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”:
A brilliant new account upends bedrock assumptions about 30,000 years of change.
Many years ago, when I was a junior professor at Yale, I cold-called a colleague in the anthropology department for assistance with a project I was working on. I didn’t know anything about the guy; I just selected him because he was young, and therefore, I figured, more likely to agree to talk.
Five minutes into our lunch, I realized that I was in the presence of a genius. Not an extremely intelligent person—a genius. There’s a qualitative difference. The individual across the table seemed to belong to a different order of being from me, like a visitor from a higher dimension. I had never experienced anything like it before. I quickly went from trying to keep up with him, to hanging on for dear life, to simply sitting there in wonder.
In ways both large and small, American society still assumes that the default adult has a partner and that the default household contains multiple people.
If you were to look under the roofs of American homes at random, it wouldn’t take long to find someone who lives alone. By the Census Bureau’s latest count, there are about 36 million solo dwellers, and together they make up 28 percent of U.S. households.
Even though this percentage has been climbing steadily for decades, these people are still living in a society that is tilted against them. In the domains of work, housing, shopping, and health care, much of American life is a little—and in some cases, a lot—easier if you have a partner or live with family members or housemates. The number of people who are inconvenienced by that fact grows every year.
Those who live alone, to be clear, are not lonely and miserable. Research indicates that, young or old, single people are more social than their partnered peers. Bella DePaulo, the author of How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, reeled off to me some of the pleasures of having your own space: “the privacy, the freedom to arrange your life and your space just the way you want it—you get to decide when to sleep, when to get up, what you eat, when you eat, what you watch on Netflix, how you set the thermostat.”
You might have fewer antibodies now. But they’re better than the ones you started with.
In early March, Deepta Bhattacharya, an immunologist at the University of Arizona, celebrated a milestone: hitting the point of full vaccination, two weeks after getting his second Pfizer shot. Since then, he’s been watching the number of coronavirus antibodies in his blood slowly but surely decline.
The drop hasn’t been precipitous, but it’s definitely happening—regular checkups have shown his antibody levels, also known as titers, ticking down, down, down, from spring through summer, now into fall. The slump fits the narrative that countless reports have been sounding the alarm on for a while now: In the months after vaccination, our antibodies peace out, a trend that’s often been described as a “waning” of immunity, and evidence that we’re all in dire need of boosters to shore our defenses back up.
The fate of the Democrats’ push for voting-rights legislation lies once again in the hands of one senator from West Virginia.
The Democratic Party’s push to protect future American elections from GOP suppression and subversion is once again largely in the hands of the moderate senator from West Virginia. For the second time this year, Republicans today unanimously blocked voting-rights legislation from coming up for debate in the Senate. Democrats have the ability to pass the legislation on their own, but only if Manchin—among others—will allow them to do so.
In the imagination of voting-rights advocates, today’s Senate vote should have occurred with thousands of demonstrators marching outside the Capitol, pressuring Republicans to step up and help preserve American democracy. President Joe Biden would be meeting with Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema in the Oval Office, verbally if not physically twisting their arms to persuade them to back a carve-out to the Senate’s filibuster to circumvent GOP obstruction. “The vote on whether we will have a republic is at 2:15 today,” tweeted Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics.
You can make your quest for meaning manageable by breaking it down into three bite-size dimensions.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his new podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.
Want to live in a directed, resolute way? To always know why you’re doing what you’re doing? There’s a simple way to make your dreams come true: Go find the meaning of life!
People who believe that they know their life’s meaning enjoy greater well-being than those who don’t. One 2019 study found that agreeing with the statement “I have a philosophy of life that helps me understand who I am” was associated with fewer symptoms of depression and higher positive affect.
Lucky you if you were born already knowing what the meaning of your life is. For the rest of us, the search can be difficult and frustrating. Philosophy is often unhelpful, offering abstract ideas such as Aristotle’s human function or Kant’s “highest good” that are hard to comprehend, let alone put into action.
Different chemically than it was a decade ago, the drug is creating a wave of severe mental illness and worsening America’s homelessness problem.
