It Is Possible to Move On Without Hurting Your Ex's Feelings

Exhibit A: Jennifer Garner.

It Is Possible to Move On Without Hurting Your Ex’s Feelings
Photo: Getty Images

Wednesday morning, along with the rest of the world (or people who like to have their coffee with Good Morning America), I watched footage of J.Lo gushing about what was a moving and romantic marriage proposal from new-old love Ben Affleck.

The "Jenny from the Block" singer was overcome with emotion as she spilled details of the moment the actor got down on one knee while she soaked in a bubble bath and cried. Jennifer revealed, with stars in her eyes, that Ben said things she will "never forget." She showed off her giant green rock and said "I love you" to Ben, who was behind the camera. "I love you, too," he whispered back in a moment so deeply intimate that we almost felt we shouldn't be so easily welcomed into it. But there it was.

It's not terribly hard to appreciate a full-circle romance like this one. In a way, it sort of speaks to everyone. It gives us all a small kernel of hope that maybe "the one who got away" isn't gone forever, even if we're settled down with three kids, a solid 9 to 5, and a trailer at the beach (we don't all have that Hollywood money). It shows us that true love happens after 50, that blending families is not unreasonable, and that really, there are no limits to what can happen when it comes to finding your deepest, truest love. It could even be found with someone you've already loved before. Wild, right?

Call me a Debbie Downer (it's fine, I've been called one before), but as I listened to J.Lo explain how amazing it was to say "yes" once again, nearly two decades after the pair called off their first engagement, there was a much more demanding thought in my brain space than just "Isn't love grand?" It was, "Jennifer Garner must be the most centered woman in all of human creation." Of course, J.Gar doesn't exactly have the choice not to be, given that she's in the public eye and very clearly wants to do right by her kids. Still, she'd have to be an actual robot to not have some kind of feelings about, not just Bennifer 2.0, but about every intimate detail of it being flaunted for public consumption. That would likely be true no matter what the narrative was, but right now, it's that Ben always felt like J.Lo was "the one that got away," which insiders have claimed.

By the looks of things, Jen Garner, brilliant actress, amateur chef (at least on Instagram), mother of the year (and every year), is doing spectacularly well. She's at the top of her game, just totally killin' it. Not only has she maintained a lasting acting career with new films like The Adam Project, but she also has tons of unique business ventures like repping baby food and farming. Of course, she also has three smart, beautiful kids, Violet, Seraphina, and Sam, and she was recently rumored to be engaged to her off-again-on-again boyfriend, John Miller.

But no matter how amazingly she seems to be doing personally, it doesn't negate the fact that she loved, married, and lived with Ben for years. It also doesn't negate the strain and pressure that comes with going through a very public divorce. That kind of heartbreak is perhaps even more relatable than this lovely full-circle love moment we're seeing play out in real-time.

Ben and Jen Garner didn't last, but there was a time when they seemed like the perfect couple. The commentary at the start of their relationship was that she brought him back down to earth.They were pictured eating hot dogs at Red Sox games and just looking like regular people in love. It couldn't be more different from what Bennifer 2.0 looks like today — all glitz and glam, which is not better or worse. But once, it seemed like Jennifer Garner was everything he wanted or needed. Instead of living happily ever after, though, there were three kids, one affair with a nanny, a serious drinking problem, and a giant back tattoo. It all devolved into one public and painful divorce. Despite it all, Jen stood by her ex's side. She took him to rehab, picked up his slack with the kids, and kept on co-parenting with him even though she probably thought all the sucking it up she was doing might kill her (a truth just about every human who has ever had to co-parent with someone who is massively f***ing up understands).

It didn't kill her. She's a single mother, and as a group, we're pretty much unstoppable. But there's no avoiding that Ben's choices must've called her an otherworldly amount of pain. While Jen, class act as she is, has been almost entirely mute about the end of their marriage, in one interview, she did speak to being utterly gutted by the realization that he no longer loved her. "He's the love of my life," she told Vanity Fair, even after the split. "He's the most brilliant person in any room, the most charismatic, the most generous." But that love didn't go both ways. "He's just a complicated guy," she continued. "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." Anyone who has ever experienced utter heartbreak felt that on a visceral level. It was just too real.

Fast-forward to Bennifer 2.0, and it's clear, the couple is living in the moment, and it's spectacular for a lot of reasons. Still, in order to fully see its beauty, we almost have to entirely avoid the fact that these are real people with real families, exes, and histories, too. Should they be allowed to celebrate their love? Of course. This is not 1993 when my mother insisted on getting married to my stepfather in the living room in an off-white skirt suit because "it's not classy to have a big second wedding."

Celebrating second, third, or even fourth marriages however we want to is no longer considered distasteful. After all, sometimes we're a lot happier about subsequent marriages, and our celebrations should reflect that joy. But sometimes, when we get swept up in new love, and our feelings are just too big to contain, it's easy to forget that other people have feelings about the way we chose to move on, too, and what we put out into the world about it.

Even if you are a thriving ex-wife with a hot man and a fire career, it can still be painful to watch "the love of your life" fall back in love with someone he loved before he loved you. Watching exes move on, in most cases, is painful, even when that ex is not a charismatic actor who has aged spectacularly. It's why, after a divorce, most people try to be careful about how much their exes see in regard to new relationships. It's why, when deep and meaningful partnerships dissolve, we often feel compelled to unfollow or block our exes on social media, even if we claim to be over them entirely. Seeing our past partners move on, get married, flaunt that they've now found their truest, purest, deepest love — the love that was better than what they had with us — is painful. Just because Jennifer Garner happens to be Jennifer Garner, that doesn't mean she's immune to feeling any of that.

Still, we aren't likely to hear her complain. Jen has offered her congratulations, and sources say she believes J.Lo is a good influence on Ben. The word is that she's happy for them, and I'm gonna go out on a limb and say she probably is. She seems to have loved Ben enough that she truly wants him to be happy. But as the greater public eats up every ounce of Bennifer 2.0 and there is no shortage of new juicy details being expelled by the couple themselves on the regular, we just have to take a moment to marvel at J.Gar for surviving and even thriving through it all. Honestly, almost no one is that solid or that classy.

Meanwhile, we already know the Bennifer 2.0 wedding is going to be spectacular. A source close to the couple told Hollywood Life, "Ben and Jen want to have an elaborate and grand wedding, and no expenses will be spared." No one would expect anything less. But I have to wonder if, when it comes to how publically we flaunt new relationships — whether you're famous or not — if sensitivity is always a fairly solid practice. Because at the end of the day, true love is true love, whether you flaunt it or not.

A second chance romance is a beautiful thing, and it's absolutely the star of this story. But there's a quieter, less flashy tale here about an ex-wife who held her head high through it all. There are no rare diamonds; therefore, that one doesn't make every headline, but it's still something to marvel at.

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