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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 June 23, 2019

20 Things People Regret the Most Before They Die

20 Things People Regret the Most Before They Die

Close your eyes and imagine that you’re at your own funeral—a bit morbid I know, but there’s a reason for it. Now think about what you’d like people to say about you. What kind of a life do you want to lead? People die with all kinds of regrets. Don’t be one of them.

1. I wish I’d cared less about what other people think.

It’s only when you realise how little other people are really thinking of you (in a negative sense) that you realise how much time you spent caring and wasting energy worrying about this.

2. I wish I had accomplished more.

You don’t have to have won an Oscar, built up a business or run a marathon, but having small personal accomplishments is important.

3. I wish I had told __ how I truly felt.

Even if the “one” doesn’t exist, telling someone how you truly feel will always save you from that gut wrenching”but what if…” feeling that could linger for life if you stay quiet.

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4. I wish I had stood up for myself more.

Sometimes, it’s too easy to think that if you go all out to please everyone you’ll be liked more or your partner won’t run off with anyone else. I think age probably teaches us to be nice but not at the expense of our own happiness.

5. I wish I had followed my passion in life.

It’s so easy to be seduced by a stable salary, a solid routine and a comfortable life, but at what expense?

6. I wish our last conversation hadn’t been an argument.

Life is short, and you never really know when the last time you speak to someone you love will be. It’s these moments that really stay clear in peoples’ minds.

7. I wish I had let my children grow up to be who they wanted to be.

The realisation that love, compassion and empathy are so much more important than clashes in values or belief systems can hit home hard.

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8. I wish I had lived more in the moment.

Watching children grow up makes you realise how short-lived and precious time really is, and as we age, many of us live less and less in the present.

9. I wish I had worked less.

There’s always a desire to have loosened up a bit more with this one and the realisation that financial success or career accomplishment doesn’t necessarily equal a fulfilled life.

10. I wish I had traveled more.

It can be done at any age, with kids or not but many talk themselves out of it for all kinds of reasons such as lack of money, mortgage, children, etc. When there’s a regret, you know it could have been possible at some stage.

11. I wish I had trusted my gut rather than listening to everyone else.

Making your own decisions and feeling confident in the decisions you make gives us fulfilment and joy from life. Going against your gut only breeds resentment and bitterness.

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12. I wish I’d taken better care of myself.

Premature health problems or ageing always makes you wonder if you’d eaten healthier, exercised more and been less stressed, would you be where you are today?

13. I wish I’d taken more risks.

Everyone has their own idea of what’s risky, but you know when you’re living too much in your comfort zone. In hindsight, some people feel they missed out on a lot of adventure life has to offer.

14. I wish I’d had more time.

Many people say time speeds up as we age. The six weeks of summer holidays we had as kids certainly seemed to last a lifetime. If time speeds up, then it’s even more important to make the most of every moment.

15. I wish I hadn’t worried so much.

If you’ve ever kept a diary and looked back, you’ll probably wonder why you ever got so worked up over X.

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16. I wish I’d appreciated ___ more.

The consequences of taking people for granted are always hard to deal with.

17. I wish I’d spent more time with my family.

Some people get caught up with work, move to other parts of the world, grow old with grudges against family members only to realise their priorities were in the wrong place.

18. I wish I hadn’t taken myself so seriously.

Life is just more fun when you can laugh at yourself.

19. I wish I’d done more for other people.

Doing things for others just makes life more meaningful.

20. I wish I could have felt happier.

The realisation that happiness is a state of mind that you can control sometimes doesn’t occur to people until it’s too late.

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