Readers respond to the question with dramatic personal stories and the lessons they learned. To submit your own breakup story, email email@example.com. (And if you’d like to include a song that most resonates with that relationship, please do.)
This reader tried to put his foot down like Wayne did with Stacy:
I had been in a relationship for about four years, unhappy for at least the previous two years. I knew that being with her forever was the “smart” call (beautiful, medical student, wonderful family) but we weren’t a good fit, and arguments flared up constantly. I believed that I “should” be happy but I wasn’t, and I beat myself up for being so horrible as to not appreciate what I had.
Nevertheless, I was miserable and finally got up the nerve to end things ... or I almost did. She made a death grip around my arm, told me I wasn’t leaving until we made up, and I caved after about an hour. This was our sixth or tenth breakup, and I couldn’t bear to go to my friends and say that I hadn’t followed through (I thought that telling some ahead of time would force me to stick with it).
So I lied, at least until things were “settled.” To my family and some of my friends, we were still together. To most of my friends, I was a single guy newly freed from my situation.
In the two years that followed I kept this facade going, carefully negotiating mixed social gatherings with utter terror that I’d be discovered. With everyone I met I had to decide what version of the truth I would go with and how that would play into the overall social network. Where did I tell them I was spending the weekend? Who did I say I was going on vacation with?
It was exhausting. Meanwhile, my actual relationship wasn’t going any better. What had started as a desire to hide my lack of conviction from my friends had turned into a full-blown double life, complete with dating and infidelity (though never another relationship per se).
After two years of this anxiety we broke up for “normal” reasons, wanting different things out of our future (as you do when you meet at 20 and now you’re 26) among other things. There was some initial anguish, as I did still love her, but I think the relief from cognitive dissonance did as much to relax me as did ending an unhappy relationship.
That was three years ago. No one ever found out.
When some people cheat, it’s the “other man/woman” who they keep secret from the rest of their lives. For me, I kept the relationship secret from the rest of my life. Every time someone tells me I am honest or a great guy, I cringe.
That’s the crux of the second story below, but first a quick one from this Southern reader:
I’ve had a couple of memorable breakups, but the worst was when my ex-wife left me for her best friend’s husband—a guy she met while singing in the choir at church. And, yes, we’re from the Bible Belt, where people think that just because you go to church on Sundays, all sins are forgiven and they can smile in your face while one hand is in your pocket and the other up your wife’s skirt.
Now about that headline:
I was just two years out of college and still figuring out what I wanted to do career wise when the Great Recession hit. I had just wrapped up a year of AmeriCorps when the economy tanked in September 2008, so in a way I had prepped for poverty. I was also living at home with my parents and generally depressed.
Then I met someone. He was not a guy I would have considered my type. As a gay man, I thought I wanted someone who was masculine, strong, and unafraid (i.e., my opposite). He wore scarves, did yoga, and always wanted to talk about his feelings. Our respective situations (he was also living at home) are what brought us together and then inevitably drove us apart.
We dated for two months before he left for Thailand. It was a trip he was planning for months and our seeing each other happened amidst his planning. We talked daily and the distance made us closer in many ways. Ongoing family issues also made us bond over our shared realization that we came from pretty messed-up homes.
When he returned, a mutual acquaintance offered his cabin as a place to stay. We seized the opportunity to live together and not at our respective homes.
Then disaster, in the form of opportunity, interceded. I was offered an incredible job in Boston at a nonprofit legal advocacy group. Shortly thereafter, he was accepted to Georgetown University with a full scholarship. This happened after he was first accepted to a school in Boston and we had spent weeks looking at apartments together.
We had lived in the cabin for no more than one month when I took the job and he put down a deposit for Georgetown. During that time, I had also bonded with our mutual acquaintance/landlord. We became very close and he listened as I expressed my frustration, confusion, and doubts. So it was no surprise when I found myself attracted to him and drifting away from my boyfriend.
And drift I did. In Boston, I answered phone calls but didn’t offer much in the way of enthusiasm at the prospect of continuing our long-distance relationship. Meanwhile, our friend, the former landlord, visited me regularly and we started an intimate relationship.
