Out of hiding? Ariana Grande and Ethan Slater were pictured together on Saturday for a cozy date night in New York City. According to TMZ, which obtained images of the pair looking close at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, "they were super flirty and touchy-feely."
It was reported in July that Grande, 30, and Slater, 31, were dating as sources simultaneously confirmed their marriages to Dalton Gomez and Lilly Jay, respectively, were over. However, the timeline of the Wicked co-stars' relationship is a bit murky.
Jay, who welcomed her first child with Slater last year, was reportedly "completely blindsided" when he filed for divorce in July and claimed in an interview her family was "collateral damage" amid his high-profile romance. Anonymous sources disputed there was any overlap and maintained both parties were separated when they got together. Grande's divorce was finalized earlier this month. Whether it's warranted or not, there's been a scandalous cloud over the Grammy-winning singer's new relationship.
Crisis PR expert Ronn Torossian, founder and chairman of 5WPR, tells Yahoo Entertainment that "transitioning from a scandal-ridden divorce to a new relationship requires a delicate balance of authenticity and empathy."
"In this situation, Ariana Grande, more so than Ethan Slater, needs to focus on rebuilding trust with the public and her fans, and to accomplish this she needs to be patient in the progression of this new relationship," he explains.
"While there is no set timeline to follow a divorce or scandal, it causes more scrutiny when the parties involved jump into things too quickly. Grande's divorce was only finalized earlier this month, and while that makes their separation official, some might consider this still too soon to step out with Slater," Torossian adds. "Waiting longer to take the relationship public might convey more of a commitment to the relationship and portray a sincere narrative because it shows they're working on building and maintaining a life together rather than acting on a short-lived infatuation."
It sure feels like this is the start of Grande and Slater's relationship rollout.
A few weeks ago, Slater and Grande were spotted together at Disneyland with a group of friends, plus Grande's mother and brother. "All of her friends love him," an insider claimed to Us Weekly, adding that Grande and Slater are "really good for each other."
A nearly identical story landed in People. "They went with a big group of friends as well her mom and brother," a source shared, adding that they are "really happy and really good for each other."
"All of [Ariana's] friends love him," the insider added.
Kara Schmiemann, strategic crisis communications director at Red Banyan, weighs in on the situation to Yahoo.
"It would make sense to want to have a strategic rollout of your relationship — to help squelch any rumors that Ariana and Ethan both left prior marriages for a casual relationship," she explains. "They want to be seen as serious and committed. While there is no way to confirm these individuals were advised to [speak to the press] — these sources are currently putting positive messaging about the status of the relationship."
Why now? Of course, there could be no strategy behind it and Grande and Slater might just feel more comfortable to date out in the open. But the actor — best known for his role as SpongeBob SquarePants in the Broadway musical of the same name — has a new gig lined up. Slater joined the cast of Broadway's Spamalot, which is set to debut next month.
"They should keep living their lives — but laying low is advised," Schmiemann believes. "Their relationship is personal and private and doesn't need to rise to the level of a spectacle just because the public demands it. If Ariana and Ethan do continue to grow their relationship and keep stepping out in public — as every couple is entitled — they should keep former partners informed and give them their due respect and courtesy."
Grande and Gomez were married a little more than two years and don't share any children. He has not commented publicly on their split. Slater and Jay (high school sweethearts) were married since 2018 and their son is 1. Although she spoke to the press over the summer, Jay has been quiet in recent months. That also bodes well for Grande and Slater as the scandalous narrative surrounding their relationship seems to have died down.
"New romances are exciting and interesting — and if you are a celebrity, there's the added pressure of public interest, which raises the hype exponentially," Schmiemann explains. "Everyone should have the ability and right to debut their new relationship as they see fit, and when they feel it is appropriate — but you need to consider the implications carefully. This means ensuring your internal audiences are well-informed and at a place of acceptance, otherwise the backlash could be severe."