HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 13: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez attend the Los Angeles Premiere Of Amazon MGM Studios “This Is Me…Now: A Love Story” at Dolby Theatre on February 13, 2024 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Lionel Hahn/WireImage)

Just like the opening of Jennifer Lopez’s movie musical This Is Me… Now — where the multihyphenate’s unnamed character and the mysterious love of her life (played by and representing Ben Affleck) are thrown from a motorcycle in a crash that symbolically breaks her heart — the real Jennifer Lopez might be on the verge of a break up with the real Ben Affleck. 

According to tabloids, Lopez and Affleck are on the edge of divorce, living separately, and extremely unhappy with being married to each other. He allegedly wants to have a life away from the spotlight, and she can’t stop living in it. 

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it’s all eerily similar to what happened 20 years ago when the couple, known as Bennifer, first broke up. After a magnetic first meeting on a movie set, the two began dating and quickly became one of the most sought-after celebrity couples. Gossip rags and paparazzi were there to capture their every breath. The couple eventually called it quits, blaming the outsize media attention for their demise. Based on what anonymous sources purported to be close to the couple have to say today, it feels like we’re once again back at the Bennifer precipice of 2004.  

Bennifer isn’t the first celebrity couple nor will they be the last, but they represent something rare in Hollywood: a real — and really dramatic — relationship. Something that wasn’t made for PR, but captures so, so much of it. They are two very famous people in love who have tried to live and love authentically in an industry where that’s extremely risky. Their relationship also reflects our fixation with realness and relatability: If they didn’t have either, we wouldn’t be so engrossed by them. 

Given the current media fervor, here’s a look at what the two represent — solo, together, split — that makes us so obsessed with them some 20 years later.

The complete relationship timeline of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, a.k.a. Bennifer

December 2001–November 2002: The birth of Bennifer

Affleck and Lopez meet on the set of Gigli, which begins shooting in December 2001. Originally, Halle Berry had been offered Lopez’s role, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflict with 2003’s X-Men sequel X2. Lopez is married to backup dancer Chris Judd at the time, but files for divorce in summer 2002, ending their 10-month marriage. Lopez and Affleck officially begin dating shortly after.  

The media refers to the couple as “Bennifer,” a combination of their first names. Allegedly, director Kevin Smith coined the portmanteau while directing the two on the set of his movie Jersey Girl. Bennifer starts a trend of the media bestowing celebrity couples with mashed-up nicknames like Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) and TomKat (Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes).

On November 5, 2002, Lopez premieres her music video for “Jenny From the Block” on TRL. The video stars Affleck, and is about how Lopez and Affleck can’t find any privacy. They’re hounded by paparazzi at every turn. The video is also a flex because they are styled elegantly and doing glamorous things like hanging out on a yacht and lounging by the pool with a bottle of champagne. The gist: Everyone wants a piece of them because they’re the It couple. 

November 10, 2002: Bennifer’s engaged 

In an exclusive interview with ABC News’s Diane Sawyer, Lopez confirms that she and Affleck are engaged. At first, Lopez plays coy, telling Sawyer that the two were very “secure” in their relationship. According to ABC News, Lopez calls Affleck during a break in the interview, and they decide to go on the record about their engagement. Lopez tells Sawyer that Affleck’s proposal “was traditional, but also in a very spectacular way, as of course Ben would do it.” 

August 2003–January 2004: Bennifer bombs out

Bennifer is now the most famous couple in Hollywood that isn’t married. Tabloids love them. Their wedding plans are in every magazine. Her engagement ring, a Harry Winston pink diamond the size of a meteorite, seems to have its own gravitational pull. The wedding is reportedly going to be a gigantic, multimillion-dollar Hollywood affair. 

The plan is to tie the knot in September, right after the August release of Gigli, the movie the two worked on together. People ostensibly want to see Gigli to witness the spark that created Bennifer, captured onscreen. Gigli, unfortunately, turns out to be an awful film, one of the worst movies that a group of humans has ever created. Critics ravage the often offensive idiocy of the script, its flat camera work, and its supernatural ability to bore.  It flops at the box office, bringing in only $7 million worldwide

Every tabloid focuses on how Bennifer was handling Gigli’s absolute failure. Then in early August, Affleck visits Brandi’s Exotic Nightclub in Vancouver, Canada. Reportedly Lopez is upset, but through their spokespeople, the couple says everything is fine and that he had always planned to go to the strip club. Whispers of Lopez’s uneasiness sharpen into tabloids declaring that there is trouble in paradise, and Bennifer is rapidly deteriorating ahead of their storybook wedding.  

Days before the ceremony, post-Gigli and post-Brandi’s, the couple sends an announcement officially postponing their nuptials. “Due to the excessive media attention surrounding our wedding, we have decided to postpone the date,” Lopez and Affleck say in a joint statement. “We felt what should have been a joyful and sacred day could be spoiled for us, our families and our friends.”

The couple officially calls it quits in January 2004. 

January 2004–April 2021: The solo days (kind of)

Apart, the couple moves on. Lopez marries singer Marc Anthony in June 2004; the two have twins in 2008, but divorce in 2014. In 2019, she gets engaged to former Yankee Alex Rodriguez, breaking up in early 2021. As of early 2021, her career is on the up, as she stars in Hustlers and performs at the Super Bowl. 

