The History of Bennifer: Why Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck Getting Back Together Is Still So Special

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez first joined romantic forces in 2002, shining brightly before sputtering out, seemingly never to reignite. But love works in mysterious ways.

By Natalie Finn Mar 02, 2024 3:00 PMTags
Watch: Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck Reveal What Led to Their 2003 Split

What does Hollywood love even more than comebacks and second chances?

If you guessed "combining two names to become one," then this is the saga for you.

On April 30, 2021, as another 13-day week was crawling to a close, the story that no one had on their radar sent shockwaves coursing through the Internet: Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck were hanging out, at her house, in Los Angeles.

Within an hour it was if current events ceased to matter as folks were blissfully whisked away to a simpler time (pre-Twitter, ironically), back when "Bennifer" were on the cover of every magazine, ushering in the era of the celebrity couple portmanteau. Or at least back to pre-pandemic 2020, when Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt's reunion at the SAG Awards also made many people wonder if perhaps the world was slowly but surely righting itself.

No such luck there. But Lopez and Affleck's reunion struck a similar chord, nonetheless—delicious, carefree and so refreshingly unimportant but at the same time an all-hands-on-deck pop culture emergency.

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Chasing this ambulance, however, paid off.

While at first the Bennifer 2.0 universe downplayed what was happening, sources describing them as "just friends," a full-on rekindling was going on behind closed doors.

But it wasn't long before they flung the doors open wide, marched outside and declared themselves to the world: We're back, baby, and we're spectacular

Michael Buckner/Golden Globes 2024 via Getty Images

And, in a complete 180 from days of yore, an assessment of their relationship—then and now—features prominently in the new documentary The Greatest Love Story Never Told. Which is technically about J.Lo's self-love journey, but it just so happened she also ended up with the man she calls the love of her life along the way.

While he didn't direct the film (Jason B. Bergh did the honors), Affleck is the one doing the interviewing—which is admittedly more in his comfort zone than being on display, having his story told.

"I did really find the beauty and the poetry and the irony in the fact that it's the greatest love story never told," Affleck (who also appeared in Lopez's fictional but self-referential album companion visual This Is Me...Now) says in the Amazon Prime release. "And if you're making a record about it, that seems kind of like telling it."

Reservations about participating aside, he did it for her.

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"I don't really love being in the making-of documentary about my personal life," Affleck said, "which is why I'm so relieved that I'm not really...It seems like I might be in this, but I'm not really. I was worrying for no reason. The movie wasn't about me. It was about the ability to love yourself and that love story is a lot f--king harder to find than Prince Charming."

Also harder than finding Prince Charming? Losing him, dealing with it, moving on with your life and then deciding whether or not to let him back in when he knocks.

Lopez, thrice-divorced and a mother of two, literally opened the door to her ex, a divorced father of three, by having him over to her L.A. home. And despite the pair having gone their very separate ways 18 years beforehand, hot damn if the community formerly known as the Twitterverse didn't have thoughts.

Why, however, did an 18-month-long romance that was long ago filed away under "nostalgia" cause so many palpitations? What is it about certain celebrities together—even though in this case each had been through so much since—that just leaves an indelible impression in hearts and minds, a memory preserved in amber that practically dug itself up when the opportunity arose?

Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's Georgia Wedding

"I think different time, different thing, who knows what could've happened, but there was a genuine love there," Lopez told People in May 2016. (As Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber said: "So you're telling me there's a chance?!")

"We didn't try to have a public relationship," she continued. "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 had a similar take, saying on a January 2021 episode of The Hollywood Reporter's Awards Chatter podcast, "Me dating Jennifer Lopez happened to be that tabloid story at the time when that business grew exponentially. When they realized there's actually a 10 times bigger audience for our product than we are selling to."

And with Bennifer, the press had struck gold, spinning as much as they could—almost as if they didn't trust it to be the real thing. Here's what happened:

Columbia Pictures

While the film is usually mentioned more in conjunction with the end of their relationship, Lopez and Affleck actually met making Gigli, the box office and critical bomb that would become synonymous with high-profile failure upon its release in 2003. (Affleck, Lopez, Al Pacino, Christopher Walken? Seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Halle Berry was first attached to play the female lead (which, in case you haven't seen it, is not the title character—Affleck is Larry Gigli), but her shooting schedule for X-Men 2 created a conflict, clearing the way for Lopez to sign on to the romantic crime caper in late 2001. A twist of fate right up there with Nicole Kidman dropping out of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, to be replaced by Angelina Jolie.

