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.)
These two entries for our ongoing reader series are bookends of sorts—one at the end of a long marriage and the other just before one. This first reader has a grim anecdote, which she frames as “the final breakup”:
My husband was dying from Lewy Body disease—think Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s combined. (Robin Williams made the right decision when given the same diagnosis.) He was in a nursing home. As he lay stretched out on the hospital bed, I gently caressed his forehead and forearm. His last words to me before death: “Stop petting me like a fucking dog.”
This next reader goes into much greater detail over her “pre-emptive divorce” to a manipulative Mormon fiancé:
The breakup that sticks out the most would be when I broke off my first engagement at age 20. I met him September 2002, when I was 19, and he proposed the next April. We were both students at Brigham Young University, which has a very high marriage rate, in part due to the strict moral code of conduct associated with Mormon beliefs. I was inexperienced and had never dated another Mormon before, so I thought he was amazing: He shared my belief system and was a decent human being, and I thought that was enough.
Well, when school let out for the summer he went to live with his parents in Boise and I went to live with mine in Texas. I poured my soul out to him in emails that were pages long, but he would only respond with a paragraph every couple of days or so. He called once a week. My parents saw him for what he was (manipulative, not particularly affectionate, cynical, and unable to hold a job) and were very vocally opposed to the union. I spent nearly all of our engagement in a perpetual state of anxiety.
When I flew back to Utah for classes in the fall, he picked me up. I was totally unprepared for the raging anxiety attack that I experienced on the way from the plane to baggage claim. I ducked inside the bathroom for a few minutes to collect myself, wishing that I could stay in there forever. Why was I feeling this way? It hit me: because I didn’t want to see him. I didn’t want to marry him.
But I did go out to meet him so he could pick me up from the airport. And then I let him manipulate me into thinking, yes, we should get married. He also said that my mother, if she was opposed to our union, was in league with Satan.
When we discussed what to do about a study abroad program that was a requirement for graduation for my major, he suggested that I not go, because “all I’d be doing was delaying my graduation.” We were both devoutly Mormon, so we never slept together, but the topic of birth control was brought up. “I dunno,” he said. “I guess that’s just something that you’d take care of.”
By November, I couldn’t take it any more. We sat at the table in my apartment, and I said, “Do you think we should break up?” (which of course meant, “I think we should break up.”) He leaned away from me and crossed his arms, with a closed, empty look on his face. He said, “How much of this is from you, and how much is from your mother?” My eyes flashed with anger, but I kept my voice quiet. “It’s me.”
Later, we found ourselves outside my apartment and he hugged me for the last time. He said, “I’m still your friend and your brother. Someday, when you find someone, if he hurts you I’ll kill him and make it look like an accident.”
You’d think that with a closing line like that, it would be a fairly amicable breakup. Ha. Then the nasty emails began. He said that I was ridiculous, that my reasons for breaking up with him were illegitimate, that he “overestimated my maturity.”
The breakup was totally worth it. My roommates said that I looked happier, that I had become a stronger person. I went on my study abroad to Egypt and it was everything I dreamed it would be. When I got back to the states, he contacted me again and asked if we could spend some time together, presumably in hopes of getting back together. After all those nasty things he said to me a year previously, there was no way in hell. But I said politely, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”
If I had married him, I know I would have divorced him by now. Indeed, I referred to this breakup to my friends as my “pre-emptive divorce.”
I did eventually marry someone else several years after this incident. October will be our 11th anniversary, and we have four kids.
This woman’s experience is similar to the reader who discovered her boyfriend’s sex addiction and string of affairs while checking his email:
Hi, here’s my submission to the breakup story thread. I’ve also attached a song [that most resonates with the relationship].
Tyler and I had decided to move in together after two weeks of dating. At this point, he had already told me he loved me, retrieved his belongings that were being withheld by his crack-addicted roommate in East Oakland, and showed up at my doorstep the next day with a queen-sized mattress and a Maine Coon cat named Mona. As a 20-year-old living in San Francisco, somehow this all made sense.
It was only after he had developed a drug addiction and couldn’t hold down a job that things started to get complicated.
I was hopelessly in love with this person, and yet I got the nagging suspicion that he was somehow leading a double life in order to make ends meet. I cast the feeling aside. It felt cowardly. The evidence was all there, but I was in denial. I felt weak for ignoring the smell of burning hair in our bathroom, which I later learned was crack, and accepting Tyler’s lies even though his lips still were tinged with that offensive, bitter taste.
Eventually, between loving gazes and long wretches onto the sidewalk one night, he told me he wanted to get married and spend the rest of his life with me.
