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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 26, 2020

10 Things To Remember When Everything Goes Wrong

10 Things To Remember When Everything Goes Wrong

Problems and heartaches in life are inevitable. However, there are some things to remember when you’re right in the thick of it that can help you get through it. When everything seems to be going wrong, practice telling yourself these things.

1. This Too Shall Pass

Sometimes life’s rough patches feel like they’re going to last forever. Whether you’re dealing with work-related issues, family problems, or stressful situations, very few problems last for a lifetime. So remind yourself, that things won’t be this bad forever.

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2. Some Things are Going Right

When things are going wrong, it’s hard to recognize what is going right. It’s easy to screen out the good things and only focus on the bad things. Remind yourself that some things are going right. Purposely look for the positive, even if it is something very small.

3. I Have Some Control

One of the most most important things to remember is that you have some control of the situation. Even if you aren’t in complete control of the situation, one thing you can always control is your attitude and reaction. Focus on managing what is within your control.

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4. I Can Ask for Help

Asking for help can be hard sometimes. However, it’s one of the best ways to deal with tough situations. Tell people what you need specifically if they offer to help. Don’t be afraid to call on friends and family and ask them for help, whether you need financial assistance, emotional support, or practical help.

5. Much of This Won’t Matter in a Few Years

Most of the problems we worry about today won’t actually matter five years from now. Remind yourself that whatever is going wrong now is only a small percentage of your actual life. Even if you’re dealing with a major problem, like a loved one’s illness, remember that a lot of good things are likely to happen in the course of a year or two as well.

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6. I Can Handle This

A lack of confidence in handling tough times can add to stress. One of the best things to remember is that you can handle tough situations. Even though you might feel angry, hurt, disappointed, or sad, it won’t kill you. You can get through it.

7. Something Good Will Come Out of This

No matter how bad a situation is, it’s almost certain that something good will come out of it. At the very least, it’s likely that you will learn a life lesson. Perhaps you learn not to repeat the same mistake in the future or maybe you move on from a bad situation and find something better. Look for the one good thing that can result when bad things happen.

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8. I Can Accept What’s Out of my Control

There are many things that aren’t within your control. You can’t change the past, another person’s behavior, or a loved one’s health issues. Don’t waste time trying to force others to change or trying to make things be different if it isn’t within your control. Investing time and energy into trying to things you can’t will cause you to feel helpless and exhausted. Acceptance is one of the best way to establish resilience.

9. I Have Overcome Past Difficulties

One of the things to remember when you’re facing difficulties, is that you’ve handled problems in the past. Don’t overlook past difficulties that you’ve dealt with successfully. Remind yourself of all the past problems you’ve overcome and you’ll gain confidence in dealing with the current issues.

10. I Need to Take Care of Myself

When everything seems to be going wrong, take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, get some exercise, eat healthy, and spend some time doing leisure activities. When you’re taking better care of yourself you’ll be better equipped to deal with your problems.

More Tips to Help You Carry On

Featured photo credit: NeONBRAND via unsplash.com

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