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The Break-Up Letter

The Break-Up Letter

If you’re looking to add a little flare to your break up, or if it’s too difficult to do it face-to-face, there’s always the break up letter. Here, Anna Stothard of Litro shares some insight into the break up letter and a template for the best one ever:

“Anger in a letter carries with it the effect of solidified fury,” warned the queen of protocol, Emily Post, in her 1922 manual Etiquette. She certainly wouldn’t have approved of the indelible email-rage left over from my past relationships. Flicking through these time capsules of indignation and indigniy recentlyI wondered if anyone, ever, has mastered the thorny art of the break-up letter.

Zelda Fitzgerald’s1935 letter to her husband F. Scott Fitzgerald was written from a psychiatric ward, yet is devastatingly lucid. She nails the genre like few others do. Reading her missive feels intimately voyeuristic, peaking through an emotional keyhole. She remembers walking though a rose garden with Scott in happier times, and how he called her “darling”. How her hair was damp when she took off her hat and she felt safe, the letter tip-toeing over a ghostly arrangement of memories.

In our world of email where a goodbye letter often has the worst of both worlds – the speed of screaming and the endurance of paper – much can be learned from past masters like Zelda, who moves abruptly, with perfect rhythm, from past bliss to current terror: “Now there isn’t any more happiness and home is gone and there isn’t even any past.”

She wishes Scott well, yet there is no doubt that she is kissing him goodbye. “I love you anyway – even if there isn’t any me or any love or even any life – I love you.” It’s a love letter, too, as many goodbyes are. The rhythms of her words, bobbing from past to present, the summing up, remind me of another ending: “So we beat on, boats against the current, born back ceaselessly into the past.” This is how Fitzgerald, the intended recipient of Zelda’s letter, ended The Great Gatsby.

Not all exit missives are so elegantly elegiac. Like a story, a letter needs an objective. They’re not all as kind as Zelda’s. Maybe the aim is to show how easily you’re moving on from the break up: “The letter you wrote last December ought to have been written in 1862,” wrote journalist Kate Field in 1868, to the American artist Albert Baldwin. “You were a moral coward for not writing it then. Now you know you were; therefore I shall say nothing further because I don’t care.” The charm of the letter is that Field doesn’t quite succeed in her objective of appearing to be over the whole thing.  “You do well to say that you will never marry,” she sulks. “No woman should be subjected to such a miserable fate.”

Or, perhaps, the aim of your letter is to stop another’s feelings before they get going: “We are grieved,” Queen Elizabeth wrote to Prince Eric in 1560 after he proposed marriage, “that we cannot gratify your Serene Highness with the same kind of affection.” Eloquent and steady, that queen. Top marks. Or maybe you’re going for the jugular, a linguistic kick. “I have no time for dead relationships,”Anaïs Nin wrote to Lanny Baldwin in 1945 after he had returned to his wife and children, beginning a war of written words. “The day I discovered your deadness – long ago– my illusions about you died.” Ouch.

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The goodbye letter has a reputation as the cowardly resort of wimps and villains. But a reason for many exit letters perhaps, and a good one, is that physical bodies – with their chemistries and histories – often complicate cerebral decisions. There’s surely something to be said for the slight detachment of putting words on paper, the slow release of emotion. “I have just enough strength to flee from you,” writes French novelist Colette in The Vagabond, during a fictional letter from Renee to her lover Max. “If you were to walk in here, before me, while I am writing to you… but you will not walk in,” she says. Letter writing is not weakness, but a game of exposure.

We can’t all be Zelda or Colette, though we can take pointers from them. Simple is often best, I would like to tell my younger self.  WhenDavid Foster Wallace threw a coffee table at poet Mary Karr during their break up, she billed him $100 for the damage. He asked her to send the fragments in return, but Karr’s lawyer wrote back to say he hadn’t bought the table, merely the “brokenness”. That’s a break up letter I wish I’d written.

While finishing my new novel, The Art of Leaving, about a girl who considers leaving to be the most pleasurable moment of any relationship, I kept a notebook of goodbyes from film, literature and letters: quotes from Breakfast at Tiffany’sThe End of the AffairLolitaWolf Hall and many more. For anyone looking for a little exit-inspiration, here’s the break-up letter to end all break-up letters, a joint effort by a few of the greats. Fill in the blanks, Mad Libs style:

Dear [insert lover’s name],

For the last time, Byron [insert lover’s name] I address you. Human nature can bear much, which has been exemplified by me, but there are boundaries at which it stops, which you certainly have not attended to. [1] You think that you are an iconoclast[insert how lover sees himself], but you’re not. Nothing changes you. I left you because I knew I could never change you. [2] My love had great difficulty outlasting your virtue [insert what you hate about lover]. [3] That’s the trouble with caring about anybody, you begin to feel overprotective. Then you begin to feel crowded. [4]