Then, we got into a serious fight after he had gotten me fired from my job, and I cheated on him out of spite and helplessness. The morning after, as I stumbled to West Oakland Bart to make my way back home, I knew that the right thing would be to end the relationship that day. For some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and so we stayed together for another four tumultuous months. He never found out.
During the final stages of our relationship, there was a lot that I questioned about Tyler and what he did while I was away at work. Because he had given his drug dealer his laptop in exchange for coke, as well as other drugs that he would flip for cash, he used my computer to supposedly apply for jobs. It was then when I was logging into my email that I found out about his Craigslist account.
The avatar in the top right corner was a benign, shirtless selfie—one that he had sent me earlier while he was at Ocean Beach. The email handle was “Pizzasssssslut916,” and there was an exchange between him and a stranger about giving handjobs for money. He listed our home address in the e-mail. There were already about 40 of these types of exchanges in his inbox.
A wave of nausea came over me. I turned on some thrashing, angry music, began to hyperventilate, and called him immediately. I screamed at him and called him a monster as he cried and told me that he was robbing people to make rent and that he was so sorry.
I called off the relationship and told him to never come back. Twenty minutes later, I hear him pounding at the door and calling my name. I turned up my music louder, and patiently waited for him to give up. That night, I packed a bag, drove to LA with one of my best friends at three in the morning, and met with my family in Venice Beach to talk about what happened before embarking on a trip alone to Berlin for eight days.
Since that night, I never saw Tyler again. He has tried numerous times to reach out over text, Instagram Direct, and by mail. He sent me comic books while he was in rehab, photos of the farm that he started working on in New Zealand, and told me how sorry he was and how badly he messed up. I never responded.
Months afterwards, I was paranoid about what strangers online potentially knew my address, whether or not there was drug debt to be atoned for, and who was actually living with me in that ground-level apartment for so many months. To this day, I am still unsure, but now I am happily living alone with Mona, who was my true soulmate all along. Finally, the girls are alright.
Well, how about this angle: The best break-up ever.
During my senior year of college, I started dating a freshman. It was probably doomed at the outset, but we had fun. We dated steadily for most of the year, and visited each other (her home was about 300 miles from mine) over the summer after I graduated. I went off to graduate school in the fall, but she made a couple of visits during September, and I made the six-hour drive back to see her for my first homecoming weekend.
She seemed distracted. We bickered about what I was doing in graduate schools. (She was a management major whose dream in life was to be a midlevel HR manager at Hallmark. I was pursuing a Ph.D. in literature. You probably see the issue.)
Anyway, we ended up at a bar on Saturday night hanging out with a group of her friends. She was ignoring me, and I just got sick of it—said I was leaving. She asked if she could have $5. This was the early ‘80s, when $5 bought ten beers in a small-town Iowa bar, and when five bucks was a big deal to a starving grad student. I hesitated, but then said “Yes, if you promise you’ll never talk to me again,” and walked out.
Up the street I went to a different bar, where the first person I ran into was a casual friend (we had grown up in neighboring towns but didn’t know each other until college) who greeted me with her brilliant smile and a huge hug. We talked in the bar, found a bench down the street where we talked some more, went for a long walk, and talked some more.
I mustered the courage to ask her if she would like to see a movie or something when we were both home on our breaks in December. She agreed. We went out for the first time two days before Christmas, had our first kiss just after New Year's, got engaged in August, and married the following September. We now have three children, each of whom bears her grace, intelligence, and kindness. She is my best friend—the best friend I’ve ever had—and has brought joy to every single day of my life since that night of 33 years ago.
Let’s just say I doubt anyone has ever spent $5 more wisely.
That’s the bind that reader Laura finds herself in. After reading her story below, about her tumultuous relationship with Paul, I asked Laura if there’s a song that she most associates with the relationship, especially since she’s a musician herself. “There’s too much music, too many songs, too many pieces ... but one which particularly resonates just now is ‘Touch’ by Shura.”
Here’s how Laura responds to the question at hand: “What was your most memorable breakup?”
Yep, I have one for sure. Six years ago my husband left me, completely out of the blue, for my best friend. (She’s since run off with someone else’s husband; ours was the fourth marriage she’d wrecked in five years.) At the time I thought I would never get through the pain, but I did learn to deal with it.
After a couple of years, dating on and off but with pretty serious trust issues, I met a man, Paul, and we started dating. It was intense from Day 1, and despite the 150 miles between us, we spent at least two or three days and nights together each week. He spent a lot of time reassuring me of his love; that I could always trust him; that he would never do what my ex did.
