Jennifer Garner

BlayzenPhotos /BACKGRID

How nice for Jennifer Garner.

Ben Affleck has a new girlfriend, and even if he didn't have a romantic relationship with her while still married to the mother of his three children, they're still going to be seen gallivanting all over town. Having coffee near Affleck's home. Having dinner at the celebrity hot spot where A-listers should assume their presence will be noticed, where Garner herself goes to enjoy a girls' night out and ends up getting asked if she's pregnant.

And Garner either confronted Lindsay Shookus when she found out about the SNL producer's relationship with Ben or she has nothing to do with her and never has had anything to do with her, but either way...

Good times.

But such is the plight of the A-list ex-wife, especially when there are children involved. Because then it's imperative to put the kids first and smile through everything so as to prevent the family's very world from exploding more than it already has, no matter how much you'd like to really give certain parties a piece of your mind. Loudly. With personal items flying out of windows.

Jennifer Garner


Do we think Jen enjoyed having Ben stay in the guest house for almost two years after they separated? Maybe she appreciated it, for consistency and old times' sake, but you'd think that proximity would have only hindered her own healing process. Because as she acknowledged to Vanity Fair after the first wave of scandal related to the family's ex-nanny had passed, she was certainly upset at her husband of nearly 10 years.

"I have had to have conversations about the meaning of 'scandal'" with the kids, Garner told the magazine last year. She also made a concerted effort to unplug from social media and surrounding online environs after the split, because "it hurts me so much and I care so much." But the Miracles From Heaven star also knew it was the sound choice to not "be driven by the optics of this. I cannot let anger or hurt be my engine. I need to move with the big picture always on my mind, and the kids first and foremost."

She also said, regarding the importance of keeping it together for Violet, Seraphina and Samuel, "And if you see your kids love someone so purely and wholly, then you're going to be friends with that person."

But the optics end up being what they are.

He gets to skulk around looking like it's laundry day in a sweaty T-shirt and saggy jeans—while you can bet that any disheveled appearance (or weight gain, weight loss, slouch or frown) on the ex-wife's part will be scrutinized to no end.

Then again, that's any man and any woman on any day in Hollywood...

Since the separation, Affleck hasn't ceased talking about how wonderful Garner is, what an amazing "superhero mom" she is, how much he'd love to direct her in something, if only they could figure out who watches the kids and when during such a time...

If Garner talked about Affleck that much, everyone would say she was having trouble letting go, or wasn't over him. It's sweet when he endlessly compliments her, and it's not that she doesn't deserve to have Affleck endlessly pay homage to her in public, but if she returned the favor...well that would be a little much, wouldn't it, even if she was just trying to sprinkle some nice headlines into the mix for her kids to find on Google down the road.

She also admitted in that March 2016 Vanity Fair interview that it wasn't always easy to put on that same serene face every day.

When Affleck had to go on location to shoot The Live by Night in October 2015, "I wasn't part of it. It was starting and it was a hard day for me. I got the kids to school, and I went home and went to bed. I haven't had a lot of those days."

Though it also would've been within her rights to wear her emotions on her sleeve in public, the fact that no one noticed a blip on the smile radar, as she even made her morning coffee runs with unflappable cheer, is testament to her inner strength—strength she probably didn't even know she was capable of till she went through this.

Meanwhile, one woman's gauntlet can then serve as another woman's inspiration.

"When Jen Aniston and Brad Pitt broke up," Garner told VF, remarking on how she understood why there was so much speculation that she and Affleck were reconciling, "I was dying to see something that said they were getting back together."

For starters, let's stop and take the requisite moment to remember what Jennifer Aniston went through, for years, after her breakup with Pitt. We don't mean that she herself was physically and emotionally going through something for years, but after a certain amount of time passed she couldn't break the "I'm over it" vibe for a second lest she play into the forever-scorned-woman narrative that prevailed for almost a decade, until she herself got remarried.

And when the pain was fresh, there were all the magazine covers, Brangelina's glossy W spread and constant reminders of Pitt's next chapter. Even if no one had ever dreamed up the whole Team Angie/Team Jen thing, it still would've sucked. Aniston had to thrive and get over all of it, her private brave face having to play catch-up with her public brave face.

All the while, she was living a jam-packed life, but so much of it was reflected through a circa-2005 breakup lens. She was even sucked back into the narrative when Pitt and Angelina Jolie split up, and even if she had a reaction, there was nowhere for it to go without prompting an outsized reaction.

