In the whiplash age of TMZ, there’s something to be said for the rare slow march to inevitability that was Tuesday’s official announcement that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner split.
The pair, who spent 10 years proudly reigning as the couple I most wanted to be the third wheel with at a wine tasting that went on for too long and suddenly we found ourselves in slap-happy BFF drunken bliss together, announced they will be filing for divorce in People.
I am upset.
“After much thought and careful consideration, we have made the difficult decision to divorce,” the couple said in a joint statement. “We go forward with love and friendship for one another and a commitment to co-parenting our children whose privacy we ask to be respected during this difficult time. This will be our only comment on this private, family matter. Thank you for understanding.”
Guys, their anniversary was yesterday. Are there enough sadface emojis in the world?
The two met as co-stars on the 2003 film Daredevil, which I was hoping they would one day convince me (probably at said wine tasting) that I should actually bother watching, and the public first saw sparks fly on their notorious episode of IFC’s Dinner For Five featuring the Daredevil cast, where Garner defended Affleck repeatedly against the barbs of pal Kevin Smith, going so far as threatening to kick his ass.
They are parents to Violet, 9, Seraphina, 6, and Samuel, 3, three children so beautiful, precocious, and whimsically named that I once saw a photo of them while extremely ill and, in the midst of feverish delirium, had the mad thought, “I could have kids someday.” They’re that cute!
All of this is to say that in the grotesque, vain, and publicity-seeking hellfire that is romance and relationships in Hollywood, Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck were a couple so kewpie-doll adorable—as if that stock photo family in picture frames you buy at Target had come to life—that they gave the world hope that super-famous people can really find true, lasting love in a hopeless place: Los Angeles.
And we’d all be kidding if we didn’t acknowledge that this wasn’t one of our nation’s—a nation that constantly frets over Taylor Swift’s serial dating and spent a generation wiping our brows because George Clooney had not yet found a bride—greatest concerns.
Now, goddammit, Ben and Jen are over.
Yes, their demise was foretold by breathless, incessant, and absolutely disgusting and invasive reporting on every sign of strife.
Affleck was apparently spotted out in Canada alone on Garner’s birthday, perhaps without his wedding ring. (!) Mother’s Day was spent apart, he with his mother and she with hers. (!!) Garner was running errands one May afternoon in Los Angeles, but instead of babysitting his kids Affleck was—Holy Batman—in Vegas gambling, returning the next afternoon “looking slightly worse for the wear.” (!!!)
Perhaps when we all stood around the watercooler the morning after the 2013 Oscars, dissecting, debating, and becoming deranged assholes over Affleck’s speech, in which he thanked Garner but a bit tone-deafly called their marriage “work,” we weren’t actually deranged assholes. We may have been right! Also, ugh.
So what does a celebrity marriage enthusiast do now (besides the obvious: collate a proper mourning wardrobe, and steam his finest black pants)?
The answer is simple: We forgo any delusion that this split isn’t going to birth that tired notion of celebrity “teams,” in which we divide ourselves to “root” for one member of the couple as they weather the breakup and rebuild their lives. Everyone is awful, so this will happen.
And so I am here to tell you which is the correct team. It is Team Jen.
While we may claim to sympathize with or bolster or stand behind women, particularly female celebrities, when they go through a high-profile breakup, the way we in the media have instinctively covered celebrity love lives for years automatically paints them as pathetic figures.
Affleck may ride his Batmobile in the distance, living the rest of his life as a swinging, studly bachelor, dutifully rotating his cast of It Girl flings of the moment along the way, and we will be totally down for that. But should Garner not find herself a new Happily Ever After—another marriage, duh!—we will act like the poor woman will never be truly happy again.
What is wrong with us?
We’ve done it with Jennifer Aniston after her split from Brad Pitt, and, god help us, we probably won’t stop until we shove her down the aisle to Justin Theroux ourselves. We’ve done it to Reese Witherspoon, Sandra Bullock, Britney Spears, and too many other female stars to count.
Each date these women go on after a breakup is reported on with juvenile glee. Could he be the one? No cheering for these women, not for a professional success or a personal triumph, is as loud as when they do find another long-term partner. Phew, they’re going to be OK.
Jennifer Garner is going to be OK.
Sure, there’s a growing pile of soggy Kleenex mounting in the wastebasket next to my desk as I reel from the news of this split. But it could also be the most exciting thing to happen in the career of one of the industry’s most consistently underrated and underused actresses.
A “source” is quoted in FOX411 (obviously this source could be total bullshit, but go with me) saying “Jen is excited to get back to work. She took a step back to focus on her marriage and family but wants to return to making more movies.”
Here’s the thing. I am still frustrated and upset that Garner’s tender, unexpectedly complicated performance in Juno didn’t get enough attention to make it a serious contender for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. I maintain that her performance in 13 Going on 30 should be considered as much of a star-is-born arrival of comedic star power as, say, Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde, Tom Hanks in Big, or, more recently, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids—all actors whose projects have been taken far more seriously.
Do I even have to rave about how her ferocious badassery shaded by her brittle humanity in Alias paved the way for Katniss Everdeens and Black Widows and the clones of Orphan Black to be taken seriously? Or remind you of the poignant, crucial role she played in Dallas Buyers Club?
Or maybe I do need to flag how admirable she is to pursue family-friendly projects that attempt to stick to that label and still appeal to adults, all while proving that heartfelt doesn’t have to be schmaltzy (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; The Odd Life of Timothy Green)?
Sure, like every actor, there have been stinkers—Draft Day, Men, Women, and Children—but few major Hollywood celebrities are as unexpected in their career choices as Garner. And few deserve to be choosing from a juicier, bigger, more respected buffet.
Ben Affleck is going to be Batman. He’s one of Hollywood’s most exciting actors. He’s a dude. Therefore, he’s going to be fine.
Jennifer Garner is going to be fine, too. It’s sad that people may need a reminder about that. But, hey, it’s a sad day all around.
I loved you, Bennifer. I love you even more, Jen.