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.)
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”:
This has become a common refrain among the cautious—and it’s wrong.
For many fully vaccinated Americans, the Delta surge spoiled what should’ve been a glorious summer. Those who had cast their masks aside months ago were asked to dust them off. Many are still taking no chances. Some have even returned to all the same precautions they took before getting their shots, including avoiding the company of other fully vaccinated people.
Among this last group, a common refrain I’ve heard to justify their renewed vigilance is that “vaccinated people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus.”
This misunderstanding, born out of confusing statements from public-health authorities and misleading media headlines, is a shame. It is resulting in unnecessary fear among vaccinated people, all the while undermining the public’s understanding of the importance—and effectiveness—of getting vaccinated.
They have President Joe Biden on their side. But will their ideological victory be empty?
In an Oval Office meeting with House progressives last week, Joe Biden made a joke about how much had changed in his long career: “I used to be called a moderate,” the president mused. He was, at that moment, trying to mediate a Democratic Party struggle between the left-wing lawmakers sitting before him and the moderates he had hosted a few hours earlier. When the meeting ended, Biden pulled aside Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington State. He thumbed through a folder of papers he was holding. Eventually, Biden handed Jayapal a copy of the speech he delivered to Congress in April, in which he laid out the economic vision he wanted to enact—the ambitious agenda to expand the social safety net over which Democrats are currently haggling.
One of the ocean’s top predators has met its match.
Filipa Samarra could hear the pilot whales before she could see them. In 2015, out on the choppy waters off of southern Iceland, Samarra and her research team were eavesdropping on a group of killer whales. She listened as they pipped, squealed, and clicked when suddenly her ears were filled with high-pitched whistling. “Then the killer whales just went silent,” says Samarra, a biologist and the lead investigator of the Icelandic Orca Project. As the whistling grew stronger, a group of pilot whales came into view, and the killer whales seemed to turn and swim away.
“It’s quite unusual because the killer whale is this top predator,” says Anna Selbmann, a doctoral candidate at the University of Iceland who is supervised by Samarra. “It’s very unusual that they’re afraid of anything—or seemingly afraid.”
The controversial cult brand LuLaRoe sold a powerful idea: that mothers could succeed as entrepreneurs while spending meaningful time with their kids.
People who have heard of LuLaRoe have usually come across it for one of two reasons. Either someone they know has tried to sell them the company’s stretchy leggings and fit-and-flare dresses over Facebook, or they’ve seen some of the gleeful coverage of LuLaRoe’s very public disintegration as a brand: the lawsuits, the bankruptcies filed by its sellers, the boxes of apparently moldy clothing shipped to vendors that smelled, in one woman’s description, like a “dead fart.” (Leggings! Never not controversial!) Much of LuLaRich, a new four-part Amazon series exploring the company’s rise and fall, focuses on its alleged mismanagement and manipulative aspects, grouping it with some of the splashier docuseries of years past. No one at LuLaRoe seems to have found themselves getting the area above their groin branded, or poisoning an Oregon salad bar with salmonella. But in one scene, a former LuLaRoe vendor recalls a company meetup where everyone assembled was, like her, wearing brightly patterned leggings and a broad, be-lipsticked smile. “I remember looking around and being like, We all look the same,” she tells the camera. “I was like, Oh my God, I’m in a cult.”
A new leaked document is stirring up another frenzy over the pandemic’s origins. What does it really tell us?
Updated at 11:00 a.m. ET on September 26, 2021
As the pandemic drags on into a bleak and indeterminate future, so does the question of its origins. The consensus view from 2020, that in the likeliest scenario SARS-CoV-2 emerged naturally, through a jump from bats to humans (maybe with another animal between), persists unchanged. But suspicions that the outbreak started from a laboratory accident remain, shall we say, endemic. For months now, a steady drip of revelations has sustained an atmosphere of profound unease.
The latest piece of evidence came out this week in the form of a set of murkily sourced PDFs, with their images a bit askew. The main one purports to be an unfunded research grant proposal from Peter Daszak, the president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a global nonprofit focused on emerging infectious diseases, that was allegedly submitted to DARPA in early 2018 (and subsequently rejected), for a $14.2 million project aimed at “defusing the threat of bat-borne coronaviruses.” Released earlier this week by a group of guerrilla lab-leak snoops called DRASTIC, the proposal includes a plan to study potentially dangerous pathogens by generating full-length, infectious bat coronaviruses in a lab and inserting genetic features that could make coronaviruses better able to infect human cells. (Daszak and EcoHealth did not respond to requests for comment on this story.)
The U.S. has fallen far behind in distributing the vaccines that it pioneered.
