Rest in peace, enduring love — or at least the most recent pop culture example of it. TMZ broke the news that Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt, her husband of two years and partner for more than a decade. The split comes as a blow for those of us (myself included) who looked to Brangelina as a beacon of hope in an otherwise dimly-lit romantic landscape.
One of the most upsetting aspects of the separation is how much the couple endured for the relationship. The couple met on the set of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” in 2004 while Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston, and by 2005 that marriage was over and Pitt was photographed in Kenya with Jolie and her son Maddox.
Thus began an extended courtship that included humanitarian efforts, numerous films, and a blossoming family of six children — three biological Jolie-Pitts and three adopted from countries across the globe. For all intents and purposes, Jolie and Pitt seemed like the couple to beat: they had the careers, the compassion, and respect for each other that most aspire to. They announced their engagement in 2012, seemingly moving forward happily as man and wife.
They even evaded cancer. In 2013 Jolie underwent a voluntary double mastectomy as a preventive measure upon learning she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene linked to increased risk of cancer.
In 2014 the couple finally married in the village of Correns, Jolie dressed in a stunning eggshell-shaded dress and veil adorned with doodles from the couple’s children. In 2015 she underwent yet another surgery, this one removing her ovaries and fallopian tubes as another measure to protect against cancer. Brad was by her side.
Jolie and Pitt always struck me as a special couple because of how united they seemed. Work schedules were arranged such that each took turns making films in order to devote time to child care. They appeared not only to love and respect each other, but adore each other on some incomparable level. The public delighted in photos of the couple and the family, and imagined a happy home filled with love.
Now what’s left is an outline, one that has many many lamenting what was.
One of the key distinctions between this break-up and almost any other Hollywood marriage is the degree of investment the public has in the children. We’ve watched from adoption announcements and baby bumps as the children have grown and begun cultivating their own identities. I read somewhere that Pitt described his role as a father as something like being a guide to the universe, and thought the children must be lucky to have parents with such a progressive philosophy.
Now we’re left not only with concern for the family, but each partner. The split challenges us to reconsider what determines a successful marriage, which by all accounts Jolie’s and Pitt’s appeared to be, for a while. Some are offering hopeful platitudes that it was great while it lasted, but that seems reductive — like awarding a participation trophy to a losing team.
Many of us grew up watching the relationship evolve, and it was rewarding to watch the couple flourish despite consistently high divorce rates that still permeate our nation and the drama surrounding their initial courtship. They gave us something to hope and aspire for, which makes the disintegration of the relationship that much more difficult to swallow because we knew it could (and might) happen based on statistics alone.
And yet many of us believed in them and their love. Maybe it’s a lesson for fans to adjust our expectations, to stop blowing Hollywood romance narratives up to Shakespearean proportions. We consume the story of a celebrity romance despite how, in the back of our minds, the fear lingers that it might not last. We submit anyway. It’s like watching a beautiful production of “Romeo and Juliet” — we know the story all too well, but hope things might be different. Just this once.