About one month into my new job, my boyfriend showed up unannounced at my door. I spoke to him outside my apartment. I could tell he was nervous, after driving nearly four hours and arriving unannounced at my place. We didn’t fight, but he became frustrated when I wasn’t forthcoming about my feelings about him and us.
And then he pulled out the ring.
I remember saying something to the effect of “no, no, no” as he opened the case there on the sidewalk. I felt like the worst human being on earth. Here was a person proposing to me while our mutual friend was upstairs in my apartment, undoubtedly still sweaty from our marathon sex that afternoon.
I declined the proposal and sent him off to drive another four hours home. I went upstairs and had what was described to me as a ghostly appearance. I knew I made the right decision at the time, as marriage was inconceivable given his schooling and my job. But I was racked with guilt.
This all happened almost seven years ago now, but I still cringe at how I avoided the tough conversation and how that led to an even tougher breakup. If I could go back, I would have ended things much sooner and not let them drag out to the point of a last-ditch marriage proposal. We all deserve a clean break.
That’s the metaphor used by the second reader below. This first one points to a different kind of persistent pain when describing his most memorable breakup:
It wasn’t the phone call to my English-language teaching girlfriend “temporarily” living in Lyon, France, that started (and essentially ended) with “I’m staying.” And it wasn’t the disembodied rupture of my first relationship of true love that made the breakup so hard. It was the never-ending grief-bombs I found in my next three apartment moves over the next two years—tiny little notes from her falling out of my belongings … “an ocean is nothing!” I’d rather have found a dead roach.
Our second reader’s story:
I met him when I was 23. I was young, relatively successful in my career and had six months of living in NYC under my belt. He and I were brought together in a cozy bar in Chelsea thanks to a few OkCupid messages.
If I allow myself, I remember every detail of that night.
I learned that night I had a gift of memory in our relationship which would make almost impossible to ever forget. Our first night together I know what drink he ordered, what shirt I wore, the color of his watch strap, and even the address of the brownstone I pushed him in to walking back to my apartment to steal one of those deep, electric kisses we did not know we could ever have.
The next day, we met up again. He could do no wrong and I could not want him any more. We fell asleep, two men, in each other’s arms in the middle of Central Park, the grass enveloping our bodies as if to stitch us even closer.
Fast forward a few blissful months and I had him pinned down in bed in the playful way we were and he told me he loved me. My first love.
Fast forward another handful of months and, in the same bed, I found out he had cheated on me.
What I did not realize was that the moment I was exposed to that confession I was living with a poison inside me from the infidelity. Like a snakebite, infidelity infected me with doubt, anger, and confusion that I let seep into my head and heart. He begged me to stay. I did.
The relationship ended a year after that. It actually ended on our two-year anniversary. Our last day together wasn’t anything like the first. He told me I was a different version of myself and through my tears I begged him to be the one to stay. He did not.
We have not seen or spoken to each other in over a year. I am not sure I could handle it and I am not sure he even cares. It feels unfair to me that I continue to live with this poison. It feels unfair that now, in love, my trust comes with an anticipation of being bit again.
I was 21, fresh out of my job training in the Army, and newly arrived at my first duty station—Ft Bliss, Texas. He was 28 or 29, and newly arrived at an Air Force Base in Korea. We had dated for a year prior, my longest relationship to date, but we would be physically separated for the foreseeable future, if not for the entirety of our military careers. I was in love with him but unable to admit, either to him or to myself, that what we had would not survive the distance.
I slept with someone at Ft Bliss within a month of my arrival. I writhed with guilt until I told him about it on Valentine’s Day via chat. At the time, I told myself I was just looking to unburden my guilt, and I gave him the choice to stay with me or break up. Looking back, I realize that sleeping with L was an act of sabotage, a way to hasten the ending of the inevitable, and leaving the decision to end it to him was cowardice on my part. I’d like to blame it on my youth, but I knew better.
That’s what this poor reader went through—but eventually the feeling came full circle:
My girlfriend and I had gone through college in Wisconsin together for four years as a couple and lived together for two of those years. Nearing graduation I asked her to marry me, to which she said yes, and then I moved to DC to start working, while she took a trip to Europe with her younger sister that was a graduation present from her parents. I had a bad Spidey sense about that situation, but work beckoned, and she was to meet up with me in DC after her trip.