Eventually we decided we wanted to live together, and the plan was for me to move to his town, as he had children (I don’t) in high school who were coming to live with us. I was pretty nervous about this move with no serious commitment, so, as it mattered so much to me, we decided to get married.
We chose a house, had an offer accepted, and I gave notice to my work. Then the bombshell:
Although he loved me, and wanted still to live with me, he didn’t want to marry me. This was 15 months ago. Devastated at first, I withdrew, but quickly realized I’d rather live with him unmarried than not have him in my life at all.
So it was all back on, and I continued with the house purchase. Two days after contracts were exchanged, he broke up with me. At that stage I had no choice but to move, as I would have lost thousands (tens of!!!) if I’d withdrawn.
So, I moved. To a town where I knew no one but him and his friends and family. Where I had no job. To a house I didn’t know if I’d be able to afford.
After a few weeks, he came to see me, and we started seeing each other again. His children knew, and were delighted, but he was telling other family and friends that I wasn’t in his life.
The next crunch came when two of his friends, who knew we were together again, came to my house and told me he was seeing someone else and introducing her as his partner. When I spoke to him about it, he said it was “nothing serious” (really????), and that he still loved me.
She dumped him a few weeks later, and we started seeing each other properly, with everything out in the open with his friends and family. At the end of October last year, we decided we did want to stay together. He told the children, we started making plans ... then four days later he texted me and said basically he didn’t love me and didn’t want to be with me.
There were a lot of outside influences. They don’t exonerate his behaviour, but it has gone some way to helping me understand it. People say that, although you can love many people in your life, there is a special someone for everyone ... and Paul is mine.
It’s been six months now since he ended it for good, and a year since I moved here. It’s been the worst year of my life. I get through the days, but not much more.
The breakup of my marriage has taught me one thing: I will get through this. I don’t know how, or when; I just have to hang on and hope.
I have dated a couple of times ... but I still love Paul, so I rarely progress to second dates. I wonder at this stage if I will ever stop loving him, if I can ever sustain another relationship. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone, but the only person I want has made other choices.
Meantime, I am here, doing my best to get on with things. I am a musician, and have begun performing and conducting again. I’m in a musically vibrant town on the south coast of England, and for now I will immerse myself in that. Until the pain eases.
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”:
The GOP has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
We are living in a time of bad metaphors. Everything is fascism, or socialism; Hitler’s Germany, or Stalin’s Soviet Union. Republicans, especially, want their followers to believe that America is on the verge of a dramatic time, a moment of great conflict such as 1968—or perhaps, even worse, 1860. (The drama is the point, of course. No one ever says, “We’re living through 1955.”)
Ironically, the GOP is indeed replicating another political party in another time, but not as the heroes they imagine themselves to be. The Republican Party has become, in form if not in content, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union of the late 1970s.
I can already hear the howls about invidious comparisons. I do not mean that modern American Republicans are communists. Rather, I mean that the Republicans have entered their own kind of end-stage Bolshevism, as members of a party that is now exhausted by its failures, cynical about its own ideology, authoritarian by reflex, controlled as a personality cult by a failing old man, and looking for new adventures to rejuvenate its fortunes.
The property values of the popular game reflect a legacy of racism and inequality.
Take a good look at a Monopoly board. The most expensive properties, Park Place and Boardwalk, are marked in dark blue. Maybe you’ve drawn a card inviting you to “take a walk on the Boardwalk.” But that invitation wasn’t open to everyone when the game first took on its current form. Even though Black citizens comprised roughly a quarter of Atlantic City’s overall population at the time, the famed Boardwalk and its adjacent beaches were segregated.
Jesse Raiford, a realtor in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in the early 1930s and a fan of what players then called “the monopoly game,” affixed prices to the properties on his board to reflect the actual real-estate hierarchy at the time. And in Atlantic City, as in so much of the rest of the United States, that hierarchy reflects a bitter legacy of racism and residential segregation.
The virus can take many paths to reinvading a person’s body. Most of them shouldn’t scare us.
On its face, reinfection appears to be a straightforward term. It is literally “infection, again”—a recovered person’s second dalliance with the same microbe. Long written into the scientific literature of infectious disease, it is a familiar word, innocuous enough: a microbial echo, an immunological encore act.
But thanks to the pandemic, reinfection has become a semantic and scientific mess.
Newly saddled with the baggage of COVID-19, reinfection has taken on a more terrifying aspect, raising the specter of never-ending cycles of disease. It has sat at the center of debates over testing, immunity, and vaccines; its meaning muddled by ominous headlines, it has become wildly misunderstood. When I ask immunologists about reinfection in the context of the coronavirus, many sigh.
The first way to fight a new virus would once have been opening the windows.
