“[W]e were both just like, ‘Let’s do this! Let’s choose each other. Let’s just be with each other! … It was a crazy romance, but the good kind of crazy,” a woman named Emily told NY Mag’s The Cut, of falling in love with a man named Curtis.
They broke up a few months later.
I read the story of Emily and Curtis’ breakup on the train to work this morning with focus and fascination. The two-sided documentation of their whirlwind romance was short and frank. And yet, by pure virtue of being honest, it hit so many relatable notes: the thrill of infatuation, the anxiety of fast commitment, the pang of lost potential. There was something viscerally satisfying about hearing their counter-appraisals of a shared and private experience. It felt like reading someone’s diary. Even better, two people’s diaries. As soon as I was finished, I clicked over to read about another couple’s breakup.
“We decided in order to save our marriage, Lana needed freedom to explore her sexuality,” David said, of the beginning of the end of their relationship.
“David never went out with anyone else, even though I genuinely wanted him to,” said Lana, of their open relationship trial period. “It just didn’t interest him. I felt bad, but I didn’t feel that bad because we had talked about everything… We just wanted different lifestyles in the end.”
I kept reading as I walked from the subway to the office, face in my phone, breaking all the unspoken New York sidewalk rules. I resented my full-time job that would require me to stop. Until today, I’d never heard of The Cut’s “Both Sides of a Breakup” series, which details the rise and fall of 20 different relationships (and counting) through the voices of the couples themselves. The series struck me as the sociological study on modern love and relationships I’d been missing. It’s the breakup equivalent of It’s Kind of a Funny Story. It’s heartbreak, reverse-engineered.
Breakups are so intense and emotional and ripe for analysis, but the most critical rules are “don’t talk to each other” and “give it time.” Neither lend themselves to satisfying retrospectives. “Both Sides of a Breakup” scratches that itch. It strikes a balance that no personal essay nor research piece easily could: it offers readers an up-close look at relationships without sacrificing the broader sociological picture. The stories shine light on experiences that range from touching to comical to heartbreaking: best friends who fall in (then out of) love; a wife whose husband wants to date men; a relationship affected by drugs; the fate of shared pets post-breakup. Some may be stories we’ve heard before but, this time, we get both sides.
In the age of the personal essay it can be hard to cut through the noise to something that feels honest, interesting and representative of diverse experiences. “Both Sides of a Breakup” fills that hole, but without being so big and over-intellectualized. I’d argue it’s the perfect summertime binge. It’s entertaining and thought-provoking, without telling you what to think or how to feel. If you have a free afternoon and are sick of Twitter, go see what I mean.