Readers respond to the question with dramatic personal stories and the lessons they learned. To submit your own breakup story, email firstname.lastname@example.org. (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”:
Sure, it may be true. But that doesn’t mean it’s productive.
“Your refusal has cost all of us,” President Joe Biden said to unvaccinated people last week, as he announced a new COVID-vaccine mandate for all workers at private companies with more than 100 employees. The vaccinated, he said, are angry and frustrated with the nearly 80 million people who still haven’t received a vaccine, and their patience “is wearing thin.”
He’s not wrong about that. For people who understand that widespread vaccination is our best strategy for beating the pandemic, the 25 percent of Americans who still haven’t received a single shot are a barrier to freedom. Their exasperation is warranted.
But bullying the unvaccinated into getting their shots isn’t going to work in the long run.
What I learned about transcendence from a very boring 100-mile trek
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
Last month, a survey by the travel industry found that a majority of Americans changed their vacation plans this summer because of the continuing coronavirus pandemic. But not everyone canceled their vacations entirely; travel spending has been almost as high this summer as it was in the summer of 2019. Some would-be adventurers simply found ways to do the exotic things they’d planned to do overseas in less exotic places. One of my friends, for instance, went bungee jumping in North Carolina instead of Costa Rica.
For my vacation, I did the opposite: I went with my family to a fairly exotic place to do a distinctly unexotic thing. I went to Spain and took a very quiet 100-mile walk.
Vanishingly few people have legitimate reasons to avoid COVID-19 vaccination. Some say their doctors told them not to get vaccinated anyway.
In the battle against vaccine hesitancy, many officials have suggested that people talk with their doctor if they have concerns about getting vaccinated. This advice makes a certain amount of sense. Primary-care physicians are typically the doctors patients trust most, and doctors deeply understand the benefits of vaccines. The American Medical Association has claimed, based on a survey it conducted, that 96 percent of doctors are fully vaccinated.
In recent weeks, though, I’ve heard from several people with an interesting excuse for waiting to get vaccinated: They say their doctors told them not to. Most of the people I spoke with requested anonymity so they could share sensitive health information. Most would also not give me their doctors’ names in order to shield the providers from negative consequences. The doctors whose names I did get did not return my calls or declined to comment for this story, leaving it unclear what they really think about vaccine exemptions. Some of the people I spoke with may simply be vaccine-hesitant and trying to blame a doctor for their own choice to delay or forgo getting a vaccine. But because doctors are a large and relatively diverse group of people, with varied training, credentials, and personal politics, it makes sense that some doctors would have incorrect views about vaccination.
The United States has allied with Britain and Australia to form a new anti-China grouping.
A new world is beginning to take shape, even if it remains disguised in the clothes of the old.
The United States, Britain, and Australia have announced what is in effect a new “Anglo” military alliance. The basics are these: In 2016, Australia struck a deal with France to buy a fleet of diesel-powered submarines, rejecting an Anglo-American alternative for nuclear-powered vessels. In March this year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (or, “that fellow down under,” as Joe Biden referred to him), began talking with Washington about reversing its decision. Then, last night, in a live three-way public announcement, Biden, Morrison, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson revealed that the Australians would scrap their agreement with France to team up with Britain and the U.S. instead, forming a new “AUKUS” military alliance in the process.
A new study suggests that almost half of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have mild or asymptomatic cases.
At least 12,000 Americans have already died from COVID-19 this month, as the country inches through its latest surge in cases. But another worrying statistic is often cited to depict the dangers of this moment: The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the United States right now is as high as it has been since the beginning of February. It’s even worse in certain places: Some states, including Arkansas and Oregon, recently saw their COVID hospitalizations rise to higher levels than at any prior stage of the pandemic. But how much do those latter figures really tell us?
From the start, COVID hospitalizations have served as a vital metric for tracking the risks posed by the disease. Last winter, this magazine described it as “the most reliable pandemic number,” while Vox quoted the cardiologist Eric Topol as saying that it’s “the best indicator of where we are.” On the one hand, death counts offer finality, but they’re a lagging signal and don’t account for people who suffered from significant illness but survived. Case counts, on the other hand, depend on which and how many people happen to get tested. Presumably, hospitalization numbers provide a more stable and reliable gauge of the pandemic’s true toll, in terms of severe disease. But a new, nationwide study of hospitalization records, released as a preprint today (and not yet formally peer reviewed), suggests that the meaning of this gauge can easily be misinterpreted—and that it has been shifting over time.
Infection can provide protection, but it means taking two gambles: that immunity will stick around, while symptoms don’t.
