12 People On The Moment They Knew Their Relationship Was Over

Refinery29 UK
Oct 15 · 20 min read

By Sadhbh O’Sullivan

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PHOTOGRAPHED BY EYLUL ASLAN.

If only relationships were as simple as they are in rom-coms. Everyone except you can see your other half is blatantly wrong for you, and the only thing keeping them around is the need for dramatic tension. When you eventually break up, it’s as though you’ve been released into the world to finally Be Yourself, before finding your one true love. Two hours, one big night out and an impulse haircut later and your love life is tidily wrapped up.

But real life isn’t like that and relationships don’t work for a whole world of reasons. The problems that can arise between two people are complicated, often hard to explain, and can go against every instinct of what you want. Maybe they’re the problem, maybe you are. More likely, it’s a combination of the two. But even if you don’t end it until much later, there is always a moment when you realise, quite clearly, that what you have cannot work anymore. It’s this moment, more than anything, that we’re interested in.

We asked different women about the moment they knew their relationship was over and why it was the trigger point. For some, it was heartbreaking; for others, liberating. Most importantly, they all survived — even thrived — once the dust had settled.

If these stories can teach us anything it’s that relationships, and their endings, are never as clean-cut as we’d like. But that doesn’t mean we cannot also find hope and joy after the pain has passed.

Mikaela, 38

How long had you been in the relationship? What was it like?
Six years, on and off — he was the love of my life but when I look back on it now I see how problematic it was. His career was FLYING and mine was in the can. He was a bit famous and getting more famous and I was not and never will be. I put him first far too much, above all else, and I had NO self-respect at all… I loved him too much, if that’s possible. It was all so heady and boozy and wild and sexy because we were in our 20s and very in love.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
We were going on holiday together with all his family and were printing out the boarding passes the day before departure (this was 10 years ago, before they came on your phone) when he told me he wanted to go on the holiday without me. I was crushed but the day he left I rang our landlord and told him I wanted out of the lease, and decided to move to London. I was out and in another country within 10 days. You don’t have to tell me twice, fucker.

How do you feel about it now?
The day it happened I thought my life was over. I went into town to meet all my friends and drank my face off and cried and laughed and called him every name under the sun. Then the next day I got down to the business of taking my life back. I would still burst into tears in the shower sometimes six months later, or feel like I’d be sick if someone so much as mentioned his name, but that eventually passed. One thing about heartbreak is FUCK ME do you feel alive. It’s so raw, so visceral. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy but I learned so much going through it. People say it’s like ripping off a band aid — it’s more like ripping out stitches. I wished him ill for so long but now I wish him nothing but health and happiness.

Sophia, 28

How long had you been in the relationship? What was it like?
We were in the relationship for one and a half years, when I was around 22, 23. He was a little older. We moved in together quite quickly, after less than a year. It was quite an intense relationship. We were very happy and in love, or so I thought, but not long after we moved into our tiny flat I started to get the ick. We didn’t have much money (I’d just graduated and was freelance writing with a part-time job, he worked in retail) and spent a lot of time together in that flat. It felt claustrophobic, and I started to feel less attracted to him.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
To put it bluntly — the moment I woke up in bed with his best friend. I had always been close with his group of friends and started to go out with them more and more, sometimes without him. I became particularly close to one of them, and I think the thrill of it egged me on. It was easier to submit to that than admit to myself that the relationship was over, and to confront the problems. When it happened, we were all having drinks together and my boyfriend left early as he had work the next morning. I stayed to continue the party, and in hindsight I think I knew exactly what was going to happen. We might have even got away with it, but another friend walked in on us — erm — ‘in the act’ and threatened to tell my boyfriend himself if I didn’t first. Telling him sparked six incredibly strained and upsetting months. My boyfriend was, quite rightfully, devastated. My knee-jerk reaction was to fight for the relationship, but this created a horrible dynamic where he became controlling and aggressive, and I became withdrawn and submissive.

