for her."
When Linda died of breast cancer in 1998, fans grieved with Paul. So although many fans were happy for him, it came as a shock to some when he recently announced plans to marry former model Heather Mills.
"Some were saying, 'I can't believe he's found someone so fast!' Some people wanted him to grieve longer," says Spiegel. "It kind of hurts them" that he has moved on with his life, she says.
The public will probably get used to Paul and Heather, just as it got used to Paul and Linda. But it seems highly unlikely that Yoko Ono, who has tried to keep John Lennon's legacy alive for two decades, could move on to become one half of another famous couple.
"I think if someone does stay single for a while, it does become more problematic," says Mora. "If there is a death of a famous spouse, the longer it [widowhood] goes, the more it solidifies."