Jennifer Aniston pulled off what might potentially be the best-handled run-in with an ex of all time on Sunday, when she bumped into Brad Pitt at the SAG Awards. It wasn’t just any night, though—Jen had just won Best Actress in a Drama Series for her role on The Morning Show and wore a slinky white vintage Dior gown with the ease I can only muster for a night spent eating refrigerated cookie dough straight from the tube.
Photos taken backstage at the event show that on Jen’s big night, Brad was quick to remind her that he still exists, too—as hot men in Wayfarer sunglasses are known to do. (Brad also won for his work in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a film I have not seen but only men have told me is good.)
One enterprising photographer, who I humbly believe deserves at least a spot on the Pulitzer shortlist, caught a moment that immediately went viral. In a series of images, the two are seen exchanging pleasantries, but Jen ultimately moves away from Brad. As her back is to him, the actor and his stupidly pristine bone structure stare in her direction. She may be turned, but his hand still clutches onto her wrist.
It was a scene People dubbed “touching.” A Page Six “exclusive” called the body language proof that the once-couple’s “love never died.” Even my friend group chat, which skews decidedly Team Jen, was filled with platitudes about believing in love again.
Sure, I get it. The image, which quickly became a meme, is ripe for all kinds of projection. It’s a visual explanation for the reasons people follow celebrity news in the first place: tabloid stories are inherently human, just reports of normal life events happening to the genetically-blessed. Breakups, babies, becoming financially independent: they are just like us.
The Jen and Brad redemption narrative seems to live, perhaps fittingly, in the warped land of sitcom logic, where men can be total dicks to women for years and eventually, by the series finale, all is forgiven and she’ll quit her job to be with him.
I don’t see anything sexy in Brad’s hand gesture. At best, he just looks like any other midlife former bro grabbing the arm of a TGI Fridays waitress about to take the last mozzarella stick away. At worst, he’s grasping for control over a woman who luckily seems to have enough sense to head straight on to the next congratulatory cheek kiss.
I was 11 years old when Jen taught me everything I’d ever need to know about how to deal with disappointing men. She floated on from the Brangelina debacle gracefully, her honey blonde head held high, with the help of pilates, almond butter, and Smartwater.
Jen famously handled her shit with the type of nimbleness you’d expect from a yogi and native Californian. She retreated to her Malibu bungalow, spent time with her dogs, and tastefully posed nude for a glossy magazine, back when that was a requisite part of the Famous Female Healing Journey.
Brad and Angelina, who met on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, wasted no time getting cozy in various exotic locales and posing for a W photoshoot titled “Domestic Bliss.” In short, Brad was acting like that terrible boyfriend who wasn’t ready to commit—until two weeks after he dumped you and started dating the “best friend” you were always a little suspicious about.
“There’s a sensitivity chip that’s missing,” Jen would say of her ex-husband in a 2006 Vanity Fair profile. It’s a line I have paraphrased when consoling my own heartbroken friends, equally beautiful and accomplished women who succumbed to the charms of their own personal Brads or Jasons or Ethans or Joshs.
But Jen endured. She married again, then divorced, and kept working. She proved that nothing is permanent except for the fact that she will continue to grace the covers of grocery store tabloids for the rest of time. I’m only 24, and yet my face has aged harder than Jen’s has in the past 15. She looks so good that I’m not mad about it.
Brad married Angelina, had three children, and split for good in 2019 after a contentious divorce that included allegations of abuse, which were investigated, and later cleared, by the FBI. He then got sober. Despite the split, the couple still owns a $67 million French chateau and sell rosé because why not, they’re rich.
Due to my last name, I’d like to credit Jen’s resilience to a sturdy Greek-American upbringing; instead she has cited “years” of therapy as the key to her survival. As the case may be, my therapy has become the affirming site of Jen, at 50, owning her success this award season. Her acceptance speech was peppered with thank-you’s to friends and collaborators, not any man on her arm.
I can’t pretend to know how Jen feels right now. I’ve never met her. But the person I know best very well might be my preteen self, gap-toothed, wide-eyed, and sitting cross-legged in front of Entertainment Tonight, wondering what on earth kind of hope there would be for me if even Jennifer Aniston can’t find love. In tabloid reasoning, a woman’s success is intrinsically tied to her ability to keep a man interested.
Of course, part of growing up means unearthing the glorious revelation that a truly successful woman does not lose her mind over a dude who doesn't take his sunglasses off for photos. The sight of Brad and Jen at the SAG Awards is not romantic or a fantasy or a sign that you should go text the one that got away. It’s a reminder that some guys float in and out of a partner’s life, popping back in every once and a while like flat warts when they see things are going well.
Sure, I’m aware Brad Pitt looks fantastic these days, which is quite rude of him, considering all of this. But I’ll never subscribe to any reunion fairytales. Jen is better off without him. And we are better off without the dream of them reuniting.