But we digress. Because now it's Jolie hoping for the best possible outcome, an amiable co-parenting situation that seemed to come so naturally for Garner and Affleck or for Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin—both pairs who seemed to hardly missed a beat with the family togetherness, thanks to what we now know were concerted efforts. (Even with the fresh spate of headlines about Affleck's new relationship, he and Garner still took the kids to the local Fourth of July parade in their L.A. neighborhood, an important family tradition.)

Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner

Fern / Splash News

"We are focusing on the health of our family, and so we will be stronger when we come out of this because that's what we're determined to do as a family," Jolie said on Good Morning America in February in one of the few brief comments she made at the time about her pending divorce from Pitt.

Jolie initially requested primary custody of the kids and had to deal with at least one child who was pretty mad at his dad, yet the world expected the same result as it expected from Garner at the end of the day—smile and hold it all together. Never mind what your soon-to-be ex-husband did or didn't do, just keep going.

Which Jolie pretty much did, and without Pitt by her side (by choice). While most people focused on what Pitt was doing, since he was the one whom Jolie was suggesting was not ready to take care of the kids on his own, she had the choice of looking fine or...looking fine.

Angelina Jolie, Good Morning America


"I don't want to say very much about that, except to say it was a very difficult time," Jolie also told BBC News in February, probably only talking in the first place because she had a film to promote. "We are a family and we will always be a family, and we will get through this time and hopefully be a stronger family for it." 

The mother of six has yet to comment further, letting Pitt have his time to air his interpretation of what happened—which ultimately will make whatever Jolie later has to say about her own personal heartbreak go down easier, since Pitt already admitted to having a lot of issues that helped bring about the downfall of their 11-year partnership.

Angelina Jolie


But just when one news cycle ends, another begins, and the subsequent one brought the Pitt dating rumors, which Jolie now gets to add to the pile of gossip to ignore while she ferries the kids to Disneyland and elsewhere around this small world.

"Kids are everything," Pitt, who's also busy adjusting to co-parenting, told the AP in May. "Kids are your life. They're taking all the focus, as they should anyway."

But Jolie, unlike Garner or Paltrow, was not ready to have Pitt around as though everything was normal from day one.

Both courses of action take their own sorts of strength—work on pulling it together while he's right there and normalize like crazy for the kids; or give yourself the gift of having some alone time, which means you're on your own to explain certain things to the kids when they're with you, and know that everyone's over-analyzing that decision, too.

Sure, divorces and painful breakups happen every day, but how do women do it in the spotlight? All the feelings, all the good and bad days, plus everything that your ex is up to, reflected back at you in the form of headlines that you're forced to co-exist with, whether you manage to avoid them or not.

In a 2009 interview with ElleReese Witherspoon called her October 2006 split and subsequent divorce from Ryan Phillippe"very humiliating and very isolating," in hindsight both "appropriate emotions" but in the moment...

"When people get in your face and say, 'This will pass,' you think, are they crazy?" she recalled. "'I'm never gonna feel any better than I feel right this minute and nothings ever gonna make sense again.' And I still have moments where I'm like, 'nothing's ever gonna make sense again.'"

Which is why usually at least six months to a year go by before anyone says much about what led to a breakup, because it's close to impossible to process those emotions in the moment while simultaneously having to put the children first and/or attend to pressing career obligations, like tapings and press tours and premieres.

Gwen Stefani

"I was so scared and insecure and thought it was over for me," Gwen Stefanitold Vanity Fair in April 2016, about eight months after she and Gavin Rossdale filed for divorce after 13 years of marriage. "I think the hardest thing I did was to get out of bed and go to the studio."

And while she had been dating Blake Sheltonfor some months before she gave that interview, it's easy to forget that just because someone has a new boyfriend, that doesn't make what happened with a previous relationship any less devastating. Not to mention, directly after the split, then came the stories about Rossdale's alleged affair with the nanny

Yet there was Stefani, reporting for work on The Voice that fall, just a couple of months after, as she told The New York Times, "my life was literally blown up into my face."

You would've never known it to look at her.

But all can take comfort in knowing that there's an unofficial club for women who've had no choice but to fake it until they make it.

"It's been hard, and we've gone through really difficult times, but we've always said these children are our priority," Paltrow acknowledged her and Martin's "definitely imperfect" scenario at the #BlogHer15 conference in 2015, which took place about 16 months after they separated. "What that really means is, 'even though today you hate me and you never want to see me again, we're going to brunch because it's Sunday and that's what we're going to do.'"

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