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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

Paramore's Hayley Williams Joins Roster of Famous Women Opening Up About Toxic Exes

Williams told the New Yorker that her declining physical health was what signaled just how bad things had gotten.

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Photo: Owen Sweeney (AP)

Having a toxic ex is (unfortunately) not uncommon, and too many people have suffered in silence. But now, it seems that many famous women are making an effort to change that, with many recently opening up about how these situations impacted their lives. In January, Anna Kendrick broke down the complicated situation of having embryos with a “toxic” ex, and last week, Lily Collins appeared on a podcast and discussed how the behaviors of a verbally and emotionally abusive ex from over a decade ago still trigger panic and anxiety for her today. And in an interview with The New Yorker published Sunday, Hayley Williams discussed her own toxic marriage, getting divorced, and how she channeled both experiences into her music.

Williams and New Found Glory guitarist Chad Gilbert dated for eight years before they got married in February 2016. They were divorced by July 2017 and, in a 2020 Rolling Stone interview, Williams admitted that she felt a lot of shame around the fact that their relationship began when Gilbert was still married to someone else. She thought that getting married would gloss over their relationship’s rocky beginnings, but ultimately said that they shouldn’t have gotten married at all.

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But it took Williams a long time to process all of this and, though Paramore’s 2017 album, After Laughter, was widely understood by listeners to be a “depression album,” Wiliams told the New Yorker that, at the time, she had no idea she was channeling depression in her songwriting. “I was so in denial! I was very ignorant about what depression really looks like in your day-to-day life,” she said.

“I wasn’t really aware that I had anything more than just some bad days,” Williams added.

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“It was my physical health that jolted me awake,” she told The New Yorker. “It helped me to get out of a toxic, bad relationship, but it did not answer any other questions for me.”

But while going through her divorce, her body showed the reality of the trauma she was going through: “It was my physical body that started demanding that I pay attention to choices I was making and ways I was living my life: people I was around, my past relationships,” she explained. “All those things that I ignored—my body didn’t want me to let it go. So it kind of broke down on me. That looked like an adrenal crash, and I had to manage my cortisol levels.”

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She was diagnosed with PTSD at an intensive treatment center in 2018, and it wasn’t until then she realized she had so much still to process from her relationship with Gilbert.

She recounted to the New Yorker:

I really needed someone who wasn’t my family but was an older, wiser figure to hold me in that moment, and say, ‘This really affected you. Not only your marriage but things you went through that you’ll never really talk about.’ I’d make passing jokes about all my family’s divorces, running away, and all that shit. Those are huge things! I know that now, but it wasn’t really a topic I thought I needed to research very much until I got into what I wanted to be a really good relationship, and we weren’t healthy enough for it.

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While I wish that having shitty exes was a far less common experience, seeing popular artists speak so openly about trauma and healing gives me hope that others will feel empowered to do what’s best for themselves.