Why do we care so much about Jen and Brad?

After her backstage reunion with the first husband, we ask if it’s time we all moved on from fantasising about their happy ending...

Words by Olivia Foster

In the last fifteen years we’ve seen four Prime Ministers come and go, lived through endless will we/won’t we Brexit turmoil, have had our lives transformed by Instagram and watched with jaws on the floor as Donald Trump moved into the White House. But one thing that’s always endured is our obsession with Brad and Jen. A former couple, who, as they greeted each other warmly backstage at the SAG Awards last week, once again had the whole world talking about their relationship – an entire decade and a half after it ended.

Their reunion quickly became a meme – aided by the fact Jen was wearing a white vintage Dior slip dress and a giant diamond ring – the jokes pretty much wrote themselves. At present there are rumours swirling about that their reunion might not be just for the cameras, but, of course, this is nothing we haven’t heard before. Is there any truth in the stories? Who truly knows apart from the couple themselves. But when it comes to Brad and Jen it doesn’t really matter. Because how we feel about them – and, in particular, about her – doesn’t have anything to do with what is actually going on in their relationship and has everything to do with how she makes us feel.

jen and brad

Brad and Jen’s brief but now very memorable exchange at the SAG Awards on 19th January 2020 (Getty Images)

I know this firsthand as a former showbiz journalist. For seven years I worked at magazines that were invested in every inch of Jennifer Aniston’s life. We would receive stories about her every week and write them nearly as often – there are very few celebrities who could command so much cover time as Jen. When she first got together with Justin Theroux I was even asked to go on ITV news to discuss exactly why it is we’re all so invested in her love life.

What I said then in that interview still stands now. Jennifer Aniston is a symbol of all the parts of womanhood we don’t usually like to look at. First she was the betrayed wife – facing the public head on as her marriage crumbled and her husband moved on with another woman. She fought back with a now infamous Vanity Fair interview and the coverline which read, ‘Am I lonely? Upset? Confused? Yes. But I’m a tough cookie.’

Then there is fact that she hasn’t had children. All single childless women know the pressures of being asked about whether or not they want a family and here was a woman, doing it, surviving it, somehow thriving, despite all the pressure mounting against her. Once again she became a poster girl not only for our heartache but for our potential success.

And her enduring appeal is easy to surmise; she has the archetypal girl next door looks, the brilliant self-deprecating sense of humour and a laid-back easy to emulate style. Despite being one of the biggest actresses in Hollywood she feels, in some ways, relatable ($21million home aside). When Jen joined Instagram in October she became the fastest person to reach a million followers in just five hours and sixteen minutes. And thanks to Friends being streamed on Netflix there’s now a whole new generation interested in her.

jen and brad

Brad and Jen together at the Emmy Awards in September, 1999 (Getty Images)

What’s more, Brad and Jen remind us of simpler times, they give us a nostalgia kick for a time when our hardest decision was whether or not to buy the jeans with the skirt over the top. Indeed, pop culture expert and CEO of East of Eden, Nick Ede, says that part of our love for Jen stems from the fact that we have quite literally watched her grow up. He explains, ‘The reason we are obsessed with Jen is that we all feel that we have grown up with her and she is an extended part of our family. Her career has gone from strength to strength but we are still obsessed with her love life because we all just want her to be happy. Seeing Jen happy makes us happy. The funny thing is, a single Jen is finally becoming an award-winning actress and getting recognition for all her years of acting – she has truly grown into herself and proved to the world and to herself she doesn’t need a hot Hollywood star on her arm and she’s fine on her own!’

But whether we want to be her, we see ourselves in her or we just want to see her happy, is how we view Jennifer Aniston healthy? Maybe not. But it does shine a light on the fact that in a society where we claim more and more to lift women up, we need to work harder on the reasons we’re doing it. Last week Jen didn’t just run into her ex looking great (something we’ve all wished could happen, there she is being relatable again), but as Nick says, she won her first SAG Award for The Morning Show, the celebration of which was drowned out by a conversation about her and her ex-husband. And by hoping that she and Brad get back together we perpetuate the idea that a woman’s greatest achievement is bagging a man and, if he strays, somehow winning him back from the other woman. Isn’t it time that we realised women should be worth more than that?

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