McIlroy and Wozniacki: the trials of a private life played out in public

It’s never easy to end a relationship, even more so when that relationship has been so vocal on social media

In happier times: Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki

In happier times: Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki


“The problem is mine. The wedding invitations issued at the weekend made me realise that I wasn’t ready for all that marriage entails. I wish Caroline all the happiness she deserves and thank her for the great times we’ve had.” Ooof.

That’s how Rory McIlroy informed the public that he had pulled the plug on his engagement to tennis player Caroline Wozniacki. The two sports stars – McIlroy, 25, a former world number one golfer and a winner of the US Open in 2011 and the PGA Championship in 2012, and Wozniacki, 23, a former WTA number one – had been in a relationship since 2011, and got engaged last New Year’s Eve.

It’s never easy to end a relationship, especially when it’s dramatically close to a wedding, and even more so when that relationship has played out so publicly. The extra stinging detail of the wedding invitations already being sent out, feeds into a soap opera narrative we so often project on celebrity couples. That said, the young couple were noted for expressing their affection on social media, particularly Twitter. When certain aspects of the relationship happened so publicly, the privacy they seek – McIlroy’s statement said he won’t talk about the relationship “in any setting” – will be difficult to maintain now that it has ended.

There’s a strange contradiction in some celebrities (although at least McIlroy and Wozniacki are actually famous for doing something) ranting about privacy, yet simultaneously making their lives so public on social media. Being at the helm of your own Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts might give a celebrity a sense of control, so instead of the door being pushed by prying paps, it’s swung open by the individual. However, the result – publicity and an invasion of privacy be it an unwanted or collaborative effort – is still the same.

So why the wobble? Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist specialising in couples and families. “I suppose it’s not unusual in the sense that many people get very close to commitment and then they stop,” Murphy says, “In our world, that fear of commitment is really large. You know it’s the right thing, and you take all the right steps, and then you get to it, and then the fear of ‘what am I committing to?’ takes over.”

McIlroy was probably wise to call a halt to something he says he wasn’t ready for before the couple was further down the line. “For example, I know somebody who had this question in their head ‘what if I regret this, what if this is the wrong decision, what if I wake up in five years time . . .’, she actually left her husband the day after they got married,” Murphy says, calling her emotional state “the fear of future regret.”

“When we have fear, we run or we freeze . . . the problem is, making a decision from that place mightn’t be the best thing because you could be wrong. We want to be good people, we don’t want to be the baddy who leaves, we want to be good, and that part of our selves goes along with things, either ignoring this feeling that’s saying ‘question mark, question mark’ until you get whacked with it. The woeful thing for them is that it’s so public. The difficulty is that anybody close to a wedding is public anyway, but the whole world getting involved along with their close community and friends must multiply the stress enormously.”

If the relationship isn’t on stable ground it’s not unusual for couples to commit to large steps along the traditional trajectory of a relationship – moving in together, getting engaged, getting married, having a child – and then pushing the eject button, Murphy says.

“That is quite common because you think that it’s going to get better and this is going to fix it. We all would have a good sense of how dangerous that is. I think you get what you practice. If you’re good at trusting relationships and practising commitment and trusting your feelings, that grows and you get better. But if you’re good at doubting and being fearful, you’re also going to get better at that.”

Such a high-profile breakup may also serve as a cautionary tale for couples who live out their relationships online. Caroline Wozniacki tweeted a triptych of photographs soon after her engagement to McIlroy; a photo of a gigantic diamond engagement ring, fireworks erupting at Sydney harbour and a snap of the happy couple: “Rory and I started 2014 with a bang!” she tweeted, “I said YES!!!!” McIlroy followed with his own ecstatic tweet.

Last September, long before the days of the “no make-up selfie”, Wozniacki tweeted a rather unflattering photograph of McIlroy asleep with his mouth wide open, which might have been cute to share with some friends, but maybe not with over half a million “followers”. Their cutesie back and forths were familiar to anyone who rolls their eyes at couples Instagramming or Facebooking their love for each other.

So where does the social media presence end and the real, private, relationship begin? Everyone projects an idealised version of themselves on social media, and relationships are no different. The bliss we project with our online identities can often get confused with the mundane realities and untweetable joy that offline love can bring. McIlroy could easily be vilified too, but that would be incredibly unfair. Whether you’re famous or anonymous, no one ever knows what goes on in other people’s relationships, probably all the more reason why their “content” should remain private.

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