Bennifer is back with a bang. You might be forgiven for wondering what exact year it is as paparazzi pictures surfaced of former 90s couple Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck kissing. As a general rule, I try not to wade in on celebrity love rumors, or speculate on their romances. I’m not here to broadcast the news of the screws, because even as public figures celebrities deserve some crumbs of privacy. And when you saw Bennifer’s official PDA you might have asked the same questions as me: Is this real? Is this an affectionate moment or a stage-managed peck? Are they really falling back in love? Is the whole relationship a glorious PR move by their teams? Is any of this any of my business?
I would never begrudge two complete strangers' love, it’s very much Bennifer’s business what Bennifer does. But I’m also trying to work out why we care, why this news of their conscious recoupling feels as electric as it does. Why in a world of constant celebrity relationship speculation, this one hits different.
It is, frankly, a perfect storm of a news story. It has no jeopardy, no malice, only hope and reminiscence. There’s the concentrated ‘90s-ness of Ben and Jen Part 1 and our suddenly insatiable appetite for that era. ’90s pics are the antidote to your doom scroll, the nice bit that doesn’t make you feel desperately sad. Much has changed since their original dalliance—J-Lo has twins and Ben’s acquired that massive dragon tattoo—but as a couple, they nearly pre-date the internet, reminding us of the organic way we functioned pre-apps. There’s also those accumulating-but-delicious Ben Affleck smoking memes, a man who looks perpetually fed up the second the cameras stop rolling, and incredibly sad at Disneyland. Not to wildly speculate, and no disrespect to the intervening years and women, but doesn’t it feel like he’s been properly sad ever since they split? I feel certain that losing Jen is the core reason for his well-papped exasperation. Then there’s J-Lo. The Jenny from the block J-Lo. The Hustlers opening striptease J-Lo. The let’s get loud at the inauguration J-Lo. This woman threw on a Versace dress and invented google images (sort of). This woman has lived. She had a big wobble with A-Rod but she’s back on her feet because she’s a survivor. What’s not to love?
Sorry to be a sap, but the final brilliant part of the story is love itself. We’re all human, and as we rebuild and grow, no matter how hard we try not to allow it, no matter how much we re-fall in love with someone new, we all think of the one that got away. You’ve pictured your what if? person as you read this I’m sure. The business can be completely finished, with no loose ends, but we all have a what if? somewhere out there wandering the planet without us. It’s not painful, just past, and we’re resigned to it. But Ben and Jen are a slim hope that the past doesn’t have to lay dormant. That one day, years from now, you and your what if might be in a circumstance that lets you love again.
Something about unfolding Bennifer events, this rekindling of an old flame, has got all of us het up. We are giddy. Even the most cynical of us, worn down by fake news and corrosive politics, wants this to be real. Want all Jen and Ben to be happy, we want the comeback. I can’t help but conclude that the return of Bennifer matters. It doesn’t matter like the covid vaccination rollout matters. It doesn’t matter like Pizzagate matters. But somehow, it matters.