She got back and called me from Wisconsin at 11:00 one night saying that she had “met a few guys” on her trip and decided that she needed to be free and would not marry me. I replied “Hold on … I’ll be right there!”
I dropped the phone and jumped into my car with nothing but my wallet and drove all night from DC to Northern Wisconsin, where her family lived. I arrived late the next day exhausted and mentally undone. I slept for a few fitful hours, and upon awaking, we walked together in the orange/yellow sunset through waste-high corn … where she dumped me. In the corn.
I was totally devastated. I had never been un-loved before.
She then moved down to DC to start her job. A year later she called me out of the blue and asked to get together for dinner and to talk. When we met she said she had dated some other guys and decided that I was the one for her. She asked me to marry her and suggested we fly off to Vegas and get hitched ASAP.
I happened to be dating someone seriously at the time, so I turned down her proposal. That bridge had been burnt to the ground.
Here’s a reader with a less dramatic story but one you can probably relate to more:
I found myself in a summer romance with an older woman; she was 32, I was 27. Like many a great modern relationship, we met via Tinder, went on a date shortly after we’d started chatting, and it was dynamite; she was a force of nature in a tiny package and we had amazing chemistry. The next couple of months were a giddy blur of sunny days, listening to records in her beautiful apartment and screwing each other silly.
Then she invited me to come on a road trip with her to a friend’s wedding. For a while before the trip I’d had the feeling that something was awry—that deep, low inkling of discontent you sense in your gut, even when everything else appears rosy and serene.
The night of the wedding, both of us loaded to the gills with booze from the reception and staying in a tent on her friend’s acreage, five hours from home, we had the conversation. The next morning we were both desperately hungover and decided it’d be best if we didn’t continue the road trip together.
I’ll never forget that horrible, whisky-soaked, impossibly long wait for the Greyhound to depart as I sat onboard, watching her cry behind her sunglasses as she sat in her car in the parking lot. The relief as the bus pulled away was huge, if not painful—like resetting a dislocated joint. I don’t think either of us appreciated how strongly we’d come to feel about each other in such a short space of time until that day.
We saw each other one time after that and talked about staying in touch, but then we never saw or spoke to each other again. That was definitely one for the books, but I can’t help but smile when I think back to my time with that amazing little lady, even if the breakup was a rough one.
I asked the reader if he’d be comfortable elaborating on why they broke up, and his responded:
From the start we were both very upfront with each other that neither of us were looking to get into anything serious, which was fine with me. She’d been hurt pretty badly by her last relationship and I was expecting to move away later in the year, so something casual suited us both.
As time went on, I think we were both starting to realise that we were really into each other, probably too much. I guess she decided she needed to put some distance between us, emotionally and physically, and had been thinking about it for a while before the wedding.
I’d had a feeling for maybe a week before we left for the trip that something was off, but we’d only been communicating by text that week and I’m terrible at interpreting texts (the curse of modern dating, if you ask me). Things ended so suddenly because we’d always been so open and upfront with each other up until that point, so I was upset that she didn’t tell me how she felt before we went on the trip when we finally talked about it that night. The fact that we were both hammered certainly didn’t help things.
That’s perhaps not as concise as you’d like, but it’s hard to distill the whole scenario into a neat paragraph while still providing a clear picture of why things ended.
In my experience it’s often the most ambiguous and friendly breakups that are the hardest, since closure is so much more difficult. The more dramatic breakups are more painful in the short term but at least you can move on more quickly. If you have a memorable breakup you’d like to share, drop us an email.
Over the weekend, prompted by examples of memorable breakups from readers in the TAD discussion group, we asked readers to submit their own stories. The first comes from a woman who prefers to stay anonymous, and her brief story is enough to give anyone nausea:
I was with a guy for almost five years, four of which we lived together. We had the conversation about settling down, having kids, etc., and started taking steps towards that, but he soon began acting strangely and our relationship started to dissolve. It felt like sand slipping through my fingers; no matter what I did, we couldn’t seem to get to a good place.