Make a new plan, Stan [insert lover’s name]. [5] I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived. What is broken is broken. [6] Right or wrong, it’s very pleasant to break things from time to time. [7]When you left your pledge was precise: You would come when the moon’s horns grew together [insert date of next scheduled meeting]. Since then the moon has grown full four [insert number of moons since date] times. [8]

Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go. [9] My life was better before I knew you. That is, for me, the sad conclusion. [10] If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it. [11] The art of losing’s not too hard to master. [12]

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We’ll always have Paris [insert last holiday destination]. [13]

Believe me yours truly,

C Brontë [insert your name] [14]

[1] Lady Falkland to Lord Byron, letter, 1813

[2] Katharine to Almásy, The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje

[3] Vicomte de Valmont to Madame de Tourvel, Dangerous Liaisons, Stephen Frears, 1988

[4] John Updike, Rabbit Redux

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[5] 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon

[6] Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara, Gone With the Wind, Victor Fleming, 1939

[7] Notes from the Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

[8]  A complaint from Phyllis, Heroides, Ovid

[9] Hermann Hesse

[10] Edith Wharton to W. Morton Fullerton, letter, 1910

[11] Ernest Hemmingway, Death in the Afternoon

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[12] “One Art”, Elizabeth Bishop poem

[13] Casablanca, Michael Curtiz, 1942

[14] Charlotte Brontë to Henry Nussey, letter, 1939

Anna Stothard has lived in London, Washington DC, Beijing and Los Angeles. She writes about travel for The Observer. Her acclaimed first novel, Isabel and Rocco, was published in 2004, followed by The Pink Hotel in 2011, which was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. The Pink Hotel has been translated into many languages, and is now being made into a film by Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin. Anna’s latest book, The Art of Leaving, has just been published.

50 Ways To Leave Your Lover: The Art of the Break-up Letter | Litro

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Last Updated on November 19, 2020

The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life

The Gentle Art of Saying No for a Less Stressful Life

It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments—you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time. That’s why the art of saying no can be a game changer for productivity.

Requests for your time are coming in all the time—from family members, friends, children, coworkers, etc. To stay productive, minimize stress, and avoid wasting time, you have to learn the gentle art of saying no—an art that many people have problems with.

What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger, or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

However, it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here’s how to stop people pleasing and master the gentle art of saying no.

1. Value Your Time

Know your commitments and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it.

Be honest when you tell them that: “I just can’t right now. My plate is overloaded as it is.” They’ll sympathize as they likely have a lot going on as well, and they’ll respect your openness, honesty, and attention to self-care.

2. Know Your Priorities

Even if you do have some extra time (which, for many of us, is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time?

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For example, if my wife asks me to pick up the kids from school a couple of extra days a week, I’ll likely try to make time for it as my family is my highest priority. However, if a coworker asks for help on some extra projects, I know that will mean less time with my wife and kids, so I will be more likely to say no. 

However, for others, work is their priority, and helping on extra projects could mean the chance for a promotion or raise. It’s all about knowing your long-term goals and what you’ll need to say yes and no to in order to get there. 

You can learn more about how to set your priorities here.

3. Practice Saying No

Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word[1].

Sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.

4. Don’t Apologize

A common way to start out is “I’m sorry, but…” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important when you learn to say no, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm and unapologetic about guarding your time.

When you say no, realize that you have nothing to feel bad about. You have every right to ensure you have time for the things that are important to you. 

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5. Stop Being Nice

Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. However, if you erect a wall or set boundaries, they will look for easier targets.

Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.

6. Say No to Your Boss

Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss—they’re our boss, right? And if we start saying no, then we look like we can’t handle the work—at least, that’s the common reasoning[2].

In fact, it’s the opposite—explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.

7. Pre-Empting

It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting,

“Look, everyone, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects, and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”

This, of course, takes a great deal of awareness that you’ll likely only have after having worked in one place or been friends with someone for a while. However, once you get the hang of it, it can be incredibly useful.

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8. Get Back to You

Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, try saying no this way:

“After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.”

At least you gave it some consideration.

9. Maybe Later

If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say,

“This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].”

Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands. If you need to continue saying no, here are some other ways to do so[3]:

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Saying no the healthy way

    10. It’s Not You, It’s Me

    This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often, the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time.

    Simply say so—you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization—but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true, as people can sense insincerity.

    The Bottom Line

    Saying no isn’t an easy thing to do, but once you master it, you’ll find that you’re less stressed and more focused on the things that really matter to you. There’s no need to feel guilty about organizing your personal life and mental health in a way that feels good to you.

    Remember that when you learn to say no, isn’t about being mean. It’s about taking care of your time, energy, and sanity. Once you learn how to say no in a good way, people will respect your willingness to practice self-care and prioritization. 

    More Tips for a Less Stressful Life

    Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

    Reference

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