They’re a couple who once described themselves as “phone junkies,” keeping up a constant patter even when an ocean lay between them. But last week Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston found themselves picking up the phone – together – to do the most difficult dialing of their 4 1/2-year marriage. One by one they called relatives, close friends and business associates to break the news that would become public on Jan. 7: They had decided to separate. Yet the calls did not have the teary, pass-the-tissues tone that such heartbreaking news might suggest. Pitt “didn’t want people to think the separation is a bad thing,” says a friend of the couple’s. “He emphasized that they were in a good place. The decision was good for them. They’re getting along. They really care about each other.”
To be sure, almost as shocking as the news of the split is the extraordinarily civil manner in which Hollywood’s golden couple – whose romance seemed to so successfully straddle A-list glamor and down-to-earth fun – have approached it. “They still love each other,” says a source close to Aniston and Pitt. “The separation is a step back to see if their relationship is going to be forever or if it’s not. They’re searching for the answer, which is not an easy one to come up with.” And, observes the source, “they’re still very close.” [IMAGE “1” “left” “std” ]They certainly seemed close during their Caribbean getaway last week, a joint vacation with best friends Courteney Cox and David Arquette (who brought their 7-month-old daughter Coco). Although they had already decided to separate, the trip had been scheduled long before, so Aniston, 35, and Pitt, 41, agreed that ” ‘we should still go and have a great time,’ ” says the source. They kissed, laughed, held hands. But not all of that may have been real – or it may not have been real all the time.
When the foursome had dinner at RumZa, an Anguilla club, Cox and Arquette “were very affectionate,” says one observer, while Pitt and Aniston were more reserved. “I never saw them touch during the entire meal,” says the observer. “They seemed more like they were on a first date.” As the couple left the club, they spotted photographers outside. “They put their arms around each other and had these big smiles on their faces like they were incredibly happy,” says the observer. “It was the opposite of the couple I’d seen inside.” [IMAGE “2” “left” “std” ]So what went wrong exactly? According to several sources, it became increasingly difficult for the couple to balance work and family. Ever since they exchanged lavishly romantic wedding vows in July 2000, they have been dogged by the Baby Question. As recently as last month, Pitt told Diane Sawyer of his hopes for the near future. “God, I’m going to say it: Kids. Family. I’m thinking family. Yeah. I got family on the mind.”
Although Aniston has expressed similar desires in the past, one source who recently spoke to the actress notes, “She has been resisting having a child for a number of reasons. One was her career. Also, she wanted to make sure that [the marriage] would last. There was a little doubt that crept in. He was much more interested in having a child. I think it was Jen that broke it off. He was a half step behind her.”
To read more about Brad and Jennifer, pick up PEOPLE’s Jan. 24 issue, on newsstands now.
• By MICHELLE TAUBER, TOM GLIATTO, SAMANTHA MILLER, BROOKE BIZZELL STACHYRA and ALEX TRESNIOWSKI. TODD GOLD, JULIE JORDAN, KWALA MANDEL, BRENDA RODRIGUEZ and PAMELA WARRICK in Los Angeles, K.C. BAKER and AMY LONGSDORF in New York City, KATE KLISE in Springfield, Mo., PETER MIKELBANK in Paris and STEVE HELLING in Anguilla