In April, when I received my second Moderna shot, America was on a roll. Adjusted for population, the United States had distributed more COVID-19 vaccines per capita than any country but Israel, Chile, the United Kingdom, and a smattering of small nations and islands. With a surge of doses, we could have been No. 1 in the world.
Five months later, the U.S. is no longer in the top five in national vaccine rates. We’re not in the top 10, or the top 20, or top 30. By one count, we’re 36th—countries as varied as Malta, Canada, Mongolia, and Ecuador have all surpassed us. If the European Union or the G7 were countries, they would be ahead of us too. With about 66 percent of Americans over 18 fully vaccinated, some might be impressed that it's possible to get two-thirds of the country to agree on anything. But America still seems to suffer from an internationally unique reluctance.
Many psychologists wrongly assumed that coercive attitudes exist only among conservatives.
Donald Trump’s rise to power generated a flood of media coverage and academic research on authoritarianism—or at least the kind of authoritarianism that exists on the political right. Over the past several years, some researchers have theorized that Trump couldn’t have won in 2016 without support from Americans who deplore political compromise and want leaders to rule with a strong hand. Although right-wing authoritarianism is well documented, social psychologists do not all agree that a leftist version even exists. In February 2020, the Society for Personality and Social Psychology held a symposium called “Is Left-Wing Authoritarianism Real? Evidence on Both Sides of the Debate.”
An ambitious new study on the subject by the Emory University researcher Thomas H. Costello and five colleagues should settle the question. It proposes a rigorous new measure of antidemocratic attitudes on the left. And, by drawing on a survey of 7,258 adults, Costello’s team firmly establishes that such attitudes exist on both sides of the American electorate. (One co-author on the paper, I should note, was Costello’s adviser, the late Scott Lilienfeld—with whom I wrote a 2013 book and numerous articles.) Intriguingly, the researchers found some common traits between left-wing and right-wing authoritarians, including a “preference for social uniformity, prejudice towards different others, willingness to wield group authority to coerce behavior, cognitive rigidity, aggression and punitiveness towards perceived enemies, outsized concern for hierarchy, and moral absolutism.”
The pandemic keeps changing, but these principles can guide your thinking through the seasons to come.
Updated at 9:28 a.m. on September 21, 2021.
For nearly two years now, Americans have lived with SARS-CoV-2. We know it better than we once did. We know that it can set off both acute and chronic illness, that it spreads best indoors, that masks help block it, that our vaccines are powerful against it. We know that we can live with it—that we’re going to have to live with it—but that it can and will exact a heavy toll.
Still, this virus has the capacity to surprise us, especially if we’re not paying attention. It is changing all the time, a tweak to the genetic code here and there; sometimes, those tweaks add up to new danger. In a matter of weeks, the Delta variant upended the relative peace of America’s early summer and ushered in a new set of calculations about risk, masking, and testing. The pandemic’s endgame shifted.
As he extends Trump-era policies, President Biden discovers that many voters are no longer willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Throughout the last administration, Department of Homeland Security officials at all levels—from Senate-confirmed power brokers in Washington to rank-and-file agents along the border—often complained that they were facing a double standard: They were doing the same work, using the same methods, as they had under previous presidents, they said, but because their boss was now Donald Trump, the public was quick to assume they were acting out of racism or malice.
At times, of course, Trump’s policies did break with those of previous administrations, including the zero-tolerance policy that separated thousands of migrant children from their parents. But in many ways, the DHS officials were right: Stories highlighting conditions and practices that predated the Trump presidency by years or even decades suddenly became front-page news. Reporters had doggedly covered those issues for years, but before Trump was inaugurated, their stories rarely generated any lasting national attention.
How one professor changed the culture of mathematics for his students
The mathematician Federico Ardila-Mantilla grew up in Colombia, an indifferent student but gifted in math. He was failing most of his classes at his high school in Bogotá when someone suggested he apply to MIT. He had not heard of the school. To his surprise, he got in, and he went on scholarship. Mathematically, he did well. One of his professors—an acid-tongued theoretician known to compare his audience to a herd of cows—routinely tucked “open” math problems into homework assignments, without telling the students. These had never been solved by anyone. Ardila solved one. He went on to receive his bachelor’s and Ph.D. in math from MIT.
But his academic experience was also one of isolation. Part of it had to do with his own introversion. (An outgoing mathematician, the joke goes, is someone who looks at your shoes when talking to you instead of their own.) Part of it was cultural. As a Latino, he was very much in the minority in the department, and he did not feel comfortable in American mathematical spaces. No one had tried to explicitly exclude him, yet he felt alone. In math, collaborating with others opens up new kinds of learning and thinking. But in his nine years at MIT, Ardila worked with others only twice.