Wednesday, September 27, 2023

The Destructive Cycles of Ben Affleck and Why I Used to Love Him (And All Men That Needed Fixing)

As someone who had a crush on Ben Affleck for two straight decades, Alice O’Connell is rooting for him and Jennifer Lopez, aka Bennifer 2.0. But she can’t help but be reminded of all the times she fell for a guy who also needed fixing…

(First published in September 2021)

The late 90s were a big time for me.

Romeo + Juliet came out on the big screen in ’96 and I spent all my pocket money on seeing it FOUR times at the cinema and god knows how many times on video. Partly, yes, because it is a fantastic movie (I still swear by this today), but also because like everyone I knew, I had a massive crush on Leonardo DiCaprio. Besides draining my balance on movie tickets, I parted with even more cash to get every photo and piece of information I could get my fevered hands on in Dolly magazine.

Then, a year later Good Will Hunting came out and I saw it just once at the movies with my mum and was generally quite hum-ho about the whole thing. That is, until I watched the Oscars and began an unhealthy crush on Ben Affleck. Move over Leo, because there was a new crush in town. Ben was smart! Ben wrote a clever movie! Ben created his own success! Ben was one half of the cutest friend duo ever! Ben took his mum as his date to the Oscars! Ben was sweet! Ben was attractive.

Then Ben made Armageddon and it only cemented my crush on him – which would remain in place for, oh, yikes, maybe the better part of two decades…

In 1998, all I wanted was to be the Liv Tyler to Ben Affleck.

Yip, the fact that Ben Affleck for a long time was my celebrity crush isn’t something I’ve been too proud of in the years since – but if you were to take a look at the men I actually dated in real life, it begins to make more sense: there was the narcissist who had demons he refused to sit with (I could be the one to fix him!), the guy who was afraid of commitment (I could be the one to change him!), the guy who was lost in grief (I could bring him back to life!) – you get the picture.

I spent a long time – too long – chasing around and being driven mad by men who were unfixable, because they had no desire or intention of changing their broken ways. You can’t fix someone who doesn’t want to be helped and isn’t willing to put the work in themselves. Plus, NO relationship built on this premise is likely to have a great outcome.

But bizarrely, it wasn’t one of those relationships ending spectacularly badly (which they all did) that became my wake-up call. It was my celeb crush who finally got me to see this flaw I had in my approach when it came to dating.

If you’ve ever taken a good look at Ben Affleck’s professional and personal life, you’ll see a regular pattern – a self-destructive pattern of pain and madness and once I saw it, I had to break up with my celebrity crush AND reevaluate what I was doing in my real-life relationships.

See, Ben really only has two modes as far as I can see. One: The “crash and burn it all to hell’ phase – where his life seems to be going incredibly well and achieving success on all levels. Which is when, without fail, he steps in and completely obliterates it in a self-sabotaging rampage. Career going gangbusters, with box office hit after hit? To Ben, that means it’s time to make Daredevil, Jersey Girl and – the absolute worst – Gigli. Dating a superstar? Ditch her dramatically! Married to America’s sweetheart? Have a fling with the nanny.

His second mode is of course the “phoenix rising from the ashes’ phase (which, in case we thought he was oblivious to the cycle, he literally has a giant tattoo of on his back) where, yes, you’ve seen him at his lowest, but here he is getting his life back on track! He’s beaten the booze, beaten the gambling addiction, beaten the critics – he’s making the big movie comeback! He’s dating the up-and-coming A list celebrity! He’s getting the Oscar. He’s A-list again. He’s back on top!

Which is about when he shifts back into phase one and burns it all to hell again.

One of his most famous exes, Gwyneth Paltrow, who he dated from 1997 to 2000 was asked about Ben right after his wedding plans to J-Lo disintegrated (OMG can’t wait to talk about J-LO!!). And she said, “Ben makes life tough for himself. He’s got a lot of complication, and you know, he really is a great guy. So I hope he sorts himself out.”

Ben clawing his way back, in Gone Girl

And his ex-wife – the true saint that is Jennifer Garner who he was married to for just shy of 10 years – knows all about that “complication”. She’s the woman who describes herself as wanting to give a life of service, who is now a charity queen – and the one who drives him to rehab when he’s hit rock bottom, years after their divorce. She gave one of THE most stunning interviews of all time when she broke her silence on Ben to speak to Vanity Fair in 2016.

“I didn’t marry the big fat movie star; I married him,” she said. “He’s the most brilliant person in any room, the most charismatic, the most generous. He’s just a complicated guy. I always say, ‘When his sun shines on you, you feel it.’ But when the sun is shining elsewhere, it’s cold. He can cast quite a shadow.”

The story ended with one of the greatest quotes of all time, when she was asked about the garish, colourful full-back tattoo he has of a phoenix (which, he bizarrely tried to pretend was fake and for a movie for a while).

“You know what we would say in my hometown about that?” she said. “‘Bless his heart.’ A phoenix rising from the ashes. Am I the ashes in this scenario?”

“I take umbrage. I refuse to be the ashes.”

Now, I clearly haven’t been married to the man myself, but my take on Ben Affleck is that he doesn’t know how to be the big successful movie star and happy husband – he only knows how to be the underdog, clawing his way to the top. So, when he makes it there, he’s deeply uncomfortable – it’s not where he feels he belongs and he has to self-eject after a while.  

I have to fight my former self who just wants 30 minutes with him to understand what demons he’s trying to defeat or outrun. Does he think he doesn’t deserve success? That he doesn’t belong? That secretly everyone thinks he completely sucks so he might as well save us the effort of tearing him down and just do it himself?

Sadly, self-destructive behaviour goes hand-in-hand with addiction – which Ben now has a long history with. Self-sabotaging is often something learned in childhood, but can develop later in life if enough stress and anxiety accumulates – like, say, suddenly becoming a global superstar. And of all the self-destructive behaviours one can acquire, addiction has got to be one of the worst. It’s a one-stop shop for a short-term solution that leads to a hard-to-quit cycle that can completely obliterate your career, your home-life, your finances, your family, your relationships and your health.

Alcoholism is a terrible disease, and seems to go hand-in-hand with Ben’s self-sabotqge.

But, could things be turning around for Ben? Has he stopped trawling Raya and setting up paparazzi shoots with up-and-coming actresses and instead actually exorcised some demons?

LORD I hope so, because when I saw the news of his reconciliation with J.Lo I literally squealed.

Now, I love a bit of nostalgia – particularly when it’s the crazy early noughties – so I haven’t been able to stop myself from googling the heck out of the rekindling of Bennifer.

To cast our minds back for a while – to those early 2000s, it was a time when Ben and Jen were as big as it got – they were THE couple to first have their own joint name for the relationship. They were everywhere – every magazine cover, looking incredibly glamorous (even in paparazzi shots) which they even made fun of in her music videos. Her songs were everywhere, his face was on movie trailers, billboards and bus backs. They were even in a movie together! Their wedding was going to be huge! And then, days before it was due to happen, it was called off – and three months later their split was official.

Years and years later, J-Lo told Vanity Fair it was her lowest point. “I lost my sense of self, questioned if I belonged in this business, thought maybe I did suck at everything,” she said. “And my relationship [with Affleck] self-destructed in front of the entire world.”

How good would it be if this time they could make it work? That in the 17 years they’ve both lived some more life, fought some demons, calmed the heck down about finding fame and now have nothing to prove this time round.

Is this all wishful thinking, or could 2022 be the year that Bennifer actually works? God I – and my 2002 self – truly hope so.

[Main image: Instagram]

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