Affleck marries actor Jennifer Garner (a Bennifer reboot, of sorts, with new casting) in June 2005, and they have three children. After his public struggles with alcoholism, their divorce is finalized in 2018. Affleck’s career over this period is a little more uneven, with high highs and low lows — Argo, which he directed, wins the Best Picture Oscar in 2012, but he also becomes the reluctant hero of inescapable, existential sadness.

 April 2021: Bennifer reunites

In April 2021 — the same month that Lopez and Alex Rodriguez announce they’ve broken up — the pair reunite, reportedly after Affleck provides a glowing quote for an InStyle profile about Lopez. Lopez visits Affleck in Montana in early May, which is a big deal because that is allegedly one of Affleck’s most favorite places on Earth. According to unnamed sources, the reunion between the two is intense and the chemistry between Lopez and Affleck is, like the first time, indescribably strong. 

The public is rooting for the Bennifer reunion. Perhaps it’s the post-pandemic-lockdown earnestness or remorse over the general schadenfreude we seemed to feel at the end of Bennifer 1.0, but there’s a feeling that these two are good for each other. Her resurgent success is just what Sad Affleck needs. Post-A-Rod, Sad Affleck’s secluded life is just what Lopez needs. In a world that doesn’t make much sense, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez being together does. 

April 2022–February 2023: Bennifer engaged (again) and finally married 

Around a year after Bennifer reunite, the pair informs the public — via People — that they are engaged in April 2022. Lopez also teases the news in her personal newsletter OnTheJLo. A few months later, in July, the two marry in Las Vegas

The wedding is the complete opposite of the one the couple postponed and never had 18 years earlier. Instead of a full-blown, glitzy affair, the ceremony happened on a seemingly random Saturday in Sin City, taking the public by surprise. The small, unannounced, private nuptials seem to symbolically suggest that Affleck and Lopez realized the deleterious effects of media hoopla from 2004 — that they have grown up and are doing things on their own terms. The wedding adds to the idea that, this time, Bennifer are two people who have learned lessons about love and life and are determined to make it work. They seem more destined than ever.

In August, the two have a second wedding ceremony in Georgia. 

“We moved in together, the kids moved in together, so it’s been like a really kind of emotional transition,” Lopez tells People about her 2022. “But at the same time …  all your dreams coming true, it’s just been a phenomenal year.”

February 2023–February 2024: The honeymoon phase

The way Affleck makes Lopez happy and Lopez makes Affleck happy seems to be reflected in their public-facing personas. Affleck lands a Dunkin’ gig consisting of commercials that poke fun at his New England grump image (one includes Lopez). Sad Affleck would never make fun of himself like this. Only happy men have fun at their own expense. Meanwhile, Lopez not only launches and maintains a beauty line, but also begins work on an opus, seemingly ready to build upon the momentum from Hustlers and the Super Bowl. 

February 2024: This Is Them… Now

The way Ben Affleck’s breath smells after drinking Dunkin’ coffee, the exact shade of his phoenix tattoo when it’s hit by the Los Angeles afternoon sun, the way his voice shifts up an octave when he talks about the funny thing Matt Damon just did — these are some of the intimate secrets that maybe only Jennifer Lopez will ever know. But if you ever wanted to know how loving Ben Affleck makes Jennifer Lopez feel, Lopez’s three-part This Is Me… Now multimedia experience exists to be consumed. 

In an album and a movie musical adaptation of the album (titled This Is Me… Now: A Love Story), Lopez figures her love affair with Affleck like a myth from the ancient world: She compares them to Alida and Taroo, lovers from a Puerto Rican legend separated by fate and feuding families. 

Her first breakup with Affleck is reflected in a physically catastrophic motorcycle crash that breaks Lopez’s “heart factory,” a steampunk-styled industrial foundry full of workers whose job it is to feed Lopez’s mechanical organ rose petals so that she can continue to love. With the help of a zodiac council (featuring Jane Fonda as Sagittarius), archetypal friends, a therapist played by Fat Joe, and a visit to the Bronx where Lopez meets her younger self and a hummingbird, her romantic cardiac complex is restored. 

With her heart machine full of rose petals, Lopez is ready to love Affleck when he enters her life again. Because she loves him now with a full understanding of herself, the motorcycle — the avatar of their love — does not crash. 

At the same time, Lopez releases the movie’s documentary accompaniment, The Greatest Love Story Never Told — all about the money she spent to tell us how in love she is with Ben Affleck.

As Lopez explains, she had to spend roughly $20 million of her own money to make the film because studios and streamers were not interested in the allegorical retelling of her marriage. The doc, which some critics say is an example of Lopez’s blazing narcissism, makes a case that the only thing that Lopez loves more than Affleck is being able to tell the world about Affleck. 

Lopez doesn’t seem to care whether that is what the world wants from her. 

“It’s not like anyone is clamoring for the next J.Lo record,” Lopez tells the camera person in a moment of blistering self-awareness, before using the film’s other 85 minutes to spend a small fortune to not only give people that record, but an album and two films that no one is “clamoring” for. 

