Of my several hobbies (yoga, painting, reading classic American novels and leaving two-star reviews on Goodreads just to feel alive), perhaps my favorite is trying to find the most miserable person at an awards show. For famous people, awards shows aren’t just parties; they’re also industry events that require attendees to perform civility and fun. Periodically, their masks slip — the camera catches them looking sour in the front row at the Dolby Theatre, and the gig is up. It’s the equivalent of going to your friend’s wedding with your new boyfriend, but somehow the two of you are caught hissing at each other in every single photo.
Last night at the Grammys, the one where Beyoncé won but also somehow lost, we met that couple. Nestled together at a table in front of a charcuterie board with too many grapes was The Couple You Just Wish Would Call It Already: Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck. A particular clip of the two has been circulating overnight: In it, Affleck whispers in his wife’s ear, looking bored, and she responds by whipping around to look at him, gently patting his chest with the back of her hand, seemingly scolding him. It could certainly be innocuous — I’ve certainly had more aggressive fights with the DHL guy — but it also looked like a woman trying to get her husband to just keep his shit together for three hours on a Sunday night. When Lopez notices the cameras on her, she stiffens slightly before plastering on a big smile.
This footage has only fed gleeful speculation that Ben and Jen’s marriage is like so many other marriages in the United States: a union between two people who kind of resent each other but have sunk too deep into the fantasy of their relationship. This is hardly the first time the two of them have looked like they’re being held hostage while at public events. TikTok users have been trying to read their lips in clips of the couple at the premiere of Lopez’s latest movie, Shotgun Wedding. Is Affleck, as the internet surmises, trying to convince her that he hadn’t been drinking, while J.Lo sips from a drink that some people think belonged to Ben? Who knows what the truth actually is? Not us, but we sure do love to think about it a lot.
What is clear is that these two suckers have created a relationship public enough that we can all theorize about any possible cracks. Boy, did they really lay it on thick when Bennifer 2.0 first launched: Their marriage was decades in the making! There were photos of them making out on the street and an abjectly weird marketing tie-in to a coffee chain! They were doing it all, loudly, for the rest of us to see. But based on the stern tiff they seemed to briefly have at the Grammys last night, the romance of the idea of a wedding has settled into the reality of marriage.
For those who have been tracing Affleck’s blank, dejected facial expressions for years (me), this development is a little familiar. The way he looks at this woman named Jennifer who is his wife is markedly similar to the way he looked at the first Jennifer who became his wife. Affleck and Jennifer Garner were often seen in public together looking sour and miserable until they split up in 2015. Now, Affleck is going to the Grammys as if by gunpoint, and Garner is tenderly caressing Rita Moreno. (Good for her.)
But there’s a difference in visibility. Garner and Affleck’s misery played out via fights in cars or on the side of the road, places where they thought they were unseen. Lopez is a far more public person. Their interactions unfold at camera-ridden events, launches, and parties, putting Affleck’s apparent moodiness on blast. Watching him at the Grammys was like watching the most dynamic woman you know have a great time at a party while her drag of a boyfriend tugs on the back of her dress at 10:28 p.m. and whisper-yells, “Can we GO yet?” This isn’t to argue that Lopez is in the right, but these glimpses of their dynamic make me want to grab Affleck by the lapels and say, “Sit up! She’s at a work event and she needs you to behave yourself! If you didn’t want to come, then just stay home next time, Christ!”
J.Fleck has steadily become my Zodiac killer, my Pepe Silvia. It is a mystery I have to solve. Nightly, I pore over video footage of the two of them like I’m going to solve the Kennedy assassination. My motives are not entirely pure — a year ago, I accepted defeat in my own marriage and had to listen to all my friends tell me that, for years, they saw it coming. They had seen us argue at their weddings and birthdays, and heard about the brittle little texts we sent each other when we bought the wrong yogurt. (Greek yogurt? With Indian food??? Please.)
For this A-list couple, the patina of a new relationship seems to have worn off, and it’s easy to project that the actuality of the relationship has dawned on them. Certainly, there is some perverse schadenfreude in watching two people who were once so aggressively and publicly in love struggle to swim through the shit of a promise intended to last forever.
I’m not rooting for their failure; we’ve all argued with our partner in public. I still take hawkish pleasure in surveilling every new interaction, any small sign of change in their relationship. If there’s ever evidence of a true rupture, I will sympathize from a healthy distance. Take it from me: There is real pleasure in finally admitting that your relationship has stalled and that your efforts are futile! There’s also comfort in knowing that, even in marriage, true hell is just other people. ●