In the fall of 2006, law enforcement on the southwest border of the United States seized some crystal methamphetamine. In due course, a five-gram sample of that seizure landed on the desk of a 31-year-old chemist named Joe Bozenko, at the Drug Enforcement Administration lab outside Washington, D.C.
Organic chemistry can be endlessly manipulated, with compounds that, like Lego bricks, can be used to build almost anything. The field seems to breed folks whose every waking minute is spent puzzling over chemical reactions. Bozenko, a garrulous man with a wide smile, worked in the DEA lab during the day and taught chemistry at a local university in the evenings. “Chemist by day, chemist by night,” his Twitter bio once read.
A new film adaptation of the best seller has a colossal budget and an all-star cast—but its emotional depth is what sets it apart.
Paul Atreides, the handsome young protagonist of Dune, is one of science fiction’s original chosen ones. His heroic journey from plucky teenager to feared warrior has been imitated time and time again—think of Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter. But the director Denis Villeneuve’s film is the first adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel to properly portray the grim tragedy of Paul’s arc; the movie is epic in scope, but it understands the quieter human underpinnings of the original work.
At the heart of Herbert’s Dune series, a multi-book tale of space empires, sandworms, religious fervor, and political gamesmanship spanning centuries, was a simple observation: Great power comes with terrible burden. Dune follows the Atreides family after Duke Leto Atreides (played by Oscar Isaac) is given control of Arrakis, a harsh planet that is mined for a magical substance called spice, crucial to space travel. The Duke knows the gift is a poisoned chalice, an opportunity to fail that’s been set up by an evil baron—but still he accepts, hoping to defeat the odds stacked against him. His wife, Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), is an aristocratic space witch who works to mold the future behind the scenes. And their son, Paul (Timothée Chalamet), might be the messiah, a baby she willed into existence against her training. He is marked from birth with the potential to change the universe’s destiny. But being at the center of a cosmic chess match is as terrifying as it is exhilarating.
In three distinct and different places, a similar sense of loss—of liberal values, of hope—is overwhelming.
From my home in Beirut, I think of Hong Kong all the time. Even though I’ve never been and have no real ties to it, I feel as though I have a stake in its future. I stare at news headlines that read, “Hong Kong Families, Fearing a Reign of Terror, Prepare to Flee the City,” and feel a strange, visceral sense of familiarity. I’ve become obsessed with trying to understand—to feel—Hong Kongers’ angst as their city undergoes a precipitous transformation.
Since prodemocracy protests erupted there in 2019, at the same time as anti-corruption demonstrations in Lebanon, I’ve witnessed my own country’s collapse under a plethora of crises: the implosion of its economy, the enormous blast at the Beirut port, and of course the pandemic, all of it wrapped up in endemically corrupt politics and meddling by foreign powers, notably Iran. Decades of progress since the end of the Lebanese civil war in 1990 have been erased, and thousands of Lebanese are rushing for the exit.
Shane Campbell-Staton never planned on traveling to Mozambique in search of tuskless elephants, but weird things can happen when you stay up ’til 3 a.m. binge-watching YouTube videos. (“Sometimes, a brother can’t get to sleep, Ed,” he told me.)
Battling insomnia, Campbell-Staton watched a video about Gorongosa National Park. The park was once Edenic, but during Mozambique’s civil war, from 1977 to 1992, much of its wildlife was exterminated. Government troops and resistance fighters slaughtered 90 percent of Gorongosa’s elephants, selling their ivory to buy arms and supplies. Naturally tuskless females, which are normally rare, were more likely to survive the culls; after the war, their unusual trait was noticeably common.
Medicine has never been about certainty, but odds.
Updated at 11:50 a.m. ET on October 21, 2021.
A pair of realities: This week, Colin Powell, the former secretary of state whose service under President George W. Bush is most prominently associated with the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, died at 84 due to complications from COVID-19, despite having been fully vaccinated. And: There are conditions under which any generally healthy person would most likely have a seizure.
These facts, as strange as they seem in juxtaposition, are related—neither describes events at all out of the ordinary, and yet both arrive as a kind of shock, with the sense that something must be amiss. They share this: They’re matters of probability, and probability is a fact of life in medicine, and a chaos agent in discourse.