Jennifer Lopez, 51, has been engaged five times in her life, most recently to Alex Rodriguez, the 45-year-old former MLB star. The pair announced their separation in a statement to the Today Show earlier this month, after a four-year relationship that put both of them back in the familiar glare of tabloid media. Before dating Lopez, Rodriguez became familiar with the paparazzi during his relationships with actresses like Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz. But none of those pairings came close to garnering the amount of attention Lopez received when she got together with her third fiancé in 2002.
I’m referring, of course, to the magical 17 months when Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck became “Bennifer,” one of the most talked-about, tabloid-friendly couples of the early aughts. Certain images from their relationship still sit comfortably in the public imagination: Affleck and Lopez lounging on a yacht in Lopez’s “Jenny From the Block” video, the couple’s appearance at the 2003 Academy Awards, that $2.5 million, 6.1-carat pink diamond.
"You know, there's always a story of the month, and me dating Jennifer Lopez happened to be that tabloid story at the time when that business grew exponentially," Affleck said earlier this year on The Hollywood Reporter’s “Awards Chatter” podcast. He’s correct: Affleck and Lopez appeared on countless Us Weekly and People covers from 2002 to 2004. And while they have both spoken out about the damaging effects of tabloid and paparazzi culture, they did regularly engage with the media during the course of their relationship.
They sat down for their first joint TV interview in July 2003 to promote their first movie together: Gigli. While the mob comedy is now considered one of the worst films of all time, when Lopez and Affleck participated in the interview, the bad reviews and box-office numbers were weeks away. The Dateline NBC special, hosted by Pat O’Brien of Access Hollywood, focused instead on Lopez and Affleck’s “whirlwind romance” and their big plans for the future.
At the time, Lopez was 33, Affleck was 30, and both seemed to want to project a sense of stability and traditional values to the public. The entirety of the special was shot in Affleck’s rented home in Vancouver, where he was shooting Paycheck. (Lopez was also employed in Canada at the time, filming Shall We Dance with Richard Gere in Winnipeg.) The lighting is soft, the decor is homey, and at one point, the trio moves to the kitchen so that Lopez can cook a traditional Puerto Rican dinner. Let’s take a closer look at this idyllic moment in time—and how swiftly it all fell apart once the interview aired.
“At home with Ben and Jen”
Right off the bat, O’Brien addresses the public fascination with Bennifer, comparing the couple to old Hollywood romances like “Bogey and Bacall” and Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. He also references another famous pairing at the time: Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. Affleck jokes that he was “elated” to hear about the (then sort of scandalous, May-December) couple, as it took some of the heat off his own relationship in the press. “I’m constantly calling the tabloids, like have you guys heard about Kirk Douglas and Mandy Moore?” he says.
Though the purpose of the interview was clearly to promote Gigli, O’Brien doesn’t ask Lopez and Affleck much about the film itself. The interest, it seems, is in when the couple fell in love, as Lopez was still married to her second husband, backup dancer Cris Judd, when she worked on the movie. (Judd and Lopez divorced in June 2002, and Lopez went public with Affleck shortly after.)
“It felt like we had good chemistry,” Lopez says of her experience with Affleck on set. “You know what I mean? He likes to improv. I could improv back. He’s the best person to improv in the whole entire business, he’s so funny.”
Affleck spends a lot of time complimenting J-Lo, too. Of her rise to fame, he offers: “This is somebody who nobody ever said like, ‘Hey kid, you’re going to be a star. You’ve got what it takes.’ She didn’t look like how people were supposed to look, she didn’t have the body shape that women were supposed to have, and rather than changing herself or trying to be something else, she said, this is who I am and she believed in herself. It’s a real Horatio Alger story.”
He also reveals that he proposed to Lopez in the “traditional” way: “You know, we took the ring out and I asked her to marry, I took the traditional approach.” Lopez, meanwhile, says she will change her name to “Jennifer Affleck” after the wedding.
