She did it again.
On March 22 Jennifer Garner—whose Instagram page has become the destination to take in her particularly endearing brand of self-deprecating humor—slipped back into a wool marching band uniform (hat-topping plume and all) to play a saxophone tribute to “my boo” Reese Witherspoon. This time she treated the birthday girl to the rendition of “A Groovy Kind of Love” she once memorized during her days at West Virginia’s George Washington High School.
But other than the tune itself, a switch-up from the classic Happy Birthday she played last year, she ended her 46th year in much the same way she wrapped up 45.
Of course the 12 months in the middle were anything but same old, same old.
As she turns 47 today, the action star turned rom-com queen turned action star once more has a bit to celebrate. The previous year has seen her return to butt-kicking on screen as a vengeful mother in Peppermint, come back to TV for the Lena Dunham– and Jennifer Konner-produced HBO series Camping, ink a deal to star in and executive produce Apple’s My Glory Was I Had Such Friends with old Alias pal J.J. Abrams, continue to grow her organic baby food line Once Upon a Farm and receive her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, an honor she celebrated alongside both her Hollywood family (Steve Carell, Judy Greer and Bryan Cranston all turned out to deliver speeches) and her real life kin, with children Violet, 13, Seraphina, 10, and Samuel, 7, making a rare public appearance for the August event.
“I think it was the one day they were a little bit proud,” she shared while appearing on Camping costar David Tennant‘s podcast, her first ever, this March. “I was awfully glad I had them with me for that reason.”
All the while she’s managed to maintain her impossibly cordial co-parenting relationship with ex-husband Ben Affleck and—legally single for the first time in 13 years—embark on her most private relationship to date. While news broke last October she had quietly begun seeing fellow single parent John Miller, CEO and chairman of holding company CaliGroup, their romance has been so under-the-radar that outlets erroneously reported they had split within months.
That last bit is by design. Because the actress has already done the dating in public thing and, frankly, it wasn’t all that fun.
It began when she and Scott Foley ended their two-and-a-half year marriage in 2003 amongst persistent rumors she had an affair with Alias co-star Michael Vartan—a claim they both resolutely denied.
“Nobody else was involved,” Foley told TV Guide (per EW) in October 2003. “Jennifer became a huge celebrity. She became a huge star, and she deserved everything she got. There was no other relationship, there was no infidelity, nothing. People get divorced, you know?”
But with that experience in mind, when she and Affleck fell in love while shooting the 2003 superhero flick Daredevil, they did what they could to deter media attention. Save for a few outings in October 2004 to see Affleck’s beloved Boston Red Sox play in the World Series, they stuck to dates at their respective homes and places they could be certain wouldn’t attract cameras. The Oscar winner having just wrapped his much-hyped years as one-half of the phenomenon known as “Bennifer” (an experience he likened to the “crucible by flashbulb,”), he was all too happy to oblige with Garner’s privacy push.
By the time they walked a red carpet together, Affleck had already proposed, reportedly on Garner’s 33rd birthday in 2005, and made quick work of the marriage, hosting an especially private destination affair on Turks and Caicos that June, their reps confirming to People afterward, “They’re married and expecting their first child.”
Naturally the arrival of Violet, followed by Seraphina and finally Samuel did little to stem the curiosity that accompanies any celebrity pairing.
“Well, there was a solid decade where there were five or six cars minimum, and easily up to 15 or 20 on the weekends, outside of my house at all times,” Garner told CBS This Morning last July. “And looking back on that, I really feel the stress of it. I really—I could cry, talking about it.”
Eventually, she joined Halle Berry in successful petitioning California lawmakers to enact harsher penalties for photographers who harassed children but, as she admitted on David Tennant Does a Podcast With… the problem hasn’t miraculously vanished.
“Today I was picking my kids up and there were seven or eight of them and they got way too close to the school and the head of the school was outside with me and I said, ‘They’re getting cheeky.’ And he said, ‘I’m going to call the police,'” she recalled. “But that was today, all these years after it passed.”
Resigned to the fact that she can’t completely erase the issue, “It’s that thing of you can’t prepare the path for your child, prepare your child for the path,” she told Tennant. “It’s kind of like, ‘Okay, this is part of our lives. It is what it is and there are good things and bad things about having parents that are actors and let’s list them and let’s talk about how we deal with them.’ Because I can’t make it go away.”
Nor has the attention on her love life disappeared, with those long been rooting for the affable star to find romance again eager to know every detail. But while her year-and-a-half long presence on Instagram has proven she’s not afraid to share aspects of her personal life (come for the snaps of her sharing In-N-Out with Ina Garten, stay for her must-watch Pretend Cooking Show) don’t expect a Miller cameo anytime soon.
