Couplings: The Angelina Problem

Your husband waxes on about his crush on Pillow Lips, and you’re so cool, you play along. Are you nuts?

It was early summer, before the event that shook the country to its core — and by that I of course mean before Brad Pitt officially divorced Jennifer Aniston, his mate of seven years, for voluptuous actress/humanitarian/lunatic Angelina Jolie, a schism that if it didn’t change the world, probably changed how we all feel about the security of our relationships.

We were sitting somewhere, the boyfriend and I, leafing through tabloids. I was in denial. The whole thing just seemed too silly, like Pitt had dumped Aniston for Jessica Rabbit, and I said something to that effect, something really clever like, “Whoa. I totally can’t believe Brad actually left Jen for Angelina.”

My boyfriend — he prefers to be referred to here as “Mr. Huge” — responded, flipping past a spread on Paris Hilton’s cellulitic thighs, “Well, who wouldn’t leave their wife for Angelina Jolie?”

I waited. He did not follow up with these words: I mean, other than me! Darling, sweetheart, taffy ears, I would never consider leaving my wife, or even you, the person I have been dating a scant three months, for Angelina Jolie, even if you were in a persistent vegetative state and she was in the room wearing a short, tight nurse’s uniform, because I adore you and only you so very, very much.

Nope, nothing like that. I hmmed in the manner of an extremely liberated woman, and turned to a page where Aniston was canoodling with Vince Vaughn. “That Vince Vaughn is a pretty great consolation prize, though,” I said.

For the next couple of weeks, we went back and forth. I insisted on seeing The Wedding Crashers — twice. He gazed impertinently at a poster for Mr. & Mrs. Smith. He laughed. I laughed — it’s funny! — and then wondered privately if I needed to get silicone injections.

“Mr. Huge has an unnerving crush on celebrity homewrecker Angelina Jolie,” I confessed to some friends. “I have countered by obsessing over Vince Vaughn.”

As it turned out, Mr. Huge and I weren’t the only ones playing this game. “Oh, we’ve been having a ‘List’ discussion for a few years now,” says Amy, who lives in Marlton and has been married to her husband, Phil, for 10 years. (I’ve changed everyone’s names to protect them from themselves.) Amy explains that the “List” connotes a tally of celebrities that people in a monogamous relationship are allowed to sleep with should the chance arise. It was popularized by Friends, which I never watched, as for some reason the character of Ross made me feel homicidal. Anyway: Amy’s current List includes Sting (“although he is getting old”), while Phil counts Victoria’s Secret model Gisele Bundchen among his would-be-sanctified acts of adultery. My friends Elizabeth and Steve, who just moved in together in New York, have something called the A-List Exemption, through which Elizabeth technically is allowed to cheat on Steve with James Spader, and Steve is allowed, circumstances willing, to defile First Cousin Lauren Bush. Vera, who is married with a baby and living in Collingswood, has a “Can-Do” list that includes Mark Ruffalo, while her husband, Tom, longs for a “pre-Federlined” Britney Spears. All of them gush on about how “healthy” it is to express your attraction to other people, as if talking about adultery is just a parlor game for the super-evolved, as if, if Sting and Gisele lived in Philadelphia, there’d actually be a faction trying to arrange key-swapping parties.

“But doesn’t it make either of you, um, jealous?” I venture to Amy, feeling insanely prudish, like the oldest and most virginal little old lady in the world.

“I don’t get jealous,” Amy says. “And I don’t think Phil really gets jealous. Beyond that healthy amount that makes him buy me flowers. As long as you are acting appropriately in your relationship, it’s all in good fun. It makes me feel closer to him.”

I think about it. I guess there’s no harm in admitting a celebrity crush — it’s not like Phil really has to worry that Amy is going to run into Sting at the Acme and then slip off to the Mount Laurel Hampton Inn for nine hours of tantric sex. Mr. Huge has less of a chance with Angelina Jolie than even Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, who at least can claim some link to celebrity because he’s on TV. And I suppose I can see the value in sharing a List, because if Mr. Huge thinks I can be liberal and accepting about his crushes, he’ll probably feel comfortable telling me other things, and isn’t that what everyone wants, a relationship so intimate that you tell each other everything? To know a person so well you know their very thoughts? And if the price to pay for this sublime, healthy intimacy is a little jealousy, then so be it, right?  

Plus, I hear it can get you flowers. Which is why one night, I find myself calling Mr. Huge with some newly acquired information: that Vince Vaughn is scheduled to come to Philadelphia, coincidentally during a time Mr. Huge will be out of town. On the other end of the line, my enthusiasm is met with awkward silence. And I suddenly feel kind of bad.