From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
When Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck arrived at Beverly Hills' hip Matsuhisa restaurant at 8:30 p.m. on Jan 20, there was none of the usual kissing and laughter. Nor was there anger or yelling. Just the sober countenaces of two people heavy with their own history and, once again, with issues to discuss: Say, his much publicized night of partying on Jan. 10 with Matt Damon and a bevy of female fans at a nightclub in Berlin, where he was promoting his recent thriller Paycheck, or, the same weekend, her equally bally-hooed evening dancing into the wee hours at the Miami Beach club Prive with ex-flame Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. During their hour-long Matsuhisa dinner, "they looked serious," says a witness. More than serious, actually. "He looked sad," notes the source. "She reached out to touch his head, like, trying to kiss him. And they gave each other a little kiss. But he really wasn't reacting to her. It seemed like something was wrong."

It was. Before the day was done, the caroming Bentley known as Bennifer—the passionate public embraces, the lavish spending sprees, the night he spent cavorting with strippers in Vancouver last summer and the stunning cancellation of the $2 million wedding last September that left her, according to a mutual friend, "hysterical and very deeply depressed"—had finally skidded to a halt. Two days later—and two years after they met on the set of their disastrous comedy Gigli—her rep announced that Lopez "has ended her engagement to Ben Affleck." And just like that, the couple-that-could faced the fact that they couldn't—and pretty much everyone close to them heaved a sigh of relief. "The relationship was a slow death," says a source close to them both. "It was a long goodbye."

So what finally took them from 6.1 karat Harry Winston engagement bling to bust? By all accounts, nothing as interesting as the rumor of a renewed romance with P. Diddy. "We're friends," says the rap mogul, 34, who has a son with his girlfriend, Kim Porter, 33. Adds a P. Diddy source: "There's nothing going on."

For better or worse, the same could be said for Lopez, 34, and Affleck, 31. "They're different," says a mutual friend. She's a focused performer who rarely drinks, never smokes and likes to get to bed early. And while under her influence he went from T-shirts and baseball hats to designer suits (and back again after the wedding fiasco), at heart he remained a good ol' boy. Though sober after going through rehab for his alcohol addiction in 2001, he still likes to carouse with the guys and gamble all night—if not at an actual casino, says one source, then at home on his computer. "It was hard to merge their two lifestyles," says their friend. In the end, perhaps, it wasn't his fault or hers—or even the fault of the media, on whose obsessive attention Affleck pinned the cancellation of their wedding four days before the Sept. 14 date.

"When you love someone, the media circus does not get in the way," says the source. "You say, 'Okay, we'll figure it out. Let's do it.' Jennifer didn't realize it at that moment, but when he called it off, the relationship was over. He got out of the trap and he wasn't going to get back in. He was looking for a graceful way to let it die."

To be fair, Affleck may not have fully realized it either. As PEOPLE reported at the time, the couple split briefly after the wedding was called off, but on Sept. 22 they were once again side by side at the Liberty County courthouse, 30 miles southwest of Savannah, near his 83 acre, $7.1 million Hampton Island estate. They told reporters they were just getting a hunting license, but a courthouse source now says Lopez and Affleck submitted an application for a marriage license from Judge Nancy Aspinwall. They asked Aspinwall to store the application—which she did, in a locked cabinet near her desk—until she got the go-ahead from them to file it. Meanwhile, says another source, Affleck asked local authorities to request that the FAA declare a no-fly zone over his property. Police officer Jason Griffin, 33, was one of several people asked to hold Oct. 4 open to provide security for "something big," he says. "They were going to call me a few days before the 4th to tell me where and when to meet."

But the call never came—and no license was filed. "The relationship," says their friend, "started to deteriorate." So why keep hanging on? Lopez, for one, wanted to save face, says a source close to her: "She didn't want to have another failed relationship." Also, her mother, Guadalupe, 58, adored Affleck. "Lupe's like him," says the source. "She's fun and outgoing and likes to gamble." But anyone who saw Lupe at the Peacock Lounge in Las Vegas on Dec. 30—sitting at the blackjack table along with Lopez, Affleck and Matt Damon—could see that her daughter does not. "Ben played while J.Lo stared at his cards, looking bored," says a witness. At least one Affleck friend does not blame Lopez for "haggling him" to curb his gambling. Having once seen him lose tens of thousands of dollars at a gaming table, his pal calls Affleck's wagering "a concern."

The end of the relationship, however, came after Affleck repeatedly refused to bet on marriage. In the past few months, "she gave him ultimatums," says a close source. "He never followed through. She finally realized they were never going to get married." The night before Lopez publicly declared an end to their engagement, Affleck played poker at the Commerce Casino outside L.A. until nearly 4 a.m. He refused to comment on, or even confirm, the split. Lopez, "doing well," says her father, David Lopez, 62, roared back onto the scene as a single woman. On Jan. 24 she attended a birthday party for her former manager Benny Medina at his Beverly Hills home. Credited for her rise to superstardom, Medina had been unceremoniously dumped by Lopez—with the encouragement of Affleck—last June. A month ago she broached a rapprochement with him and danced happily at his party alongside Ricky Martin, Will Smith and the Hilton sisters. The next day Lopez put her best face forward during an appearance at the Golden Globes. Before the ceremony Lopez's mother and young niece Rebecca gathered at Lopez's home to offer their support. As the star tried different dresses, Rebecca paraded around in her aunt's makeup and shoes. "It was a family thing," says Lopez's hairstylist, Oribe. "Jen's mood was great."

The artists formerly known as Bennifer must now concentrate on refurbishing their careers. (Perhaps Lopez was seeking advice when, on Jan. 26, she visited Santeria spiritualist Merle Gonzalez, whom she also consulted the day before her wedding was called off.) First step:Jersey Girl Miramax, the studio releasing the film March 19, has made it clear that, unlike Gigli, this is not a Ben Affleck-Jennifer Lopez vehicle; Lopez's character dies off early in the script, and Affleck will most likely promote the movie on his own. Despite Affleck's cold feet about the wedding, friends say the breakup may take an emotional toll on him. "I think he's more fragile than her," a mutual friend says of the actor, who is taking a break from filmmaking until summer to write with Matt Damon. "He's still very much a boy. Jennifer? She'll be fine in the end. She's a survivor." And no one expects her to be single for long. "She loves to be in love," says one Lopez source. "If she gets married seven times, I wouldn't be surprised."

Karen S. Schneider. Lorenzo Benet, Michael Fleeman, Maureen Harrington, Brenda Rodriguez, Frank Swertlow and Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles, KC Baker, Sharon Cotliar, Mark Dagostino, Rebecca Paley and Michelle Tan in New York, Anne Driscoll in Boston, Kate Silver in Las Vegas and Steve Helling in Savannah

  • Contributors:
  • Lorenzo Benet,
  • Michael Fleeman,
  • Maureen Harrington,
  • Brenda Rodriguez,
  • Frank Swertlow,
  • Ulrica Wihlborg,
  • KC Baker,
  • Sharon Cotliar,
  • Mark Dagostino,
  • Rebecca Paley,
  • Michelle Tan,
  • Anne Driscoll,
  • Kate Silver,
  • Steve Helling.