Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez are back together after 19 years – and they aren’t the only ones. Why do some pairings work better the second time around?
I t is the latest revival from the carefree early 00s to brave the fire-scorched hellscape of the 21st century. The relationship between Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, AKA Bennifer, has roared back with a vengeance, with Lopez announcing their re-engagement this month, almost 19 years after they called off their wedding.
When two extremely famous people fall in love, “the story takes on its own momentum”, she says
When we talk about a couple’s chemistry, we usually mean something about sex. It is more literal with Affleck and Lopez, who create a compound that is far more compelling than Affleck or Lopez as single atoms.
Here is a precis for those who weren’t alive or paying attention two , while filming the universally panned romcom Gigli. Their subsequent romance led to Bennifer being defined on Urban Dictionary as “an attractive couple that have money, fame and beauty yet are still universally hated” and a “combination of two things that separately suck but when put together can achieve a level of sucking not understood by physics”.
Neither of those titles took, but the relationships lasted well into the 10s
But that was just how the cool kids saw it. To the mainstream media, the pairing was blessed, recalls Marie O’Riordan, who was then the editor of the lifestyle magazine Elle. “‘Will they break up?’ ‘Oh, they’ve got engaged?’ ‘What are they wearing?’ ‘Where’s the wedding going to be?’ It all plays out in front of you.”
Perhaps in response to the pitiless scrutiny of their engagement – performed to an unblinking audience, like Cinderella in a carriage of glass – they went a bit bonkers. Affleck popped the question in late 2002 with an engagement ring that was reported to cost $2.5m; Lopez called it “the most magnificent thing I’ve ever seen”. (She didn’t actually finalise her divorce from her previous husband until 2003, but it is not bigamy if you only get engaged.)
In 2003, they postponed their wedding “due to amolatina the excessive media attention”. By 2004, they had split up. She married Marc Anthony that June to become Anthopez, while Affleck to become Affgar.
‘E xcessive media attention” is a bit of a red herring. It is possible that the real problem was our general overinvestment in the romance, as with Posh and Becks (married 1999, still together) and Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt (). When everyone is wishing so hard upon a pair of stars, it must be hard to tell which feelings are real and permanent and which have been generated by the crowd.
O’Riordan was at Lopez’s second wedding, in Lake Como in 2001, to the dancer Cris Judd. “Quite a lot of the senior British press were invited and we were all dancing round the top table, going: ‘But they don’t even know me.’ They didn’t even look happy.”
When a couple is kiboshed by a context they can’t control, there may still be life left in the relationship. But is it a good idea to return to an old flame? How do you know whether you are rekindling something genuine or splashing around the lighter fluid of your life’s disappointment in an effort to reanimate something long since expired?
Susanna Abse has been a marriage counsellor for decades and is releasing a book on the subject, Tell Me the Truth About Love, next month. She has never seen one of these back-together couples professionally. “That’s an interesting thing in itself,” she says. “They’re not a very large demographic going to couples’ therapy.” But there is a richness to a shared history that we all instinctively understand, she says. “I once did a lecture series on intimacy and I had pictures of different kinds of couples – a couple in a sexual embrace, couples in families with their children, then older couples, laughing with each other. I asked people what they thought was the most intimate picture. It clearly wasn’t the sexual picture; it was this couple laughing together. That sense: ‘We shared something. We know each other. We have a special “in”. I can stretch all the way back to the essential you.’”