A few years ago, when I still had confidence in our modern ability to fight viruses, I pored over a photo essay of the 1918 flu pandemic. How quaint, I remember thinking, as I looked at people bundled up for outdoor classes and court and church. How primitive their technology, those nurses in gauze masks. How little did I know.
I felt secure, foolishly, in our 100 additional years of innovation. But it would soon become clear that our full-body hazmat suits and negative-pressure rooms and HEPA filters mattered little to Americans who couldn’t find N95 masks. In our quest for perfect solutions, we’d forgotten an extremely obvious and simple one: fresh air. A colleague joked, at one point, that things would have gone better in the pandemic if we still believed in miasma theory.
An uncertain spring, an amazing summer, a cautious fall and winter, and then, finally, relief.
Updated at 10:12 a.m. ET on February 24, 2021.
The end of the coronavirus pandemic is on the horizon at last, but the timeline for actually getting there feels like it shifts daily, with updates about viral variants, vaccine logistics, and other important variables seeming to push back the finish line or scoot it forward. When will we be able to finally live our lives again?
Pandemics are hard to predict accurately, but we have enough information to make some confident guesses. A useful way to think about what’s ahead is to go season by season. In short: Life this spring will not be substantially different from the past year; summer could, miraculously, be close to normal; and next fall and winter could bring either continued improvement or a moderate backslide, followed by a near-certain return to something like pre-pandemic life.
Financial confessionals reveal that income inequality and geographic inequality have normalized absurd spending patterns.
The hypothetical couple were making $350,000 a year and just getting by, their income “barely” qualifying them as middle-class. Their budget, posted in September, showed how they “survived” in a city like San Francisco, spending more than $50,000 a year on child care and preschool, nearly $50,000 a year on their mortgage, and hefty amounts on vacations, entertainment, and a weekly date night—even as they saved for retirement and college in tax-advantaged accounts.
The internet, being the internet, responded with some combination of howling, baying, pitchfork-jostling, and scoffing. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York quipped that the thing the family was struggling with was math. Gabriel Zucman, a leading scholar of wealth and inequality, described the budget as laughable, while noting that it showed how much money consumption taxes could raise.
In his response to an adverse decision by the Supreme Court, the former president previewed an argument he’s likely to keep using.
Former President Donald Trump faces various legal and political challenges, but few seem to have gotten him as agitated as a routine, expected, unsigned decision by the Supreme Court on Monday.
Trump had already lost a bid to prevent Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. from acquiring his financial records via subpoena. The former president then sought a stay while he searched for other means to stall. As anticipated, the justices rejected the request. Trump then issued one of just a handful of public statements he’s issued since leaving office, blasting “the Continuing Political Persecution of President Donald J. Trump.”
His vehemence is part of a long-running pattern: Trump dislikes all investigations, but nothing rattles him like probes into his finances. (When he tried to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, it was because of a report that Mueller had subpoenaed his financial records.) We can guess at the reasons. First, Trump is extremely defensive about anything that might imply he is not as rich as he claims. Second, there is much to suggest that Trump might have committed financial crimes.
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and homeschooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and nonexistent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
The Netflix neo-noir isn’t just about a merciless scammer; it’s about the broken bureaucracies that enable her abuse.
Psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term-care facilities have served as chilling backdrops to some of film’s most arresting psychological thrillers. But the foreboding lighthouse of Shutter Island and the macabre, labyrinthine hospital of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest pale in comparison with both movies’ animating horrors: the wretched treatment of the people trapped within. These works dramatize the cruelties that hospital administrators and caretakers exact upon their patients, especially those who have been admitted against their will, with Hitchcockian dread. In doing so, they challenge conventional wisdom about mental illness, authority, and the ethics of condemning people to isolation.
Perfectionism can make you miserable. Here’s how you can muster the courage to mess up.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
For years, I was haunted by a fear of failure. I spent my early adulthood as a professional French hornist, playing in chamber-music ensembles and orchestras. Classical music is a perilous business, relying on absolute precision. Playing the French horn, prone as it is to missing notes, is a virtual high-wire act in every concert. I could go from hero to goat within a few mistakes during a solo. I lived in dread, and it made my life and work misery.
Fear of failure is not just a problem for French hornists. Looking bad in front of others is arguably the most common dread people face. This explains why, for example, researchers have found that public speaking is college students’ most common fear; some scholars have famously asserted that people fear it even more than death. And dread about failing doesn’t just afflict the young or inexperienced: According to a 2018 survey conducted by Norwest Venture Partners, 90 percent of CEOs “admit fear of failure keeps them up at night more than any other concern.”