Why Do We Root For Celebrity Couples To Get Back Together?

“Have you seen those photos of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston?” my sister asked me casually over the long weekend.

Um, of course I had. Logging onto Facebook Sunday night, doing that obligatory “bored-on-the-weekend” scroll, I couldn’t escape the posts about the exes’ backstage run-in at the 2020 Screen Actors Guild Awards. (And I kid you not, at least three of the articles had “breaking news” tags. Relax, news orgs.) 

Granted, they are pretty great photos. Let’s recap:

Fancy running into you, Bradley. (Photo: Emma McIntyre via Getty Images)

Backstage, congratulating each other for acting-award wins for their respective roles in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “The Morning Show,” the former husband and wife were positively beaming.  

As the body language experts will breathlessly tell you, their posture shows their love “never died”! (Photo: Vivien Killilea via Getty Images)

Alexa, play “The Way We Were.” (There is something vaguely Katie Morosky/Barbra Streisand and preppy Hubbell Gardiner/Robert Redford about the way they look, right?)

The photos -- especially the one of Pitt reaching for Aniston's hand -- made a splash online over the weekend. (Photo: Emma McIntyre via Getty Images)

“Yeah, I saw them!” I told my sister, pulling them up again just for good measure. “They were everywhere.” 

But just as I was getting my Google image search on, I got reality checked. 

“Weren’t there all these rumors he cheated on her with Angelina Jolie?” my sister said with the ignorant bliss of a younger sibling who was in elementary school when it all (allegedly!) went down.

Oh, dammit, yeah. Aniston and Pitt broke up in 2005 after five years of marriage and rumors that the actor had fallen for his “Mr. And Mrs. Smith” co-star, leading Aniston to famously tell Vanity Fair that Pitt was “missing a sensitivity chip.” Ouch.

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Before the split: The couple arrive at the Cannes Film Festival for the official release of "Troy" on May 13, 2004. (Photo: BORIS HORVAT via Getty Images)

The “poor Jen!” headlines became a tabloid fixture. “Team Aniston”/“Team Jolie” shirts became a weird early aughts pop culture thing. Pitt and Jolie eventually married and raised a family of six before splitting up in messy fashion in 2016. Aniston went on to marry and amicably divorce Justin Thoreux (so amicable, they celebrate Thanksgiving together).

Now, they’re racking up awards for their work and both conveniently single at the same time, much to the public’s glee.  (Don’t judge; 2020 is already off to a rough start, news cycle-wise — we need this!) 

For what it’s worth, they both seem to be thrilled for each other’s success. When Aniston went up to accept her SAG award for Female Actor in a Drama Series, Brad was seen watching with a big grin on his face backstage:

But, reality check number two: By all accounts, the exes are just friends, have been for years now (Pitt even turned up at Aniston’s 50th birthday last year), and have no plans to return to their 2000s super-couple glory.

That hasn’t stopped people from really wanting a reconciliation to happen. It’s hard not to project with these pics, said Tom Fitzgerald, one half of the fashion-blogging duo Tom & Lorenzo and the co-author of the upcoming book “Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life.” 

“My husband and I never had any dog in this hunt, but even we were surprised by our own reactions to the pictures,” Fitzgerald told HuffPost. “There were literal gay gasps when we saw that shot of him grasping her wrist as she turned away.” 

Fitzgerald has a few theories on why the internet responded the way it did. (Besides the fact that knee-jerk histrionics is kind of Twitter’s thing.)

“Part of the reason everyone reacted so strongly is because Brad and Jen are both so iconic now and nearly an entire generation has grown up without seeing contemporary pictures of them together,” he said. “But another reason is because those shots ― especially the wrist one ― were so ridiculously romantic in tone.”

Fitzgerald doesn’t think there’s any romance brewing, though. He’s more inclined to see the moment as “an instance of old friends and lovers simply showing some affection for each other and doing that thing that time tends to do for old lovers: forgive and forget the past.”

That said, the writer gets why people are rooting for a reconciliation. As he pointed out, we tend to view celebrities as avatars for our fears, hopes, desires and perceptions.

“Celebrities become stand-ins or representations of our own emotional states,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s why Jen became this patron saint of heartbroken women in the eyes of the public for so many years. It wasn’t fair to her, but she became a stand-in for how people feel about women who are unlucky in love; whether those people were themselves unlucky or whether they enjoyed judging women who were.”

Sure, it sounds a tad silly, but to see Pitt and Aniston ― “two nearly perfect avatars of the concept of a failed marriage” ― so publicly embrace each other gives hope to the rest of us that it’s possible to mend a broken relationship. (And in this case, it’s extra nice to see Pitt rehab his image and enjoy critical success after getting sober. Aniston, too, is finally getting recognition she’s long deserved for her dramatic work. Why not tack a love story onto that feel-good narrative, too?)

For the romantic realists among us, it’s not so much a desire for them to get back together that most of us feel, as much as a sweet confirmation that the pair are still connected and bonded in spite of everything that allegedly went down, said Katherine Schafler, a psychotherapist in New York. 

