My mother and father first split when I was 10 years old, in 2003. They told me it was amicable, that it wasn’t my fault, that they’d always be my parents. But their split was messy. For the first two years, they still lived in the same house. They dabbled in couples therapy, slept in separate rooms, and took turns having nights out with their single friends (dad’s night out was always Thursday, mom got the Tuesday shift). It wasn’t until 2005 that my father moved out and I realized what we were dealing with was more than just a new sleeping arrangement—that their breakup was the real deal.
Then, as luck would have it, a certain celebrity, one that could be classified as the most famous in the world at the time, announced her own divorce, right as my parents began proceedings on theirs, forever tethering two conscious uncouplings in my mind.
I’d always loved Aniston and considered myself a for-real fan. I was also nine years old and alarmingly invested in her marriage to Pitt. Exhibit A: The letter I wrote to Aniston in 2002, saying, “Please tell your husband that I thought he did a very good job in Ocean’s Eleven and that it was one of my favorite movies.” I loved that, in her wedding vows, she promised to always make Brad’s favorite banana milkshake, that he made a cameo on Friends as the president of the “I Hate Rachel Green Club,” that they always showed up to red carpets looking like the all-American golden couple they were.
So when they broke up, I was stunned. But when I found out why they broke up, I was really stunned. The Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie alleged love triangle was my first glimpse of infidelity. And as the tabloids chronicled every single facet of the relationship’s demise (with vile headlines that often alluded to rumors about Aniston’s unwillingness or inability to have children), I started to piece together the rumblings I’d been hearing in my own household, the whispers from all of the adults in my life. It was the inescapable and addictive news coverage of Jen, Brad, and Angelina that made me realize the glaringly obvious fact that my parents’ marriage had ended in a similar fashion.
It didn’t take long for the media’s obsession with the end of the golden couple to turn into a full-on Jen-versus-Angie feeding frenzy. Every tabloid pitted them against each other, and retailers like early-2000s celebrity-favorite Kitson sold “Team Aniston” and “Team Jolie” shirts—most famously worn by Paris and Nicky Hilton on L.A.’s Robertson Boulevard.
It was this narrative—these two women as eternal mortal enemies—that both the press and I clung to. In my mind, my mother became Jennifer Aniston: the scorned girl next door. And my father’s new girlfriend, with her belly button piercing, skimpy clothing, and wild mane, became a stand-in for Angelina. So I swore loyalty to my mother and Team Aniston, opted out of seeing Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and cursed Jolie’s name when the W spread of Brangelina playing house hit newsstands.
And it stayed that way for years. I saw The Breakup opening weekend. Every time someone praised Jolie’s philanthropic work, I retorted that she was a homewrecker. Obviously, I knew nothing of the situation other than what the rags were reporting, yet I stood by Aniston despite a few questionable romantic choices (John Mayer—really?). In my real life, I grew older and even closer to my mother as I continued to keep my distance from my Angie and held tight to the vision of my parents’ divorce I’d stolen from the headlines years prior.