We decided to separate but stay friends in the hopes we would reconcile. Unfortunately, we were stuck in a lease together, so we had to cohabitate for four months.
I signed the lease on an apartment once he was able to find someone to take over. The day I signed it, I did something I never thought I would do: I snooped on his computer. He was a very sexual person, to the point of addiction, but he hadn’t tried to touch me for months. When I opened his Gmail, I saw that every message—every single one—was arranging sex from Craigslist or porn messaging sites. And these messages went back a year.
I was devastated. I’d supported him emotionally and financially for two years after he’d been kicked out of grad school. I’d put my career, my family, and myself second to him. I told him that he was dead to me and we never spoke again.
While I’ll never be proud that I snooped, I’m glad I did, because despite the heartache and pain it caused me, it was the breaking point. It took a long time for me to emotionally recover from that relationship, but I wouldn’t change a thing because it made me the badass woman that I am today.
That’s the question a reader recently posed in TAD, the nickname for a discussion group launched and moderated by a handful of Atlantic readers and former members of the Horde. Here’s Lizzou:
I’ll start. I had just finished uni, dating a boyfriend of three months. I’m living in NoVA and he’s back home in WI. He calls me late one night, drunk and crying: “My mom says I’m too young to be in a relationship and she doesn’t like Italians...” (He was almost 22 years old.)
1. Tell that b*tch of a mother you have that I’m f*cking Sicilian, not Italian. And, are we living in the 19th century or something?
2. Can you call me back when you’re not drunk so we can have an adult good-bye conversation?
He never called me back. I was fine; he didn’t break my heart or anything, but I was just soooo pissed off at how he broke with me. Now I think it’s hilarious.
Anywho, it spurred me to get a teaching job, sell my car to finance airfare and student loan payments for a year, and move to Slovakia three weeks later. Best decision ever.
She got reassurance from another reader: “You dodged a bullet—and avoided an Annie Hall family dinner!” Like so:
Speaking of New Yorkers:
My most memorable breakup was when I was living in NY and dating a lawyer. I moved in with him and two months later discover he had a wife and two kids. That was fun.
Still mourn that apartment.
This story is pretty bleak:
I was very young, 20 or 21. I had been living with a guy for about six months. We were relatively happy but I was changing. Growing up. He could feel it. He asked me to marry him. I waited for him to go to work. Packed my stuff. Wrote a note on scrap paper and hung it up with a refrigerator magnet:
“Sorry. I love you but this isn’t a forever thing.”
I drove to my girlfriend’s and crashed on her couch until I could find a place. He tried to find me but I avoided him. I didn’t want to let him suck me back in. I was cold about it, but I felt like I had to be in order to escape. I never talked to him again.
This next reader can’t really relate to memorable breakups:
I never had much heartbreak. My relationships tended to end naturally and I had relatively few before meeting my wife. Growing up I wasn’t much of a relationship guy—mostly sex and hooking up.
I broke up with someone we’ll name Stacy. She wanted something more and I wasn’t providing, it hurt because she was one woman I could roll with. We would get high, relax, chill, and just enjoy each other’s existence. Idk what happened to her; she deleted her FB after college.
I had a one night stand with a French woman. We f*cked each other’s brains out. Then she never texted me back. This actually inspired me to work out more and find a new job. I kept thinking I had to prove myself to her, but idk why I let one woman I f*cked once have this effect on me. We’re friends on FB and she seems to be happy with her Italian bf, so ah well.
Or as Bob Dylan would say, “Don’t think twice, it’s all right”:
What happens when a meme becomes a terrorist movement?
On May 29, two federal security officers guarding a courthouse in Oakland, California, were ambushed by machine-gun fire as elsewhere in the city demonstrators marched peacefully to protest the killing of George Floyd. One of the guards, David Patrick Underwood, died as a result of the attack, and the other was wounded. For days, conservative news broadcasters pinned the blame on “antifa,” the loosely affiliated group of anti-fascist anarchists known to attack property and far-right demonstrators at protests. But the alleged culprit, apprehended a week later, turned out to be a 32-year-old Air Force sergeant named Steven Carrillo, the head of a squadron called the Phoenix Ravens, which guards military installations from terrorist attacks.