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In March of 2002, Affleck took out a full-page ad in the industry trades dedicated to Lopez, with the message: "You have shown kindness, dedication, diligence, humility, graciousness of spirit, beauty in courage, great empathy, astonishing talent, real poise and true grace...It has been nothing but an honor and a pleasure to work with you. I only wish I were lucky enough to be in all your movies.''

Signed, ''With love, respect and gratitude, Ben Affleck."

He insisted that they were still just friends, Lopez having tied the knot with dancer Cris Judd in September 2001, her second marriage. To have crossed that line, Affleck later told Vanity Fair, would've gone against his "fundamental code." But, he explained of their romantic timeline, "It changed when she told me she was getting separated. At that point, it became a possibility; doors were opened."

Lopez finalized her divorce from Judd in June 2002.


"I have such a respect for the institution of marriage that I don't believe people should spend their lives together if they're not going to be totally happy," she later told Vibe, explaining her very short second union. "Do we spend time now trying to make it work and wasting precious moments of our lives, or do we remedy the situation and move on?"

And by July 2002 she had moved on with Affleck, who was a couple years removed from an off-and-on romance with Shakespeare in Love co-star Gwyneth Paltrow and fresh from action hero turns in Pearl Harbor and The Sum of All Fears

He and Lopez were both very famous, and seemingly equipped to be able to handle being very famous together. He explained to Vanity Fair that he took out that chivalrous ad both to communicate his appreciation and to dispel any noxious rumors that she was some sort of a diva on set. A rumor that he admitted made him initially hesitant to work with her.

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"I wanted to go on record within the industry to counteract that, to say what a pleasure it was to work with her," he said. "She works harder than anybody I've ever seen. I thought I was busy with movies and television and writing; I felt pretty maxed out until I met her. She was doing all that and recording albums on weekends!"

(Sweetly, not long before Bennifer's resurgence, Affleck told InStyle, "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.")

Together they made pointed hay out of the relentless amount of attention their relationship attracted, her "Jenny From the Block" video opening with the two of them under surveillance even during intimate moments at home. There are also scenes of them at a café, on a hotel balcony and driving, Affleck broodily pumping gas, the paparazzi unwilling to leave them alone for even a minute. And, last but not least, the actor gives J.Lo's sensational backside a reassuring pat as they canoodle on a yacht.

But in that moment, it felt as though the pieces were finally falling into place for both of them. 

Mel Bouzad/Getty Images

"I think [the media scrutiny can hurt] if it's not a real thing," Lopez told MTV News days before the video premiered on Nov. 5, 2002. "I've been in relationships where they were kind of unstable, and so the media messed with it a lot. When it's not important to the relationship in any way—because what's important is just the two of you—then it can't mess with it. Nothing can. So in that sense, no, it doesn't have an effect if it's something that's really real for both of you. In my experience, anyway."

So she and Affleck proceeded to do their best to act like a regular couple, even if that was largely impossible.

"We try [to keep things private], we try. Some times it's easier than others; it just depends if we can slip in and then slip out," Lopez said. We go out to dinner, we go out with friends, we try to live as normal an existence as we can and still enjoy all of the other parts of being in the public eye as well."

"We try to make the best of it," she continued. "I'm not saying there's not times that we wish [we] could just be going to the movies and come out and there's not a crowd there waiting. You just want to spend your Sunday afternoon not working, but at the same time we both love what we do. If that's something that's part of it, then that's fine. We feel the love and we're very happy about it."

BTW, Lopez was also sporting a ring, but would only say that she and Affleck—who were also filming Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl around this time—had talked about marriage.

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As it turned out, after just a few months of dating, they were engaged. Affleck had proposed to Lopez during a trip back to his old stomping grounds of Boston to visit his family. In fact, he offered her that instantly iconic 6.1-carat pink diamond ring from Harry Winston (estimated worth: between $1.2 million and $2.5 million) at his mom Chris Anne's house. 

Affleck did seem a little nervous on the way over, Lopez recalled to ABC News' Diane Sawyer that November, but she didn't think too much about it.

When he opened the door, there was just "a quilt of rose petals, all over the entire house," Lopez said. "So many candles, and vases, bouquets. And my song 'Glad' was playing...I walk in and I was just like overwhelmed. I wasn't expecting it, and I was just like 'Oh my God.'"

Affleck told her his mother helped plan the whole thing. Then he proceeded to read her a letter detailing all the reasons he wanted her to be his wife, concluding with "Will you marry me?"