“What I think I’ve learned is that the scrutiny in your private life puts a pressure to make something happen,” Garner said on CBS This Morning in July. “You feel a pressure to hurry up and get married, ’cause you think that’ll end the, ‘Are they engaged? Are they not?’ And that’s true in the reverse, as well. If there is any inkling of trouble, if the tabloids decide there’s trouble, it can create trouble.”
As such, a source told E! News she’s “determined” to keep their coupling “private and for themselves.” Though she and the 40-year-old dad of two, who recently finalized his own divorce from violinist Caroline Campbell, have been getting to know each other since late summer, having entered each other’s orbits due to a few shared friends, neither is interested in having a public romance, says the source, noting Garner is “keeping things under wraps by going away with him and seeing him in private places. She’s enjoying being with him and doing it the way she wants.”
That means stepping out together to take in a fall performance of Dear Evan Hansen in L.A. and making plans for a holiday getaway, but still prioritizing Christmastime with Affleck for the sake of their kids. The Triple Frontier star, single again after a failed reconciliation attempt with ex Lindsay Shookus, has continued to emphasize his relationship with Garner in the months since their divorce was completed
And Garner clearly feels the same way, joining Affleck for family holidays and major outings such as when the Red Sox took on the Dodgers in the World Series this fall. “Her first priority is her kids and that hasn’t changed since she met John,” an insider notes to E! News. “She’s protective of them and their well-being. That comes before anything else to her.”
Still, as they edge toward the year mark in their union, she’s undeniably thrilled about where things are headed with the Stanford Law grad. “Jen is very happy with John but she isn’t getting too far ahead of herself,” says the insider. “She just finalized her divorce and finally has closure on a very emotionally draining period of time.”
Either way, don’t expect to see any future milestones make their way onto the social media she launched, in part, to promote Once Upon a Farm and now counts nearly six million fans as followers.
Garner would much rather use her page to promote everything else going on in her life, like her days on her uncle’s Locust Grove, Okla. farm that she purchased to grow the blueberries, kale and persimmons blended into each Once Upon a Farm package. “If I had had any idea how happy it would make my mom to be part of bringing this little farm back to life, I would have done it ten times over,” she said on CBS This Morning. (The company was recently WIC-approved in Florida and her home state of West Virginia, a milestone Garner lauded as “a huge step and something that makes me very happy and proud.”)
There’s also her work as an ambassador for Save the Children (“I treat it like a job,” she told Tennant), and her sweat sessions with trainer Simone De La Rue that she credits with, as she put it on the ‘gram “Turning a Mom Back into Action Lady.”
Somewhere in there she manages to be a devoted mom to her kids, a job she makes look as effortless as possible, whether she’s proudly donning the 12-foot scarf Seraphina wove for her birthday or helping sell Girl Scout cookies. “I think they think of me as capable and able to handle things as needed,” she told E! News of her tiny tribe. Though she admits keeping it all together is nowhere near as graceful as it may look.
“You don’t balance it, that’s the truth,” she told Vanity Fair‘s Krista Smith of the elusive work-life juggling act at the magazine’s second annual Founders Fair last April. “You really don’t balance it. You balance in chunks, or you balance in…um, you just don’t. Right now I’m in production—it’s all about production. If I’m not in production, I’m with my kids. If I work out, it’s a crazy hour in the morning.”
And if she finds time to do a little acting in there, that’s great too. “What I like is when someone nice likes Reese, hands me a completed thing and says, ‘Do you want to be in this?’ I’m lazy in that way, I think,” she admitted to Tennant. “I’m just really bringing up three kids and if I can escape and work a bit, hallelujah.”
All in all, it’s a completely different picture than the “year of wine” she embarked upon in the wake of her Affleck split. A time that saw her managing to balance a thriving career with school drop-offs and backyard gardening sessions with her kids, but still relying on a bit of humor to get her through the toughest of nights.
“When I can’t sleep—and I am not someone who typically has that problem, but I really have in the last year—and I need something to switch my brain off, it has been Tina Fey and Amy Poehler,” she shared with Vanity Fair in 2016. “God bless those girls.”
Now her list of gratitudes includes a career packed to the brim with acting commitments, spokesperson work and her growing company, a co-parenting relationship that is miraculously harmonious and a thriving romance.
“She’s excited about dating John and being with someone so wonderful,” a source tells E! News, noting that’s not the only thing that seems to keep her smiling each time photographers catch her in L.A.’s celeb-friendly Pacific Palisades neighborhood. “Dating him is the icing on the cake and a great aspect of her very full life.”