“Here we have two exes supporting each other, there’s not one winner and one loser, it’s so platonic,” she said. “Their connection reminds us that even when things don’t end the way you were expecting them to, you can still have a happy ending in other ways. In true Hollywood fashion, we all love a happy ending, perhaps that why we can’t get enough of these two. ”

It’s kind of like how you’d be thrilled if your friends who dated for years are finally fine with being in the same room again; no more weirdness at parties!

Collectively, we can leave the past in the past: Pitt and Aniston will forever be the chillest couple to ever chill in Hollywood, a golden pair with golden tans to match. (Seriously, how do two people get so matchy matchy with their tans?)

But for all the diehard fans, there’s always going to be steadfast critics.

Alicia Mintz, the co-host of the pop culture podcast Trashy Divorces (of course they covered the Aniston-Pitt split) is still firmly Team Jen, however the chips may fall. 

“My co-host Stacie and I actually hold fast to the controversial hot take that people split up for a reason, and should probably stay that way,” she said. “In our episode on this whole sorry Jen-Brad-Angelina spectacle, I had a very personal message for Jen as she and Brad revived their friendship post-Angelina: Don’t do it!” 

Marriages come and go. Old “Team Aniston” allegiances are forever.  

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Jennifer Aniston Honored On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Actress Jennifer Aniston who was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame on February 22, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 07: Jennifer Aniston attends Glamour's 2011 Women of the Year Awards on November 7, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Glamour Magazine)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 07: Jennifer Aniston presents an award onstage at Glamour's 2011 Women of the Year Awards on November 7, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Glamour Magazine)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 17: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at ELLE's 18th Annual Women in Hollywood Tribute held at the Four Seasons Hotel on October 17, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 03: Executive Producer and Director Jennifer Aniston attends the red carpet screening in the nation's capitol for the TV movie event 'Five' hosted by Lifetime and Jennifer Aniston at Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on October 3, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Lifetime)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 26: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the screening of 'Five' at Skylight SOHO on September 26, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 20: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the UK film premiere of 'Horrible Bosses' at BFI Southbank on July 20, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 30: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Horrible Bosses' at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on June 30, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 30: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' 'Horrible Bosses' at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on June 30, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 21: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the 'Meine Erfundene Frau' (Just go with it) Germany Premiere at CineStar on February 21, 2011 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05: Actress Jennifer Aniston signs bottles of 'Jennifer Aniston' at Sephora Lexington Avenue on May 5, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the 'Meine Erfundene Frau' (Just Go With It) Photocall at Hotel Adlon on February 21, 2011 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 08: Actress Jennifer Aniston speaks to the press during the premiere of 'Just Go With It' at Ziegfeld Theatre on February 8, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 05: Jennifer Aniston attends the 2011 People's Choice Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on January 5, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for PCA)
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 16: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at the premiere of Miramax's 'The Switch' held at Arclight Hollywood at the Cinerama Dome on August 16, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 30: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends 'Exposados' (The Bounty Hunter) premiere at the Callao cinema on March 30, 2010 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
MADRID, SPAIN - MARCH 30: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends 'Exposados' (The Bounty Hunter) photocall at the Villamagna Hotel on March 30, 2010 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
BERLIN - MARCH 29: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the premiere of 'Der Kautions-Cop' (The Bounty Hunter) at CineMaxx at Potsdam Place on March 29, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Florian Seefried/Getty Images)
PARIS - MARCH 28: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives to attend the Premiere of the film 'Le chasseur de Primes' at Cinema Gaumont Marignan on March 28, 2010 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MARCH 16: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the premiere of 'The Bounty Hunter' at Ziegfeld Theatre on March 16, 2010 in New York, New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 11: Jennifer Aniston attends the UK film premiere of 'The Bounty Hunter' at Vue West End on March 11, 2010 in London, England. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 17: Actress Jennifer Aniston poses in the press room at the 67th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 17, 2010 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 15: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends the 'Love Happens' film premiere at Mann's Village Theatre on September 15, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
CENTURY CITY, CA - JUNE 12: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at the Women In Film 2009 Crystal And Lucy Awards at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on June 12, 2009 in Century City, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
LONDON - MARCH 02: (UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS OUT) Actor Jennifer Aniston attends the UK premiere of 'Marley And Me' held at The Vue Cinema, Leicester Square on March 2, 2009 in London, England. (Photo by Dave Hogan/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 22: Actress Jennifer Aniston poses in the press room at the 81st Annual Academy Awards held at Kodak Theatre on February 22, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 02: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at the premiere of Warner Bros. 'He's Just Not That Into You' held at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on February 2, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 11: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives at the premiere of 20th Century Fox's 'Marley & Me' held at the Mann Village Theater on December 11, 2008 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - SEPTEMBER 05: Actress Jennifer Aniston attends Stand Up To Cancer at the Kodak Theatre on September 5, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Caulfield/Stand Up To Cancer via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 14: Actress Jennifer Aniston arrives to the 18th Annual GLAAD Media Awards at the Kodak Theatre on April 14, 2007 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mark Davis/Getty Images)

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.