In France, where I live, the virus is under control. I can hardly believe the news coming out of the United States.
I returned to Paris with my family three months after President Emmanuel Macron had ordered one of the world’s most aggressive national quarantines, and one month after France had begun to ease itself out of it. When we exited the Gare Montparnasse into the late-spring glare, after a season tucked away in a rural village with more cows than people as neighbors, it was jarring to be thrust back into the world as we’d previously known it, to see those café terraces overflowing again with smiling faces.
My first reaction was one of confused frustration as we drove north across the river to our apartment. The city had been culled of its tourists, though it was bustling with inhabitants basking in their reclaimed freedom. Half at most wore masks; the other half evinced indifference. We were in the midst of a crisis, I complained to my wife. Why were so many people unable to maintain even minimal discipline?
Imagine if the National Transportation Safety Board investigated America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Coping with a pandemic is one of the most complex challenges a society can face. To minimize death and damage, leaders and citizens must orchestrate a huge array of different resources and tools. Scientists must explore the most advanced frontiers of research while citizens attend to the least glamorous tasks of personal hygiene. Physical supplies matter—test kits, protective gear—but so do intangibles, such as “flattening the curve” and public trust in official statements. The response must be global, because the virus can spread anywhere, but an effective response also depends heavily on national policies, plus implementation at the state and community level. Businesses must work with governments, and epidemiologists with economists and educators. Saving lives demands minute-by-minute attention from health-care workers and emergency crews, but it also depends on advance preparation for threats that might not reveal themselves for many years. I have heard military and intelligence officials describe some threats as requiring a “whole of nation” response, rather than being manageable with any one element of “hard” or “soft” power or even a “whole of government” approach. Saving lives during a pandemic is a challenge of this nature and magnitude.
Power comes before freedom, not the other way around.
His impatience had thinned like the length of his letters back home to his wife, Abigail, in Boston. On June 7, 1776, John Adams finally had the opportunity to second the resolution that led to the Declaration of Independence at the Second Continental Congress. Though it was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the declaration’s editors and defenders behind history’s scenes piloted its approval on July 2, mostly notably Adams.
He pleased his wife, Abigail, impatient, too, as she was about declaring independence that year. But she desired more. “In the new Code of Laws … I desire you would Remember the Ladies,” she wrote to him on March 31, 1776. “If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no … Representation.”
The president’s mindless nationalism has come to this: Americans are not welcome in Europe or Mexico.
There is a lot of learned material written about nationalism—scholarly books and papers, histories of it, theories of it—but most of us understand that nationalism, at its heart, at its very deepest roots, is about a feeling of superiority: We are better than you. Our country is better than your country. Or even—and apologies, but this is the precise language deployed by the president of the United States: Your country is a shithole country. Ours isn’t.
In this sense, nationalism is not patriotism, which is the desire to work on behalf of your fellow citizens, to defend common values, to build something positive. Nationalism is not community spirit either, which seeks to pull people together. Nationalism has nothing to do with democratic values: Authoritarians can be nationalists; indeed, most are. Nationalism has nothing to do with the rule of law, justice, or opportunity. At its core, nationalism is rather a competition, an ugly and negative competition. There’s a reason nationalists build walls, denigrate foreigners, and denounce immigrants: Because our people are better than those people. There’s a reason nationalism has so often become violent in the past. For if we—our nation—are better, then what right do others have to live beside us? Or to occupy land that we covet? Or even, maybe, to live at all?
The disease’s “long-haulers” have endured relentless waves of debilitating symptoms—and disbelief from doctors and friends.
For Vonny LeClerc, day one was March 16.
Hours after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson instated stringent social-distancing measures to halt the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, LeClerc, a Glasgow-based journalist, arrived home feeling shivery and flushed. Over the next few days, she developed a cough, chest pain, aching joints, and a prickling sensation on her skin. After a week of bed rest, she started improving. But on day 12, every old symptom returned, amplified and with reinforcements: She spiked an intermittent fever, lost her sense of taste and smell, and struggled to breathe.
