When Chris Olsen went to visit Ian Paget in New York in March 2020, he was only supposed to stay for a few days. After all, it was his spring break and he still had to make it home to Maryland, because his school was shutting down for the rest of the year. Or, at least, that was the plan prior to New York becoming the epicenter of the pandemic, which meant he was quarantined with his boyfriend of just seven months for the foreseeable future.
Yet despite the circumstances, Olsen said it felt like a happy accident for the long-distance couple, who saw it as an opportunity to spend every day together before deciding to document their daily lives via his TikTok account. And the rest, he said, is internet history
Known for their loving interactions, social media challenges and quirky dance videos, the two were dubbed one of TikTok’s favorite couples and moved to LA together, where they continued to accumulate millions of followers thanks to their playful relatability and endearing banter, equal parts entertaining and heartwarming during a time when people weren’t able to interact with each other.
"There wasn't anything elevated or unreachable about us, except for the fact that Ian would say some ridiculous crazy things that people love to hear," as Olsen, 24, theorized. "But I think you could see yourself in either me or Ian. And I think people found a lot of comfort in that during the pandemic."
Last month though, Olsen and Paget, 33, shocked fans after announcing they called it quits in a joint YouTube video. Attributing the breakup to the "pressure" of being seen as a "perfect amazing couple," Olsen recalled the kind of comments and speculation that contributed to this during our Zoom conversation, explaining that "everyone was analyzing our relationship."
"Very early on, people were like, 'I sense a breakup coming,' and then others were like, 'If you two ever break up, I'm never going to believe in love,'" Olsen said. "That really lodged this idea in the back of my head that it would be really stressful to share any issues we did have with people, considering they're already picking apart things when we're not having issues. So what's going to happen when we do?"
The social media star also touched on how "suddenly being shipped together as this perfect couple" didn’t allow them a lot of time to "really get to know each other" or who they were aside from their relationship. And as Olsen added, codependency and having your "identity wrapped up in a relationship" can potentially turn toxic. In their case though, it caused more "confusion" than anything else, which was further intensified by the fact they shared a job that blurred the lines between work and their relationship — something that was "tough for us" as partners who wanted "little more separation in our jobs."
"We ended up moving so quickly. I think that would be hard for any couple, to go from long-distance to moving in together and living under COVID," he said, before adding that these "elements were what slowly played into us operating more and more as friends."
"It definitely was a slow burn,” Olsen said. However, he also went on to clarify that the split was a proactive decision born out of "a lot of love from both of us," rather than the fighting and festering resentment that often occurs in relationships that hang on past their expiration dates.
Jacket and shorts: Isabel Marant
After all, as Olsen noted, it wasn’t like they were trying to keep something alive that wasn’t working "out of fear," which he said would have led to "feeling stuck in a situation and thinking that we can never break up because we're an entity now." Especially because "people will say they 'don’t believe in love anymore.'"
"Just because we broke up, it doesn't mean there isn't still love there," he said. "What you saw in us, you should still be able to see and pick the good parts that you really resonated with, because those were real. My entire relationship isn’t negated just because of the way it ended."
In this vein, the exes have continued to reassure fans they’re on good terms and would remain friends, which Olsen said isn’t just lip service, seeing as how they continue to check-in and talk with each other on a regular basis. So while they may be operating under different accounts now, they’re still able to send each other memes and funny videos behind the scenes.
"It’s been lovely," Olsen smiled. "And it’s worked. It hasn't confused any feelings as I think a lot of people might be assuming. There's so many different ways to break up and so many people have different perspectives on how you are supposed to act after a breakup."
Even so, the two took some time before publicly announcing their split in order to give themselves space to process what happened. But despite "mentally preparing" himself for the public’s response, Olsen — who struggles with anxiety and depression — said uploading the video was still an extremely nerve-wracking ordeal and one he found "disorienting and overwhelming" in between the onslaught of DMs and seeing their names trending on Twitter. As someone who’s always wanted "every single person to love me and to feel loved by me," he also had some fears surrounding the knowledge that "people were going to want to pick sides and create drama out of it."
"We kept saying that we don’t want this from you guys, but to watch it still happen is just really interesting, psychologically. To think, 'Wow, humans really have this hunger to watch someone go down in a way. We almost want to watch someone fail,'" he said, mentioning that "there were so many comments that I looked 'too upset' in our breakup video."
Still, he also said he was "overwhelmed by the positivity" that was coming his way as well, with many fans writing that they were still eager to see what he would do in the future. And according to Olsen, it’ll be a lot more content about mental health education and awareness, which he started making about two months ago to plenty of positivity.
"It’s something I was always interested to share early on, because I feel my anxiety tells me that it's actually impossible to hide, so it’s also important to share that as well. I need to be able to share how I'm feeling authentically and not try to hide that," he said, mentioning that "seeing how many people it helped solidified that it was a good idea for me to continue doing so."
Granted, Olsen said he also wants to tackle the oft-heavy topic with a "lighter" and more "comedic" touch, because then "people can be like, 'LOL, me too.' And maybe they're able to feel a little bit of relief, just knowing they can relate to someone." And it already seems to be working, seeing as how he’s already received a ton of DMs from people saying his videos got them to start therapy.
"I think it's been really cool to see that I've demystified therapy for a lot of people, because therapy is light," he said. "It can be a conversation with someone who feels like a friend and you can also have moments where you're crying, where you feel like it's the end of the world, and you have someone reflecting back to you what you're feeling and helping you work out those feelings.”"
He added, “I always leave every session whether I'm sobbing uncontrollably, or whether I laughed the entire time. Feeling like a huge weight was lifted."
And on that note, Olsen concluded by saying that he’d resolved to "put myself first" this year and is excited to continue creating content and leaning into his newfound passion for mental health advocacy — both for the benefit of himself and his followers.
"I'm trying to make 2022 the year of Chris, for Chris," he laughed, before adding, "I’m ready to move forward."
Welcome to "Internet Explorer," a column by Sandra Song about everything Internet. From meme histories to joke format explainers to collections of some of Twitter's finest roasts, "Internet Explorer" is here to keep you up-to-date with the web's current obsessions — no matter how nonsensical or nihilistic.
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