Immune cells can learn the vagaries of a particular infectious disease in two main ways. The first is bona fide infection, and it’s a lot like being schooled in a war zone, where any lesson in protection might come at a terrible cost. Vaccines, by contrast, safely introduce immune cells to only the harmless mimic of a microbe, the immunological equivalent of training guards to recognize invaders before they ever show their face. The first option might be more instructive and immersive—it is, after all, the real thing. But the second has a major advantage: It provides crucial intel in the absence of risk.
Some pathogens aren’t memorable to the body, no matter the form in which they’re introduced. But with SARS-CoV-2, we’ve been lucky: Both inoculationand infection can marshal stellar protection. Past tussles with the virus, in fact, seem so immunologically instructive that in many places, including several nations in the European Union, Israel, and the United Kingdom, they can grant access to restaurants, bars, and travel hubs galore, just as full vaccination does.
The battles over “virginity testing” and “virginity-restoration surgery” reveal the persistence of dangerous pseudoscience.
In the Middle Ages, a royal bride would be inspected before her wedding night to make sure she was a virgo intacta—a virgin with an intact hymen covering the entrance to her vagina. “The Hymen is a membrane not altogether without blood,” wrote the 17th-century court obstetrician Louise Bourgeois. “In the middle it hath a little hole, through which the menses are voided. This at the first time of copulation is broken, which causes some pain, and gushing forth of some quantity of blood; which is an evident sign of virginity.”
In reality, some girls are born without a hymen, while others tear the membrane long before they have sex, most commonly by exercising or, today, by using tampons. Yet the demand for virginity testing—typically, a gynecological exam in which a doctor looks for the presence of a hymen—has proved surprisingly durable. In 1979, the British government performed one on a 35-year-old Indian woman who had traveled to London to get married, in order “to see whether she was, in fact, a bona fide virgin.” (The Guardian later revealed that immigration officials subjected more than 80 women to such tests from 1976 to 1979.) The Egyptian authorities used the pretext of virginity inspections to assault female protesters during the Arab Spring in 2011, and until July of this year the Indonesian military regularly performed such assessments not only on female recruits, but also on the fiancées of its male soldiers.
To celebrities, the red carpet of the Met Gala is like an average person’s front lawn: a place for making bold statements. The event, an annual fundraiser for the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, is made for flaunting ostentatious couture. The dress code is determined by a theme—this year’s was “American Independence,” in honor of a forthcoming exhibition—that can be interpreted however an attendee prefers. Tickets are $35,000 a pop. And for four hours, the invitees—normally the most relevant cultural figures of the year—get to mug for the camera before heading inside. As a red-carpet co-host, the actor Keke Palmer, declared at the top of last night’s show, “You can never go wrong with a message.”
Will the Black body ever have the opportunity to rest in peace?
The photographs are about the size of a small hand. They’re wrapped in a leatherette case and framed in gold. From the background of one, the image of a Black woman’s body emerges. Her hair is plaited close to her head, and she is naked from the waist up. Her stare seems to penetrate the glass of the frame, peering into the eyes of the viewer. The paper label that accompanies her likeness reads: Delia, country born of African parents, daughter of Renty, Congo. In another frame, her father stands before the camera, his collarbone prominent, and his temples peppered with gray and white hair. The label on his photo says: Renty, Congo, on plantation of B.F. Taylor, Columbia, S.C.
In 1850, when these images were captured, the subjects in the daguerreotypes were considered property. The bodies in the photographs had been shaped by hard labor on the grub plantation, where they’d spent their lives stooped over sandy soil, working approximately 1,200 acres of cotton and 200 of corn. Brought from the fields to a photography studio in Columbia, South Carolina, each person was photographed from different angles, in the hopes of finding photographic evidence of physical differences between the Black enslaved and the white masters who owned them. A daguerreotype took somewhere between three and 15 minutes of exposure time, and the end result was a detailed image imprinted on a small copper-plated sheet, covered with a thin coat of silver.
Perhaps you’ve noticed that ebooks are awful. I hate them, but I don’t know why I hate them. Maybe it’s snobbery. Perhaps, despite my long career in technology and media, I’m a secret Luddite. Maybe I can’t stand the idea of looking at books as computers after a long day of looking at computers as computers. I don’t know, except for knowing that ebooks are awful.
If you hate ebooks like I do, that loathing might attach to their dim screens, their wonky typography, their weird pagination, their unnerving ephemerality, or the prison house of a proprietary ecosystem. If you love ebooks, it might be because they are portable, and legible enough, and capable of delivering streams of words, fiction and nonfiction, into your eyes and brain with relative ease. Perhaps you like being able to carry a never-ending stack of books with you wherever you go, without having to actually lug them around. Whether you love or hate ebooks is probably a function of what books mean to you, and why.