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The real reason we can’t stop reading about Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez back in 2002 and 2003. (Kim D. Johnson/AP, Mark J. Terrill/AP, Fred Prouser/Reuters, Barry Chin/Globe Staff, James Devaney/WireImage)
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez back in 2002 and 2003. (Kim D. Johnson/AP, Mark J. Terrill/AP, Fred Prouser/Reuters, Barry Chin/Globe Staff, James Devaney/WireImage)Kim D. Johnson/AP, Mark J. Terrill/AP, Fred Prouser/Reuters, Barry Chin/Globe Staff, James Devaney/WireImage

Let’s talk about “the one who got away.” At a certain point in life, after years of white knuckling it on the relationship rollercoaster, most of us have one. A high-school crush, a first love, someone who felt like a soulmate before things went kerflooey.

Maybe you still look them up on Facebook once in a while or (super casually) ask a mutual friend how they are. But what if you and the one who got away suddenly found yourselves single again? What if you saw that person’s number light up your iPhone? What if that person said, “Hey, it’s been a while. Want to come over for dinner? It’d be great to see you.”

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It’s a heart-stopping scenario and a pretty universal fantasy — part romance novel, part horror story. Which may be why the world cannot turn away from what looks to be a rekindled love affair between superstar exes Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.

Seventeen years after breaking off their engagement, Ben and JLo can’t seem to get enough of each other. On Wednesday morning, the paparazzi snapped Affleck — looking mussed and a bit sleep deprived — leaving Lopez’s Los Angeles home, a flicker of a smile on his face. A couple of nights earlier, according to Page Six, the couple was seen embracing at the Pendry Hotel in West Hollywood before a cozy dinner with friends. Two weeks before that, they surfaced at a beachfront mansion in Miami.

This is happening, people.

The revived liaison has kept a lot of people glued to every new photo of the pair, every TMZ post. But the curiosity goes far beyond wondering if it’s a “showmance” meant to deflect from JLo’s messy split from Alex Rodriguez or Affleck’s Dunkin runs.

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After all, this could be another chance at love for these two crazy kids! Haven’t we all, even for a moment, imagined something similar for ourselves, a shot at fixing a relationship that imploded in a fireball of recriminations and dashed dreams? Aren’t we all Bennifer?

Okay, maybe not. Their road to reunion has certainly been rockier than most and nearly two decades in the making. In a nutshell, after Ben and JLo hit the breaks on their 2003 wedding and called it quits for good in January 2004, they didn’t exactly pine for each other, at least not publicly.

A mere five months after the split, Lopez got hitched to singer Marc Anthony (her third marriage). Affleck walked down the aisle with Jennifer Garner in 2005. They each had kids (two for JLo, three for Ben) and made a go of it for years until, perhaps all too predictably, they both landed in divorce court.

Their newly single status didn’t slow either of them down. Lopez embarked on a string of high-profile couplings, including a brief romance with Drake, before getting serious with ex-Yankee slugger A-Rod. Affleck moved in with “Saturday Night Live” producer Lindsay Shookus, and later moved on to “Knives Out” actress Ana de Armas. That pairing ended, rather infamously, with a photo of an unidentified person dumping a life-size cardboard cutout of the actress into the trash outside Affleck’s house. Ouch.

And now, just a few months later, here they are: older and (possibly?) wiser, giving it another try. And here we are: watching them give it another try, unsure of whether to grimace or grin. As with so many things right now, our pandemic-addled brains can’t quite make sense of it. But after so much loss, maybe a fractured Hollywood fairytale is just what we need?

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Hayley Kaufman can be reached at hayley.kaufman@globe.com.