On Saturday, Lopez celebrated her 52nd birthday with an Instagram photo dump on a yacht in Saint Tropez (where A-Rod was also spotted for his 46th birthday), capped off with a steamy shot of her and Affleck locked in a passionate embrace. The next day, pictures of the two appearing to replicate their famous pose from Lopez’ 2002 “Jenny From the Block” video flooded the zone. On Monday, Lopez was publicly rocking a brand-new “BEN” necklace (and this isn’t even the one he personally designed for her birthday) while shopping in Monaco. By Hollywood celebrity relationships standards, they’re just about ready to announce an engagement (again), which would certainly fit their current trajectory of reliving the highlights reel of their early aughts romance.
Listen, I understand the skepticism surrounding the relationship. Lopez and Affleck’s relationship is buying them a lot of public goodwill right now, and they both have movies coming out in the next few months — Marry Me for Lopez, and The Last Duel for Affleck — among many other projects. Hollywood has a long history of crafting fake relationships to boost box office numbers for its A-list darlings — and you don’t even have to go back that far. Though never confirmed as such, Kaley Cuoco and Henry Cavill’s 12-day romantic arc back in 2013, which very shockingly coincided with the release of Man of Steel, was widely considered to be a publicity ploy.
“I had no one following me until I met Superman. I’ve been in this business for 20 years, and my whole life, I could go anywhere, do anything. There had not been one paparazzi photo of me until like seven months ago. The recognition has been crazy,” Cuoco told Cosmopolitan back in 2014.
Right now, the love story we’re being given a front row seat to is almost too perfect But that’s exactly why I believe it.
Yes, this is a PR stunt. But what if it is one meant to cover a real relationship, not a fake one? If modern celebrity relationships are a battlefront, then Lopez and Affleck are laying down their tattered copy of The Art of War: if you withhold, the public will relentlessly pursue; but give the people what they want on your own terms, and they’ll move on. The best way to get any privacy as a celebrity isn’t to just hide. It’s to hide in plain sight.
These are two people that have a history spanning nearly two decades. It’s extremely unlikely that after 17 years apart, two very famous celebrities are going to pick up exactly where they left off in their previous relationship. But they know that’s what we want. We don’t want Bennifer, the later years. We want Bennifer just as we remember them, only revamped for Instagram. So, that’s what we’re getting. We have no idea what’s really going on in the privacy of their burgeoning relationship, but they appear to have realized that in order to even have one, they have to craft a smokescreen to hide behind.
It was a hard-learned lesson for both. After all, the main reason their engagement ended in the first place — at least, the reason the public is privy to — was the frenzied paparazzi and media attention that followed them wherever they went. "We didn't try to have a public relationship," Lopez told People in 2016. "We just happened to be together at the birth of the tabloids, and it was like 'Oh my God.' It was just a lot of pressure."
Affleck would go on to marry Jennifer Garner and have three kids before splitting and getting a very large phoenix back tattoo that Lopez has publicly described as “awful.” Lopez, meanwhile, married Marc Anthony, with whom she has two children, and continued building a multi-hyphenate creative empire.
But the aforementioned pressure hasn’t gone away. If the last few months have proved anything, it’s that our appetite for Bennifer content is bigger than ever. Whether they’re strolling in matching cream sets in the Hamptons or stealing kisses in Montana, we’re going to find them, we’re going to freak out , and we’re not going to stop talking about it. But there’s a wild card in play now: social media. Nineteen years ago, Lopez and Affleck were largely at the mercy of whatever tabloid narrative was crafted around them. Now, they can be in charge — and by they, I mean her. For months, Lopez has let the rekindling rumors swirl, without so much as a peep. She’s seen the reaction from the public build and swell. And then bam! With one photo, planted for her 167 million followers, she’s in control of the story. Is it the real one? Who knows? But it’s the story we want to hear, and if she gives it to us, she can go about her life, and we’re left Googling “Ben necklaces.”
In effect, social media has allowed for a rekindling of the old Hollywood star system — but on new terms. In the past, studios would literally build personas for people they wanted to make famous. You’d change your name, get your teeth straightened and hair smoothed, and craft an entire fake life for the public to hold on to. That’s how shy Norma Jean Mortenson, who wrote poetry in her spare time, became Marilyn Monroe, blonde sexpot. It didn’t matter whether or not it was true. (Although, in her case, the persona did prove to open up a dark path.) If the public believed it, it sold tickets and magazine covers. This is still happening today, but this time, we’re getting whatever versions of themselves celebrities want to put forward via their platforms. There’s Matt Damon, The Dad, and Lorde, The Onion Ring Reviewer. The middleman — be it tabloids or industry leaders — has been cut out.
There are those who would paint a sexist picture of Lopez as coldly calculating, crafting this story as a way to minimize fallout from her breakup from A-Rod. But not me. I think she’s savvy enough to see that if she does want to rekindle this old flame, she needs to control the oxygen levels. She’s a business woman, and part of her business is her love life. You want to build an authentic relationship in private as two of the most famous people on the planet? Then give us an aesthetic public-facing one to hold onto.
So, where does that leave the status of the relationship behind closed doors? Real or fake? Ultimately — does it really matter? The end result is largely the same. We’re buying tickets to Bennifer 2.0, and they’re giving us a great show.