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Image / Living / Culture

Why Justin Theroux opening up about his split with Jennifer Aniston is important


by Jennifer McShane
18th Apr 2021
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Justin Theroux's depiction of his much-publicised split with Jennifer Aniston and current singleness highlights how uneven the discord is when it comes to how we perceive the relationship status of men versus women.

The Esquire interview with Justin Theroux is interesting on quite a few fronts. The first, asides from the eye-watering photos of him and his dog, is the way the writer approaches the topic of the Mulholland Drive actor’s single status – as if it’s completely natural that a beautiful, Hollywood actor at 50 is unattached. Once the pandemic resumes, he says he’ll think about “the other stuff,” but this is weaved in with the fact that he lives alone, his career, and the fact that he vapes and thirsts for friendship above all else right now.

It isn’t in the headline, his alone-ness; he is asked why he is single and – or if – he’ll be starting a family, but it’s asked and then forgotten. He is depicted as being in the prime of his life with the world and all it has to offer laid out for him to take as he sees fit.

Naturally, Jennifer Aniston does come up. The pair were together in 2011 and married in 2015, splitting two years later. He was vague (naturally) but cleared up one rumour addressing speculation that the two had broken up because they wanted to live on opposite coasts: “That’s a narrative that is not true, for the most part,” Theroux said. They are friends, still. Unusual for such a high-profile separation.

“We don’t talk every day, but we call each other. We FaceTime. We text. Like it or not, we didn’t have that dramatic split, and we love each other,” he said. “I’m sincere when I say that I cherish our friendship. We can not be together and still bring each other joy and friendship… It would be a loss if we weren’t in contact, for me personally. And I’d like to think the same for her.”

The reason this stands out – as with all the paragraphs gently prodding into his unattached status – is that it’s presented as a facet of Theroux’s life which, as with most things, just happened as a result of circumstances the outsider is not privy to – the byproduct of a life lived.

Uneven expectations

He is not (and this is key), as Aniston almost always is, presented as a person who has failed for not pursuing societal expectations of marriage and family life – in fact, he has been single since he and Aniston divorced in 2018 – that unfair, demeaning label lies almost exclusively on her.

At 52, the actress, having recently starred in the brilliant The Morning Show, is still the subject of public obsession that only seems to get more intense as the years go on. So, why has the (generally unflattering) commentary on her personal life never abated?   

“Maybe it has everything to do with what they’re [critics] lacking in their own life,” she said in an interview in 2019.

“Why do we want a happy ending? How about just a happy existence? A happy process? We’re all in process constantly. What quantifies happiness in someone’s life isn’t the ideal that was created in the ’50s. It’s not like you hear that narrative about any men. That’s part of sexism — it’s always the woman who’s scorned and heartbroken and a spinster. It’s never the opposite,” she said at the time.

It’s long been known as the ‘Poor Jen’ narrative; she was the jilted wife that “never recovered” from Pitt’s slimy, distasteful betrayal to Jolie, the “childless” woman that has never quite made it in terms of having a family or a second marriage that didn’t work out.

Even Aniston was forced to directly address this in an eloquent op-ed for the Huffington Post.

“The sheer amount of resources being spent right now by press trying to simply uncover whether or not I am pregnant points to the perpetuation of this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children,” she wrote.

Narrative discord

The Theroux interview is important because it again highlights this discord, not only between how he is perceived alongside Aniston, but also between men and women in society as a whole. There’s no ‘poor Justin’ narrative here – it is the opposite.

He is essentially lauded in the interview for his singular devotion to only one woman (his mother) and denouncing co-dependency unless it’s with your pup. Everyone on social media ate the interview up.

The headlines now address the fact that he opened up about the separation, but did not, as some falsely claim, give the reason for it. He’ll take the heat for it now in the tabloids, but regardless of his single status, things will move along. He has been spared a spinster narrative and has been levelled up for his bachelorhood.

And it’s important to make a mental note of this distinction, how this scrutiny on women will always be uneven and misplaced. Theroux himself sums it up perfectly:

“…There’s a kind of scrutiny that’s placed on women that isn’t placed on men… And it’s happened to women since forever. I think I have more sympathy for them than for myself.”

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