Jennifer Lopez reflects on 'brutal' criticism she and Ben Affleck faced in the 2000s: 'It really destroyed our relationship'

Jennifer Lopez is back (even though she really never left).

The actress, singer and global superstar recently graced the cover of Rolling Stone, where she discussed her humble beginnings growing up in the Bronx as well as her tumultuous relationship with fame, Hollywood and the never-ending criticism that comes with it.

It was announced last year that Lopez and actor Ben Affleck were an item again after they had previously been engaged in the early 2000s — before ending their wedding plans in 2004.

But that was nearly 20 years ago. Now the superstar says they are in a much better head space.

“It was brutal,” she said of the criticism they endured at that time. “It’s one of those things that you bury very deeply so you can move on and get about your business.”

Lopez was at the height of her career when she began dating Affleck. A year before, she had both the No. 1 movie (The Wedding Planner) and the No. 1 album (On the 6) chart at the same time — the first time a single performer had ever had such a milestone.

Her next film, Maid in Manhattan, reached number one the next year. But instead of celebrating her achievements — a groundbreaking moment not just for Latinas, but for Latinx representation on screen in general — the media demeaned her with headlines like "Ben Affleck sleeps with the help," Rolling Stone points out.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 12: Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez arrives at the Los Angeles Premiere Of Amazon Studio's
Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were known as "Bennifer" in the early 2000s before they broke up. Now they're back together, but this time with a whole new state of mind. (Photo: Steve Granitz/FilmMagic)

Looking back, Lopez says that kind of coverage placed immense pressure on the relationship.

“It’s funny because Ben and I were together, and we were so in love,” she continued. “It was one of the happiest times of my life. But also, there was this other thing happening where we were being criticized, and it really destroyed our relationship from the inside out, because we were just too young to understand at that time what were really the most important things in life.”

“We feel like what we found again is so much more important,” she said of their relationship now, nearly 20 years later. “How we protect that and how we live our lives — what to share, what not to share — is the balance that we have now, the benefit of experience and the wisdom that we gained over the years.”

Therapy also helps. It’s provided her with tools that helps her understand the ingredients of good relationships.

“You start realizing there are no rules,” she explained. “There’s only what you feel is right for you. Because that’s the person you’ve got to live with at the end of the day. Any time I’ve gone against my gut and my instinct, I’ve ended in misery.”

“It’s not really even your first love that teaches you what love is,” she added. “It’s your mother and your father, what you were taught as a child that life is and love is, through how your parents are with you. Those are the things that you have to go back and work on and examine, when you are having relationships and repeating patterns and going, ‘Oh, what is this happening for?’”

Before Affleck, Lopez was in a nearly decade-long relationship with her high school sweetheart David Cruz.

After Cruz, she was married to Cuban waiter Ojani Noa (they broke it off in 1998) before dating Sean Combs until 2001. Lopez was later married to her former backup dancer, Cris Judd, from Sept. 2001 to June 2002, before dating Affleck from 2002 to 2004.

She then married singer Marc Anthony, which lasted from June 2004 to July 2011, and with whom she shares twins Maximilian David and Emma Maribel, both 13. Their divorce was finalized in 2014.

After ending her relationship with Anthony, Lopez dated New York Yankees baseball player Alex Rodriguez from Feb. 2017 to early 2021, breaking up just weeks before it was announced that she and Affleck were together again.

Still, despite her incredible success and vast experience when it comes to love, loss and spiritual growth, Lopez still views herself as an “underdog.”

“It’s just 20, 25 years of people going, ‘Well, she’s not that great. She’s pretty and she makes cute music, but it’s not really this and that,’” she said of her career. “You know, I think I’ve done some nice work over the years, some really nice work. But there is a club that I just wasn’t a part of. And I always acted like, ‘Yeah, I’m good. I’m fine. I’m OK.’ But it hurts to not be included. I don’t know if I will ever be. There is an inner circle, like, ‘We are the great artists.’ And then there’s the pop artists.”

“I think I’m an underdog,” she continued. “I always feel like I was scrapping from the bottom. Always. I always felt like I wasn’t the one that was supposed to be in the room. That’s part of being Puerto Rican and from the Bronx and a woman. You know what I mean? All of that stuff. Not being born into a family with money. Not knowing anybody in the business. I just went out there and said, ‘Fuck it. I’m going to just try. I’m going to try to get in here.’”

The past, however, is indeed in the past. And the only direction Lopez is looking now is forward.

“I’m really happy, probably more than I’ve even been in my whole life,” she said. “I try to always live from a place of gratitude. But today, especially, if you ask me what my first thought was, it was, ‘Thank you. Thank you, God, for this day. Thank you for my life, what it is.’”