As the interview winds down, O’Brien asks whether the couple’s future children will be Red Sox or Yankees fans. Lopez says it’s up to them, and Affleck pushes back that they will not be a Yankees family. “The Mets is fine,” he added. “I could put up with the Mets. The Mets I could live with. I can’t— pinstripes can’t be in the house.”
(Incidentally, Lopez and Rodriguez made a failed bid to buy the Mets last year, just before their breakup.)
“Stripper tells of night with Ben”
Unfortunately, the Dateline interview was just about the last piece of positive press the Lopez and Affleck received during their relationship. Two weeks later, Gigli premiered to world-historical bad reviews. It ultimately grossed just $7.2 million at the box office on a budget of $75 million. (Affleck and Lopez were both paid $12 million for their services.)
And then, just a few days after the Gigli premiere, the tabloids upended Bennifer’s fairytale-relationship narrative, too. The National Enquirer published an exclusive report alleging that on July 17—the very night the Dateline interview aired—Affleck visited Brandi’s Exotic Nightclub in Vancouver and had sex with two of the women working there. His reps immediately denied the more salacious aspects of the story, and another woman working at the club came forward to say that Affleck “never touched” any of the strippers, and that he was “drinking water” throughout the night. (The actor had recently completed a rehab stay in 2001.)
According to the Enquirer, Tara Reid, Christian Slater, and Slater’s then-wife Ryan Haddon were at the club with Affleck, and the group ended the night at Slater’s house. “Ben did not cheat,” Haddon told Us Weekly after the Enquirer broke the story. “He did not have sex with anyone. Ben was listening to music, hanging out, talking to people, that’s it.”
Affleck’s publicist threatened to sue the Enquirer, and one of the women named in the story ultimately did. But that did not stop the speculation that Lopez was going to call off the wedding over the incident. While Affleck finished filming Paycheck in Vancouver, multiple tabloids reported that she was seen dancing at the clubs in LA without her engagement ring. In September, Lopez and Affleck announced they were postponing their wedding due to “excessive media attention,” and by January 2004, they broke up for good. They never sat down for a joint interview again.
“I’m so happy for her”
After they officially called off their engagement, Affleck and Lopez both moved on quickly. Lopez got married to singer Marc Anthony in a small ceremony in June 2004, just six months after her breakup with Affleck. Affleck, meanwhile, started dating Jennifer Garner, and the tabloids crowned the new couple “Bennifer 2.0.”
Despite their apparent eagerness to put the relationship behind them, the “Bennifer” saga remains one of the most prominent chapters in both Lopez and Affleck’s public narratives. It created the characters that the stars still embody, at least somewhat, in the tabloids to this day: Lopez as the love-happy, perpetual fiancee, and Affleck as the cad. (Though he did a lot of work on repairing that reputation during his ten-year marriage to Garner, the fact that it ended with him hooking up with the couple’s nanny kind of took him back to square one.)
The Dateline NBC interview represents how Lopez and Affleck want to be seen: committed, in love, and powerful. Lopez tried to repeat this branding with all of her partners, most recently Rodriguez. Just six months into that relationship, the couple appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair together, and the tone of the interview is much the same—Lopez and Rodriguez even get into a back-and-forth about whether or not Lopez is a Yankees fan.
Affleck, meanwhile, seems to look back fondly on his time with Lopez; he has talked about her almost reverently in multiple interviews in recent years. For the May issue of InStyle, which featured Lopez on the cover, Affleck said this of his former fiancee: "She remains, to this day, the hardest-working person I’ve come across in this business. She has great talent, but she has also worked very hard for her success, and I’m so happy for her that she seems, at long last, to be getting the credit she deserves.”
Today, both Affleck and Lopez are single again. (Affleck ended his also-very-tabloid-friendly relationship with actress Ana de Armas earlier this year.) According to Affleck, the exes still talk occasionally—perhaps 2021 is the year they finally get together and make their story work.