When you imagine classic, timeless love stories, the first couple that comes to mind probably isn’t Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Given the number of internet rumors floating around about their relationship being a business arrangement or merely a set-up for reality television, they aren’t most people’s vision of an ideal couple.
For those who have chosen not to watch their movements up close, a primer: After Kim’s quickie marriage to NBA star Kris Humphries ended, Kim and Kanye, who had been friends (though Kanye had a noticeable longtime crush on his future wife), became a couple. The first admission of their romance came in the form of a tweet with a hashtag and several emoji. The announcement of Kim’s first pregnancy came on a concert stage. One of Kanye’s song lyrics even proudly referenced how Kim became famous: via a sex tape (with another man). So you see where I’m going with this whole “not your average romance” thing, even for a Hollywood couple.
Now parents to two children, they have been in the news of late, and not for particularly good reasons. In October of this year in a dramatic robbery in Paris, Kim was held at gunpoint, an event that has reportedly rocked the entire family, her husband included. Evidently because of the stress of the robbery, and other extenuating mental health factors that remain unclear, Kanye was hospitalized at the end of November with that common celebrity diagnosis: “exhaustion.” He was only just released from the UCLA Medical Center, indicating maybe there’s more to the story than mere sleep deprivation.
In the LA Times, the story became a bit clearer:
“Apparently, support from wife Kim Kardashian has been West’s secret weapon for a while now, and her absence from his Saint Pablo Tour while she dealt with the aftermath of a life-threatening armed robbery in early October had made a major difference.
‘This has been going on for years,’ a source told People on Monday. ‘In the past when Kanye seemed to struggle, no one took it too seriously. The attitude was more like it was just Kanye being Kanye.’
Sans Kardashian, however, he ‘wasn’t able to snap back,’ the source said.”
The Kardashian family is known for turning even serious medical events into reality show fodder. The matriarch of the family filmed her recovery from plastic surgery in advance of Kim’s wedding to Kris Humphries. When Kim’s sister’s estranged husband Lamar Odom experienced a near-fatal drug overdose, the family made a show of going in and out of the hospital to visit him.
The Kardashian-West wedding was anything but traditional. It cost almost $3 million and the pastor who officiated, Rich Wilkerson Jr., wore a sweeping and dramatic golden cape.
But in the ceremony, the two made the same promise as every other husband and wife: to be together, ‘til death do they part, in sickness and health. Given the epidemic of divorce, not just in Hollywood but also in America more generally, that promise doesn’t mean as much these days. In the West household, however, if the real story behind Kanye’s unexplained illness is that he was so upset about his wife’s traumatizing experience that he found it difficult to function—and that his wife is devoted enough to stand by his side and help him back to health—then those vows must have meant something.
Especially when it comes to the Kardashians, a healthy amount of skepticism is advisable; it’s never totally clear how much of their lives is part of the act that has helped them monetize being famous simply for the sake of being famous. What is telling about this medical episode, however, is that it only occurred after Kim’s departure from West’s side after the robbery, and that even medical professionals at one of the best hospitals in Los Angeles deemed it necessary to maintain in-patient treatment for West, including during the Thanksgiving holidays. With the suspension of taping of their reality series, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, we might be seeing the most real version of the Kardashians yet. It’s no coincidence that these are the first few weeks of their lives that haven’t been heavily documented on reality television or social media.
For the couple, the chips are down, and even withstanding the hardship of both a traumatizing robbery and its emotional aftermath, they are proving their love is built on a firmer foundation than celebrity-watchers have predicted. While there is much about the pair that makes more traditionally-minded Americans recoil, it’s clear that at least as far as their commitment to their vows and to each other are concerned, their wedding might have been a show, but the words they exchanged at the altar were anything but mere lines.