Breaking up can go a few different ways. Sometimes you get stuck in one of those endless dramas where you split, get back together, split again, and repeat ad infinitum. Sometimes you wait too long to call things off and get to the point where you both just stew in your mutual resentment, communicating only through passive aggressive insults channeled through the imaginary voice of your pet cat. But sometimes the lightbulb clicks, and you know, down to your very core, that your relationship is destined to fail. We asked readers to share their break-up epiphanies.
I was in a relationship circa 2002 that lasted less than a month. He lived in his friend's mom's basement, which should have immediately given me pause. He talked about moving in together after two weeks of knowing me—another red flag. But I really knew I had to end it when he started subjecting me to recordings of his "band" doing awful reggae covers. After I broke up with him, I had to make the excruciatingly awkward drive through downtown Philadelphia to bring him back to the bus station where I had just picked him up. I can't even remember what his name was today.
My ex-boyfriend and I got into a fight about circumcising potential future kids. I'm very anti-circumcision, and it turns out he's very pro-circumcision. I knew it was doomed when he said, "If you refused to get our kid circumcised, I would steal the child from you and take him to get circumcised without you knowing."
One day I realized that even though he had won on Jeopardy once, he was still so dumb.
My ex-husband came home once at 4 AM incoherently drunk and covered in blood (we still don't know if it was his or someone else's). He was sitting on the edge of our bed, his profile illuminated by light filtering in from the Brooklyn street lamp outside our window, and he kept trying to take his shoes off but he was just tipping over and crashing to the floor.
I'm a death doula. I'm around old, sick, dying people all the time. I thought to myself, "When we're 70 this could be him; full of dementia and instability, weary from old age, and me, his caregiver; steadfast from the years of shared sacrifice, but with memories of a brighter time." And then I stopped myself because I was 34 and the brighter time had lasted a year and occurred a decade earlier. I decided I didn't want to be 70 and dealing with him and asked him for a divorce a week later.
She started seeing a psychic. She went every week and told me all about her sessions. The psychic claimed to have communed with my dead dog. I don't remember what kind of significance this was meant to impart, but she told me all about it with no hint of irony. It wasn't the psychic part that bothered me. It was the dog.
In college I dated a lapsed Mormon. I come from a family of atheist Jews and at the time I'd just read this insane biography of Joseph Smith and was obsessed with Mormonism—the special underwear, the golden plates, everything. So I fetishized and exoticized this poor guy from the Midwest struggling with his religious background at a performing arts college in the Northeast. I would ask him questions about Mormon stuff all the time, and he was pretty indulgent with me.
One day I decided we should go to the Natural History Museum. We were there, looking at the dinosaurs, and I turned to him and asked, "Do Mormons really think the Earth is only six thousand years old?"
He got really uncomfortable and said, "Well, not six thousand human years."
A wave of cold clamminess came over my body as I realized he didn't believe in evolution. I told him I didn't feel well (which was true), went home, and just stopped answering his calls. I think I was as horrified by my own religious intolerance as I was by his actual beliefs.
My ex-husband and I had talked about going on a cruise, but I was leery about it because he really hated crowds. He assured me it would be fine, and we left for Florida to board our ship. He was angry from the very beginning. Where was our luggage? Why was the cabin so small?
Hoping to defuse the situation, I suggested we go on deck. He told me to go myself because he was plotting the slow death of our porter. I found a great spot and kind of dozed off, exhausted from a combination of Dramamine and stress. I woke up to him literally picking me up and furiously shaking my whole body in the air like a rag doll because I hadn't been immediately responsive when he'd tried to wake me up. We were married for ten years, but looking back I remember that instant—my head snapping back and forth on my neck as a calypso band played—as the moment I knew it would never work out. It was a long seven days.
*Names have been changed.