Backstage on the 19th, when they both accepted statutes at the SAG awards, a photographer captured an instantly-iconic photo of her hand, clasped under his. It looks, literally, like she is walking away from him, and like he is unable to let her go.
Cool, cool, cool, cool.
Mega-celebrities like Brad and Jen strike a strange deal with us, their public. We give them more money, value, and privilege of influence than anyone could ever need or want. In exchange, they entertain us—sometimes on screen, mostly in paparazzi shots and interviews and shady Instagram likes and breakdowns and addiction. Like the Greek gods were for mortals, they are our hotter, but similarly flawed, avatars. We project ourselves on them. We imagine ourselves on Brad and Jen’s last vacation as a couple. We take sides in the love triangle with Angelina. We find ourselves discussing Jen’s chances of having children as if we are her reproductive endocrinologist.
Pitt and Aniston were the golden couple. They were our royals in the long, dull interim between Princess Diana and Windsor-Sussexes. They were on top when Hollywood was still a country club that celebrated almost exclusively white people and white beauty, and they have maintained their footing even as much else has changed. We have lived in parallel with them, having children and heartbreak and successes and setbacks; they’ve stuck around with us as we exchanged the Hiltons for the Kardashians, and through six terms by four presidents. In the sprawling celebrity dollhouse that we all play in, they are Barbie and Ken.
Of course we want them to be together. It would mean that everything happens for a reason! It would mean that happy endings are real! It would mean Parent Trap was right and our divorced parents were wrong! It would mean that the Laws of Love are like the Laws of Energy: that the total amount of love in the universe remains constant over time, conserved in the hearts of people we thought had long ago moved on.
Wouldn’t it be cool if life was truly cyclical? Wouldn’t it be great if life, instead of culminating in death, culminated in sex with Brad Pitt?
That’s a good fantasy. But reality is actually better.
In reality, Jennifer Aniston is one of the most popular women in the world, and she does not need to get back together with the nice-but-slightly-greasy guy she broke up with 15 years ago. In reality, the only reason this pairing is still on the table is that despite being asked about Brad Pitt no matter what she does and where she goes, Jennifer Aniston has never said one bad word about him in public. (“That was really uncool” is the meanest thing Jennifer Aniston has ever said about Jolie and Pitt, referring to them giving interview after interview about falling in love during the first couple’s marriage.)
In reality, since his divorce and coming out with his addiction struggle, Aniston hasn’t tried to seduce him. She’s supported him with social invitations and public warmth. Even though it wasn’t exactly a loving compliment, she smiled encouragingly on Sunday night when Pitt gave his SAG acceptance speech, saying that he related to his character in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, “who gets high, takes his shirt off, and doesn’t get on with his wife.” When asked about him that same night, Aniston said, “We’ve all grown up together; we really have. And it just feels like a really fun night to celebrate and cheer each other on and keep working.”
Folks, these extremely rich, pretty people are just trying to not be awful to each other. Their relationship is probably less like a sweeping epic love story nearing its satisfying conclusion, and more like two old friends who have buried the memories of the tastes of each other’s mouths under deeper feelings of mutual respect and understanding. We need to let the dream go, not for their sakes—their agents are probably overjoyed by these headlines—but for our own. We need to accept that things end. Things change. That we shouldn’t get weekday wine drunk and text our exes, and then be like “oh my god how embarrassing that was for someone else,” and then be like “well ha ha how are you.” We need to accept that we will live and die without seeing these hot shiny-haired actors kissing on the mouths ever again.
We need to take what we’re given instead: a woman who is the physical embodiment of Thank U, Next. Look at Jennifer in that silk dress, laughing, extending her hand, walking away. Look at her not getting back together with her ex, even though he’s literally Brad Pitt. God forbid something happens, ‘least her career is a smash.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. Follow her on Twitter @JeanValjenny.