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"I just started sobbing. Crying. I was like 'Oh! My God!'" Lopez continued. "I had cried a lot over sadness over the years. And for the first time in my life, I cried incredible purging tears of happiness. It was the most cleansing feeling and the most wonderful feeling I had ever had."

She was also too bowled over by the ring, her favorite color being pink, to answer at first. Lopez recalled with a laugh, "I was like, 'Oh! Yeah! Yeah! Yes! Yes!'"

RJ Capak/WireImage

She said that, while she'd been married twice before, she couldn't wait to finally be in a marriage.

"This is not to take anything away from Cris or Ojani [Noa, husband No. 1 from February 1997 till June 1998], who are wonderful people and who I loved very much—but I think it more had to do with me," she explained, "being in such a crazy life and needing a sense of security."

She knew somehow that being with Affleck was different because, Lopez said, "I was just more scared...It was too powerful...Whereas before, it was almost I had control of things, so I wasn't afraid to kind of be in there, in the fire." But "this time it was just smothering me and— so hot, you know, that it was just like—it made me afraid."

It also made her inspired.

Gus Ruelas/LADN/

She told Sawyer that the songs for 2002's This Is Me...Then, her third studio album, just "flowed" once she fell for Affleck. "It will always represent to me the time in my life where I finally started to figure things out and get it right, you know what I mean? Really started who I was and what I needed," she said. "And that real sense of self I think you don't get until you're older."

The album was subsequently dedicated to her fiancé: "You are my sole inspiration for every lyric, every emotion, every bit of feeling on this record." And at the last minute, Lopez had the title of track five, formerly called "Perfect," changed to "Dear Ben."

Also in that same whirlwind month, the Daredevil star was named People's "Sexiest Man Alive." Lopez told the publication, "The difference between me and People magazine is that he'll still be the sexiest man alive in my eyes when he's 100 years old."

They were full speed ahead, screw the skeptics.

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"Why did I fall in love with this person? What does that say about me?," Affleck, an Oscar winner at 25 for cowriting Good Will Hunting with Matt Damon and already involved in a prickly relationship with fame, said to Vanity Fair in early 2003. "Maybe I am conflicted, but I also have a contrary streak."

He was aware that coupling with J.Lo had been the opposite of a low-profile move.

"I said, Just because I'm in this situation, I'm not going to behave any way differently than I ever did," he explained. "Jennifer is a really wonderful, fabulous woman, smart and interesting. Spending time with her makes me a better person and a happier person. She impressed me every day. It feels better to me to be with her than without her. That's why I made this decision, even if some other things have to be sacrificed."

Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

And sure, "there were a million reasons not to" get engaged right away, he admitted. "Neither of us is so obtuse that we didn't understand the degree of skepticism, the amount of sniggering in how the joke would be received. Saturday Night Live epitomized it: Tina Fey said, 'Jennifer Lopez announced her engagement—it's the first marriage for Affleck, the third for Lopez, and the last for neither.' But that's not something I want to allow to dictate how I make choices."

He continued, "This is something I would do if Jen was a teacher and I was working construction in Boston. Jen and I want to get married for the reason everyone else does: we fell in love. I'm in love; I want to have a family, and she's the only person I've ever met who made me entertain the thought of doing that."

He added, "You know within 10 minutes of meeting Jen that she'll be a good mother. Though the heavens fall, she'll be a good mother. My father said the same thing about my mother, who was a world-class-Olympian mother."

Though Lopez told Sawyer that no one should read too much into the fact that she and Affleck were spotted looking at a church in Boston, they did plan to get married in September 2003.

In the meantime, they went to each other's premieres, to watch Affleck's beloved Red Sox play, to the Oscars. He bought Lopez a $350,000 Rolls Royce Phantom for her birthday that July.

Linda Cataffo/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

But then Gigli was released Aug. 1, 2003, and got panned as if people were personally offended by it. Which, perhaps given the faith they'd put into the entity that was Bennifer, they were.

Matt Baron/BEI/Shutterstock

"At first it was an infatuation, what an interesting couple," Affleck reflected to Awards Chatter host Scott Feinberg in 2021. "And then there was a ton of resentment—ton of resentment against me, a ton of resentment against Jennifer."

"People were so f--king mean about her," he added. "Sexist, racist, ugly vicious s--t was written about her in ways that if you wrote it now, you would literally be fired for saying those things."

And though it's difficult to look at see anything other than her preternatural glow, those days got to her.