When I spoke with LeClerc on day 66, she was still experiencing waves of symptoms. “Before this, I was a fit, healthy 32-year-old,” she said. “Now I’ve been reduced to not being able to stand up in the shower without feeling fatigued. I’ve tried going to the supermarket and I’m in bed for days afterwards. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.” Despite her best efforts, LeClerc has not been able to get a test, but “every doctor I’ve spoken to says there’s no shadow of a doubt that this has been COVID,” she said. Today is day 80.
The writer and activist has the painful, powerful words for this political moment. America just needs to heed them.
“There are days—this is one of them—when you wonder what your role is in this country and what your future is in it. How, precisely, are you going to reconcile yourself to your situation here and how you are going to communicate to the vast, heedless, unthinking, cruel white majority that you are here. I’m terrified at the moral apathy, the death of the heart, which is happening in my country. These people have deluded themselves for so long that they really don’t think I’m human. And I base this on their conduct, not on what they say. And this means that they have become in themselves moral monsters.”
James Baldwin made this somber observation more than 50 years ago. I included these words in my film I Am Not Your Negro, which explored Baldwin’s searing assessment of American society through the lens of the assassination of three of his friends: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. It is a film that cruelly shortens time and space between acts of police brutality in Birmingham in 1963 and images of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after the killing of Michael Brown; recent images of protests over the death of George Floyd extend that tragic connection to the present-day.
People complain that going to the shore is a careless act during a pandemic, but the science so far suggests otherwise.
We’ve entered another risky, uncertain phase of America’s pandemic summer. COVID-19 cases are surging across most states, and once again, intensive-care units are filling up. Eighteen states have either paused or rolled back their plans to reopen, and even Republican governors who previously resisted public-health guidelines about masks are now asking people to mask up.
So why on Earth do so many articles about this crisis feature pictures of people frolicking on wide-open beaches? Why is an attorney dressed as the grim reaper bothering beachgoers in Jacksonville, Florida? Why are cities such as Los Angeles shutting down beaches?
The answer, unfortunately, goes a long way to explain why, of all the developed, rich nations, the United States may well be stuck in the worst-case scenario, and for the longest amount of time.
One of the world’s best players taught me his unique psychological style of play—and it worked.
I first encountered Erik Seidel the way many poker newbies do. I was watching Rounders, the 1998 Matt Damon movie about a brilliant law student who pays his way through school with his poker prowess, and in the end quits law altogether to play full-time. In several scenes, a real-life poker match plays in the background. It’s the 1988 World Series of Poker final table showdown, between a young Seidel and Johnny Chan, the “master,” as Chan is repeatedly described by the commentators. This is the most famous poker match in the nonpoker world, in which Seidel’s set of queens falls to Chan’s straight, after the older player sets an expert trap for his less experienced victim.
At the time, Chan was the reigning world champion and Seidel was at his first-ever major tournament. He’d made it past 165 other contenders to make the final table, the last man standing save one. Thirty years later, Seidel has become the master. He holds eight WSOP bracelets—only five players in the tournament’s history have more—and a World Poker Tour title. He is in the Poker Hall of Fame, one of just 32 living members. He boasts the fourth-highest tournament career winnings in the history of the game, and is fourth in the number of times he cashed in the WSOP (114). Many consider him the GOAT—the greatest of all time.
In the beach towns south of Melbourne, everyone, it seems, knows someone who’s been attacked.
About a week after Steven Mikac began taking antibiotics for the strange spot on his leg, the flesh around his ankle started to tighten and swell. The moist orifice of a wound opened up and took the form of a small bullet hole. A plug of tissue had gone missing—dissolved into pus and slime. Walking was excruciating. Working, unbearable. In early October of last year, Mikac showed his ankle to a colleague at the hospital where he works in Melbourne, in the Australian state of Victoria. She suggested that it might be Buruli ulcer—a disease caused by a strain of flesh-eating bacteria.
Though Mikac had seen local television reports about an outbreak of this tropical disease in Victoria, it sounded so freakish, so unlikely, that he hardly considered it a possibility. But like hundreds of Australians before him, he was about to become all too familiar with Buruli, a slow-moving horror show that has proved, in many ways, even more baffling to infectious-disease researchers than the novel coronavirus. After decades of research, scientists still aren’t certain who, or what, is spreading this strange malady around the world.