Twitter, Facebook, news media, and tabloids have been buzzing for twenty-four hours with the justified win by Argo for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, as director Ben Affleck nervously approached the microphone and announced: “I want to thank you [wife, Jennifer Garner] for working on our marriage for ten 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.”
Some people seem to think Affleck didn’t know what to say (reference his Golden Globe win and watch him give Garner credit for their solid relationship– he looked confident there); some think he and Garner were having problems, and now he’s exacerbated them (seriously, did you watch them interact?) Some people seem to think that Affleck meant “work” like a job you don’t want and a situation you can’t leave no matter how miserable you are.
What if Affleck meant that marriage, his love for Garner and their children, required effort? What if he was acknowledging that principle of marriage that doesn’t show up in cheesy romantic comedies but shows up in television shows about being married (Parenthood, Last Man Standing, Mike & Molly come to mind), that is, effort? What if Affleck, in a moment of emotional strain and career magnitude, was being 100% real?
It seems like Affleck struck a note of discord because he said something that defies the conventional understanding, that either you are in happily married, never troubled bliss, or you are divorced. Instead, Affleck offered us a middle ground, where happily married people require an unconventional compromise, a working toward something mutual, a sacrifice of self, a laying down of pride, and a focus on common goals. Marriage requires vision, focus, commitment, resilience, and effort; marriage requires work.
Affleck didn’t say he wasn’t having fun, that Garner wasn’t witty or beautiful or charming. He said that their commitment to each other through thick and thin, with three children(!), required work. And he’s right. Without work, without improvement, we’re fading away and dying, losing what we had before. Given that both of them have careers, one is constantly sacrificing for the other so that the other can shine, and given the effort for Argo, it seems that Affleck wanted to acknowledge how Garner helped him win.
The director of Argo named something that the world doesn’t want you to know: there’s a middle ground between fake and divorced, but it takes work. Thanks to Affleck, we’re talking about that today, and we can consider what our marriages do (or will) look like, and whether or not we’re making a commitment to our lives that we should or whether we’re just “playing” at love.