Jennifer Lopez's Best Looks of All Time

"I think the worst, probably lowest point was the whole Gigli era. It was pretty tough," she admitted on HuffPost Live in 2015. "It was a very badly reviewed film. I was in a high-profile relationship at the time that fell apart in a really bad way, and so the kind of mix of those two things and the tabloid press had just come into existence at the time, so I was like a poster child for that moment. I was in the tabloids every other week about how my life was falling apart. It was a tough time."

For Affleck too, as he recalled on Any Given Wednesday With Bill Simmons in 2016, "If you went by what people said...I wasn't cool and I wasn't talented, and I was like the lowest rung of cool and talented that you could possibly be in the public consciousness at that time. I had broken up with Jennifer Lopez and I had like three or four movies in a row that had bombed."

The unraveling happened slowly, and then all at once. First came the postponement of their September 2003 nuptials, the couple blaming outside intrusion for the change of plans.

Richard Corkery/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

"Due to the excessive media attention surrounding our wedding, we have decided to postpone the date," they said in a statement days before they were supposed to tie the knot in Santa Barbara, Calif. "When we found ourselves seriously contemplating hiring three separate 'decoy brides' at three different locations, we realized that something was awry. We began to feel that the spirit of what should have been the happiest day of our lives could be compromised. We felt what should have been a joyful and sacred day could be spoiled for us, our families and our friends."

If there was an alternate plan, they never shared it.

"Everything's going along fine," Affleck told the Associated Press at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2004. "We're good."

At that time, however, Lopez had been spotted several time zones away in Miami, and on Jan. 22, her rep confirmed their engagement was off for good. (In The Greatest Love Story Never Told, Lopez says they "broke up" three days before their wedding.)

She boasted in her song "One Love" that she "kept the ring," but she returned the dazzling pink bauble that launched countless imitators.


And theirs wasn't the only wedding that was canceled: Smith also cut out a 12-second scene from Jersey Girl in which Affleck and Lopez's characters got married.

"Okay. There's Jennifer Lopez standing next to Ben Affleck, and she's wearing a wedding gown and he's wearing a tux," the director—who has since taken credit for coining "Bennifer"—explained to MIT's The Tech in March 2004 upon the film's unfortunately timed release. "Who watching the movie is not going to step out of the movie and say, 'Hey, that's f--ked up. They didn't get married'? And suddenly, [the audience] is gone. We've lost them for a few seconds, and you don't want to lose them for any amount of time when you're telling a story. You want them in that black box focused and in another place in time."

Affleck sought to distinguish the film from the ill-fated release that preceded it. "Gigli was a movie that definitely suffered from the surfeit of publicity about me and Jen," he told the AP. "So it was kind of, 'Enough already,' before the movie came out. Also Gigli, while it was a great experience and while I had a great time making it, didn't really, ultimately work as a movie, and Jersey Girl really does. I believe it's a beautiful movie, and I'm really proud of it."

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Alas, it wasn't the right time for fans to embrace Jersey Girl, despite Affleck and Smith's proven track record.

Recalling this fallow period, Affleck has said more than once that he did not—nor should anyone else—blame Lopez for the hit his acting career took in the mid-00s.

"If I have a regret, it was doing the music video," he told the Daily Record in 2008, when he made his well-received directorial debut with Gone Baby Gone. "But that happened years ago. I've moved on." 

To point the finger at anyone else, he added, "It not only makes me look like a petulant fool, but it surely qualifies as ungentlemanly. For the record, did she hurt my career? No."

Evan Agostini/Getty Images

Professionally or personally, Lopez didn't waste too many moments after this split, either, making the hit comedy Monster-in-Law and marrying longtime friend turned much more Marc Anthony on June 5, 2004. They separated in 2011 (and divorced in 2014) but remained close as parents of now 16-year-old twins Max and Emme.

Lopez beat Affleck to the altar by barely a year. He married Jennifer Garner on June 29, 2005, and they had daughters Violet, 18, and Seraphina, 15, and son Samuel, 12, before separating in 2015 (finally divorcing in 2018).

Reflecting on all the twists and turns she'd navigated to date, Lopez told HuffPost Live in 2015 that she had "no regrets. I would do it all over again, I think. I really would. Even the relationship part. I just feel like everything is part of your story and your journey and is meant to be and helps you grow if you're willing to look at it, and I'm willing to look."

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

And seeing is believing.

Though their 2021 reunion felt like a bolt from the blue, Lopez and Affleck never hid that they had remained friends. (Lest we forget, they too had a cozy awards show reunion, trading whispers at the Oscars in 2015.)