The most prescient and icy observation in the film, though, belongs to Affleck. It’s about his wife’s need for fame. He likens her constant performance — whether it’s acting, singing, dancing, playing the Super Bowl halftime show, or even making this documentary — to an addiction. 

“The thing you discover, like you do … with alcohol, is that there isn’t enough alcohol in all the liquor stores in the world to fill up that thing,” he says, astutely connecting Lopez’s need for celebrity to his own battle with drinking

“And I think in Jennifer’s case, I don’t think there’s enough followers or — or movies or records or any of that stuff — to still that part of you,” he adds. 

While promoting her films, Lopez talks about her reservations about having Affleck participate in the doc. He had told her that revealing so much of her personal life was not a choice he would make. She says that including him in the doc and showing his personal feelings — like that addiction comparison — was frightening but necessary. 

“I told him he was crazy, not me. But I know that I’m a crazy one. I get that part,” she tells a Los Angeles audience in February. “But I really feel like as an artist, you have to be vulnerable. You have to, even when you’re playing a role, have to get down to the real parts of yourself to share what it’s like to be human. And that is a scary thing to do.”

Lopez’s multimedia art project turns out to be a bust. Even though the movie musical received surprisingly good reviews, it failed to have a lasting impact. The album is the lowest charting one of her career, and her accompanying arena tour suffered dismal ticket sales. As Variety reports, Lopez rebranded the concert as a greatest hits show in an effort to sell more seats. The timing of Lopez’s magnum opus flopping is strangely akin to the way Gigli took a nosedive when Affleck and Lopez were together in 2004. 

May 2024: Bennifer separation rumors begin (again)

In the celebrity tabloid world, people are paid to watch certain famous people’s every move. According to a People magazine report this month, Bennifer has not been photographed together for 47 days. There are also reports that the two are currently living apart, and even though Lopez was recently photographed with a wedding ring on, the undertone was that she was doing it to hopefully quash the insistent rumors that they’re going through a rough patch. 

Through a variety of unnamed sources, the problem between the two is, once again, the ongoing attention from the media. A source told Entertainment Tonight that Affleck feels as though his wife is too engaged with being a celebrity. 

“Ben feels like Jen has a hard time feeling satisfied and that’s one of the issues they’re facing,” the anonymous source told ET. “Ben is one of the only people who feels comfortable enough to be honest and real with Jen. It’s part of why Jen loves him, but also why she’s upset with him.”

That quote is extremely similar to what Affleck said in the documentary: that no amount of attention or praise is ever going to be enough for his wife. It’s also aligned with the ongoing narrative about Affleck and Lopez. He wants a quiet life away from the spotlight. She wants to be a star. 

Another anonymous source echoed that statement with People, telling the mag: “She likes to open her heart to her fans and to the world. He is more introspective and private. This has been difficult day-to-day.”

The outlook for the two doesn’t look good. Page Six had a scathing quote from an insider, asserting that Affleck is just about done: “If there was a way to divorce on grounds of temporary insanity, he would. … He feels like the last two years were just a fever dream, and he’s come to his senses now and understands there is just no way this is going to work.”

Neither Affleck nor Lopez have officially commented on the state of their relationship. Lopez was asked about divorce rumors though as she’s on a promotional tour for her sci-fi movie Atlas. She dismissed the question, saying it was inappropriate. 

Why we care so much about Bennifer

Hollywood is an industry where we don’t see many people genuinely be themselves. Actors make a living and win awards on how convincing they are playing someone else. From auditions to promotional tours, they’re constantly selling themselves, luring people to buy into their public personas. And while it seems like we have more access to celebrities’ personal lives than ever — everyone is on Instagram at this point — it’s an illusion that masks how curated these people’s lives are and how carefully they’re presenting themselves to the public. 

The thing about Bennifer is that it genuinely feels like Affleck and Lopez do love each other in a very authentic way. After the first go-around, their agents, managers, and inner circles would have advised them against getting into a relationship because that’s not good business. 

Why would someone with a logical mind risk going through another round of bad press and harsh scrutiny? Why would someone spend $20 million of their own money making a movie about getting back together? Why would someone who hates the spotlight publicly get married to one of the most famous women in the world and star in her documentary about them? 

And to risk this all for it to possibly blow up in your face? Again? 

That has to be love, right?

Despite the millions of dollars and awards and homes in Montana, this makes Bennifer strangely relatable. So many people were so invested in them getting back together because, despite the trappings, it feels like a love story that could happen to anyone: getting a second chance with your soulmate because you’ve both learned from your past mistakes. Their story is enough to make us wistful for a romance we’ve had or maybe even ones that we haven’t had yet. 

Tough times are relatable, too. While a fairytale reunion with the one that got away can be a story that resonates, so can the experience of getting back with an ex only to have it implode. Loving someone immensely is different from having a loving relationship with them. Perhaps we don’t always change and learn from our mistakes. Watching it play out with Affleck and Lopez just makes it all that much clearer. And we can’t stop watching because we need to see how — and if — it all ends. 

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Author: Alex Abad-Santos