Why I know what it’s like to break-up ... and then make-up
As some speculate that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt might yet find a way to reunite, Johanna Thomas-Corr reveals how after a furious split with her boyfriend, she surprised herself by getting back together with him
It seems Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have “paused” divorce proceedings, only 11 months after announcing their split. In the absence of an official communication explaining their precise reasoning, we can only speculate as to why. Was there a little parental guilt-tripping on the part of Vivienne, Knox, Maddox, Zahara, Shiloh or Pax Pitt-Jolie? Did the sight of Pitt posing dolefully in a Bottega Veneta sweater in GQ Style magazine prompt a change of heart in Jolie? Or was it Pitt’s confession that “every misstep has been a step toward epiphany, understanding, some kind of joy”?
Really, it’s none of our business — at least until one them submits to a lengthy confession/fashion shoot. But the outlook for the couple might not be so bad and, as with Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling”, there might be something adult in this pausing business. Conscious recoupling, perhaps?
Orlando Bloom and Katy Perry look to have done something similar, judging by the pictures of them canoodling at a gig this week. Prince William and Kate Middleton were on and off and then on again and now look at them. And, of course, there’s the romantic hope that Britain might somehow decide that living on its own in the North Atlantic is no fun and consciously recouple with the EU. We’ve changed! (And, erm, we also can’t afford the divorce bill).
We can find plenty of cautionary tales of romantic U-turns in celebrity history (not least Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who were married from 1964-1974 and then tried fruitlessly again from 1975-1976) as well as in literature. The second-chance plotline taps into fundamental questions of human nature: can people change? Is forgiveness truly possible?
Think of Jane Eyre, who takes back the bigamist Mr Rochester in a dreamlike reconciliation after she wanders the barren moors developing a more mature concept of romance, while back at his Gothic manor he is blinded, maimed and humbled. Thank God it usually takes less suffering for estranged couples to come to their senses.
But often returning to a broken relationship is portrayed as a cop-out, a way of preserving a dull status quo — a woman goes back to her passionless husband because she’s frightened of society’s judgment (see Anna Karenina) or a man goes back to his loveless marriage because he likes the comfort (see Nino in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels).
Personally, I can vouch for the efficacy of splitting up from a philandering partner, cursing their very name, insisting to your friends that there’s no way on God’s Earth you’d get back together with such a pathetic loser — and then getting back together with them.
My husband and I first started going out when we were 18-year-old students. This lasted for a couple of years before he went to St Petersburg as part of his university course. We vowed to stay faithful. A few months later I found out that he had cheated on me with a Russian girl but nevertheless assumed that he could waltz back into my life on his return. Uh-uh! I promptly started going out with a gallant medical student, which enraged my ex because I insisted I was now in love. It all got a bit messy, with numerous subplots involving Russian espionage, a brief gay fling on his part, and some email hacking on mine. A friend of mine sent him a treasurable one-word email beginning with ‘C’ — it was not ‘cow- ard’. Basically, everyone hated everyone for a bit — and (almost) all of them were invited when finally I married the original boyfriend. Why did I take him back when he’d been so unreliable and immature? Well, the gallant medic dumped me, insisting that I was clearly not over my ex. And over the course of at least a year that same ex, who had been so careless with my affections, won back my trust. He took his own flaws to heart and tried to do something about them, working his way through regret and humiliation, as well as the suspicions of friends and family.
It was a steep learning curve. He won everyone over — except me. It was only once he truly believed he’d lost me and yet was still prepared to support and love me that I took him back.
On the night we finally decided to give it another go, during a torrential summer downpour, there was a tragic accident involving one of his family friends. Somewhere in the shock and trauma of that night we recognised what was important, how easy it is to lose someone you love. And we really didn’t want lose each other.
One of the hardest aspects of recalibrating a broken relationship is the risk and experimentation involved — specifically, that period when you test whether it’s likely to work for a second time and won’t just be a re-run of past mistakes.
You’ll likely have to hide this romantic experiment from your friends and family (and in Brangelina’s case, the Press). During my brief window of deliberation, the relationship felt much too tender to expose to everyone’s scrutiny so I kept it secret. Lying to loved ones (“Of course we’re not getting back together!”) was just about preferable to sabotaging the trust that my partner and I had built up again. But you can only sneak around for so long, especially if you have children. The high emotional stakes are one reason why Hollywood loves a reconciliation drama — the possibility of devotion that both endures and evolves is hugely seductive. And there’s something thrillingly transgressive about getting back with your ex. Of course, when you have children, reconciliation truly is complicated. To give that glimmer of false hope and then dash it is more cruel than splitting in the first place. My husband and I began our second relationship when we were both 23 and childless. Brad Pitt is now 53. Sceptics wonder whether you can really change — at least enough — at that age. Still, I have married family friends who broke up in their late forties because they couldn’t see eye-to-eye on some pretty fundamental subjects — politics, religion, bringing up their children, for starters. Four years later they got back together. They have had to overcome so many differences, their marriage is an inspiration to me. More recently, two friends of my own age who were married but had been separated for a year told us they were giving their relationship another go. It was the best news I’d heard all year. Perhaps at a time when we contemplate the painful fallout of separation from Europe, what many of us crave is a happy reconciliation story, where both parties realise that they value imperfect unity over isolation. “Man, I never thought Brexit would happen,” said Brad Pitt, no less, just before his own split. “In the simplest terms, what brings us together is good, and what separates us is bad.” Even if we can’t stop Brexit, there may be hope for Ex-Pitt.
He tooks his own flaws to heart and won back my trust
ESTRANGED: Angelina Jolie may have had a change of heart over divorcing Brad Pitt
SECOND CHANCE: Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and (above), Orlando Bloom with Katy Perry and Kate Middleton and Prince William