"We don't have the kind of relationship where she relies on me for advice," Affleck told The Hollywood Reporter in 2012, "but we do have the kind of relationship where there'll be an e-mail saying, 'Oh, your movie looks great.' I remember when she got American Idol. I said, 'This was really smart. Good luck.'"

And he's been rooting for her this whole time. "Now it's like she is lionized and respected for the work she has done, where she came from and what she accomplished," Affleck said on Awards Chatter. "As well as she f--king should be."

ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

So no wonder the world reacted how it did when it learned Lopez and Affleck, both simultaneously single for the first time in ages, were hanging out. And then totally together, again. And then engaged, again.

And then, on July 16, 2022, married. To each other, a comeback for the ages.

Recalling their breakup in The Greatest Love Story Never Told, Lopez said, "I feel like I lost the love of my life, I felt like I lost the best friend that I ever had. And I couldn't talk for so many years and that was the hardest part."

And she was angry about how it all unfolded for awhile. "But," she continued," that heartbreak set both of us on a course to figuring ourselves out to being better people."

"Different time, different thing," indeed.

See where it all began and how it's going—which, if you're Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, is really, really good:

December 2001: Filming Gigli

The two prepare to film a scene for the movie in West Hollywood. The couple met on the set of the film.

October 2002: Spotted in Beverly Hills

The two are spotted in the city.

November 2002: Filming Gigli and Engagement

The two film the movie on Will Rogers State Beach in Los Angeles. That month, the actor proposes to the actress with a 6.1-carat pink diamond ring.

November 2002: Filming Jersey Girl

The two film the movie in New York City.

November 2002: Leaving MTV's TRL

Is there anything more '00s than both Bennifer 1.0 and TRL?

December 2002: Red Carpet Debut

The two make their red carpet debut as a couple at the premiere of her film Maid in Manhattan.

January 2003: Sundance

The two bundle up at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

February 2003: Daredevil Premiere

The two appear at the premiere of Daredevil, starring Ben as the superhero.

February 2003: Daredevil Premiere

The two appear at the premiere of Daredevil, starring Ben and future ex-wife Jennifer Garner.

March 2003: Oscars

The two attend the Academy Awards together.

May 2003: Basketball Game

The two sit courtside at a Los Angeles Lakers game.

July 2003: Canada Trip

The two film a Dateline interview for NBC in Vancouver.

July 2003: Gigli Premiere

The two appear at the premiere for their movie in Westwood, Calif.

August 2003: Gigli Is Released flops at the box office.

September 2003: Wedding Is Off

The two postpone their wedding. No future date is given.

October 2003: Baseball Date

The two are seen at a Boston Red Sox game. The team is Ben's favorite.

January 2004: It's Over

The two end their engagement.

September 2021: Red Carpet Royalty

They're baaaack. On Sept. 10, the couple makes their first red carpet appearance in 18 years at the Venice Film Festival premiere of The Last Duel

September 2021: Look of Love

There's no denying J.Lo makes for a stunning plus-one! 

September 2021: Back to the Stage

Ben supports J.Lo at the 2021 Global Citizen Live event in New York City, where she performed onstage. It marked her first music gig since she performed at VAX LIVE in May, where the actor also appeared onstage separately, fueling rumors of a rekindled romance.

September 2021: Met Gala Debut

The two attend the Met Gala together for the first time.

October 2021: PDA at Premiere

Jen and Ben put on a sizzling display on the red carpet at the premiere of his film The Last Duel in New York City.

April 2022: Engaged Again!

Jennifer confirmed her engagement to the Gone Girl actor with a video posted to her On The JLo site, revealing a glimpse of her beautiful engagement ring with a green stone.

July 2022: Married!

On July 16, Jennifer and Ben tied the knot in a surprise ceremony at A Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas.

July 2022: Post-Wedding Trip to Paris

The two vacation with her twins and two of his kids in the French capital soon after their wedding.

June 2023: Red Carpet Fabulous

J.Lo steps out with Ben in support of his movie The Flash.

February 2024: This Is Them...Now

Jennifer release This Is Me... Now, an album about her relationship with Ben. The record is accompanied by a musical film titled This Is Me... Now: A Love Story and the documentary The Greatest Love Story Never Told.

March 2024: Jenny on the Block

The couple enjoys a day out in NYC on March 30, 2024.

(Originally published May 4, 2021, at 9:15 a.m. PT)