Every time Ben Affleck acquires any type of goodwill from the public, he somehow manages to put his foot in it and blow it all away.
This week, after nine months of adoring appearances with his new, old love, Jennifer Lopez, he appeared on The Howard Stern Show and inadvertently insulted his ex-wife, Jennifer Garner, the mother of his three kids, Violet, 16, Seraphina, 12 and Samuel, 9.
When asked by Stern about the demise of his marriage in 2016, Affleck responded: “Part of why I started drinking was because I was trapped.”
“I was like, ‘I can’t leave because of my kids, but I’m not happy, what do I do?’ And what I did was [I] drank a bottle of scotch and fell asleep on the couch, which turned out not to be the solution.”
It was, to borrow a term, cringe. And people quickly pounced, with headlines everywhere breathlessly announcing that Affleck blamed his wife for his drinking.
This is not the first time Affleck has broadcasted his marital struggles with Garner. In 2013, again, after he had generated a stack of goodwill and won an Oscar for movie Argo, Affleck, who was married to Garner at the time, said in his acceptance speech: “I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work, and there’s no one I’d rather work with.”
At the time, Garner defended him, telling the UK Telegraph she found it to be “the hugest, warmest compliment in the world”. Which sounded just a smidgen like overcompensation; a verbal mop-up of Affleck’s mess. Here comes Jen, with her dimples, to smooth away all the uncomfortable feelings. It’s a reputation Garner has weathered for some time now: the long-suffering martyr, who takes the hits and remains stoic – even cheerful – in the face of her husband’s colourful dysfunction. A reputation that seemed to only solidify in 2018, when she was photographed driving Affleck to rehab, looking “visibly upset”.
Divorces, celebrity or otherwise, don’t occur because people are happy. Anyone who has gone through a marriage breakup will admit to a certain amount of “acting out”, and that can include drinking. Study after study has shown that when men are depressed or anxious, they’re more likely to self-medicate with alcohol. So it may not be healthy, but it’s not unsurprising for a man who is unhappy in his marriage to drink more.
It’s just that, we are living in a cultural climate where Gwyneth Paltrow and her consciously uncoupled ex-husband Chris Martin, go on holidays together; where Kim Kardashian openly praises her ex-husband, Kanye West, on television as a “genius”; and Adele tells Oprah her ex-husband, who lives next door, is “an angel”. So, it’s jarring to hear that Affleck’s ex – one of the most beloved “moms” in the celebrity ecosystem – would be the “cause” of someone’s drinking.
And in fact, she’s not. Affleck, 49, has a long history with alcoholism. His first known trip to rehab came in 2001, three years before he met Garner. His father, Tim Affleck, battled the disease for most of Affleck’s childhood, getting sober when Ben was 19. Ben’s brother, Oscar-winning actor, Casey Affleck, has battled alcoholism too.
There’s a saying in addiction circles that people don’t drink because they have problems, they drink because they’re alcoholics. Ben Affleck, likely, would know this. He acknowledged as much in an interview with the New York Times last year. “It took me a long time to fundamentally, deeply, without a hint of doubt, admit to myself that I am an alcoholic,” he said. “The next drink will not be different.”
So, why does he appear to be blaming Garner now? “I would never want my kids to think I would ever say a bad word about their mom,” he told his friend, late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, on Friday, adding he was “hurt” that such a vulnerable and wide-ranging conversation with Stern could be reduced to clickbait and “made [to] seem as if I was doing the exact opposite of what I said”.
Garner, for her part, has remained silent about the gaffe. The 49-year-old, who is reportedly dating the chief executive of US restaurant chain Caliburger (John Miller), has not spoken publicly about Affleck since she appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in 2016, soon after their separation. And when she was asked, in that wide-ranging interview, how she’d been coping with the demise of her 10-year marriage, Garner replied, with a laugh, “It’s been a year of wine.”