How do you feel about it now?
It’s not my proudest moment, that’s for sure. I was immature, and didn’t know how to confront the problems in the relationship and make the decision to break up with him. Instead I did something so irreversible that it would essentially make the decision for me. It has had an impact on my relationships since in terms of trust, when they find out what happened. I haven’t spoken to that boyfriend since we finally decided to call it a day. He’s married now. I occasionally check in on him on Instagram; he looks incredibly happy.

Noora, 26

How long had you been in the relationship?
This was my first lesbian relationship. I think it spanned over 10 months. We were 19–20 years old. The LGBTQ+ community was (still is) pretty much nonexistent where I grew up, so I ventured online for some lesbian loving. We met on Tumblr — she was from the US and I from the EU. Within a few months, we were girlfriends. I know, living up to the lesbian stereotype.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
I think when you are in an online relationship, you make your own version of how this person is going to be when you meet them. I mean, I had several months to fantasise about what it would be like to see her. When we finally did meet, it was underwhelming. I had a pretty good time, because it was new and exciting, finally being able to pursue being with a woman. But then she went home and I immediately felt like something had shifted in our relationship. I no longer felt like Skyping, texting, whatever… I honestly don’t know what changed for me but the spark was there and then it just wasn’t. It ended when I broke up with her over a Skype video call two months later. She knew it was coming, because during the whole call she didn’t say a thing. Not a word. She just sat there crying, watching me explain how I had fallen out of like with her. I guess it was an easy break-up (for me) considering I could just end the call and that was that.

How do you feel about it now?
I feel fine, it didn’t really affect me. She is across the ocean and I will most likely never see her again, so it’s not like I have to deal with the awkwardness of running into her. The only impact this has had is that I no longer meet people online and wait eight months to meet them. I want to meet them straightaway to make sure I’m not wasting my time.

Niamh, 27

How long had you been in the relationship? What was it like?
Between the ages of 21–23. The trouble started, as perhaps it always does, somewhere in that space between what I knew and what I wanted to believe. I knew right from the start that our relationship was impossible. His family’s orthodox religion meant that for him to be dating an outsider from the faith was catastrophic — a humiliation for them among their friends and relatives, and a terrible manifestation of what his parents felt was their failure to raise a son who did right by his religion. But for a short while, we believed in it. And for some sweet and difficult years, that belief was enough. Notwithstanding the obvious suffering of his parents (a suffering which made me feel guilty and ashamed, but which it also suited me to deem foolish and out of touch, a relic of a culture we have thankfully outgrown), for a while the thrill of going against the grain, of fostering love in a place where love was not welcome, was enough to sustain us. Nothing tastes better than being contrary. It felt a bit like stubbornly cultivating a garden in a place conventional wisdom has warned you nothing can grow. But at times, the knowledge of our incompatibility was greater than any other part of our relationship. And after a while, the work of ignoring or concealing the obvious became too difficult — the ground too hard, the weather too hostile.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
One Saturday evening in November, we were on the top floor of a number 26 bus in east London coming back from Sainsbury’s with a bag full of ingredients for a meal that we had nowhere to cook. We couldn’t face going to his house (for the aforementioned reasons) and mine was 100 miles from Hackney. There simply wasn’t space in the world for our relationship to exist and I suddenly felt too tired from trying to carve one out. I cried on the bus. At that moment I realised I’d spent a lot of that relationship crying on public transport. Although we carried on dating for quite a few months after that (it takes a while for the heart to know what the head has all along), from then on I couldn’t stop thinking, We don’t have anywhere to go.

How do you feel about it now?
It was both very sad and a relief that it was over. Love can exist, obviously, against the most unbelievable odds. There were other things wrong with our relationship. But it’s really difficult daily work to make space for a relationship that culture or society or religion or whatever else has decided is forbidden. It has made me more open to the fight (and it is a fight) of other people who have to actively assert their right to love one another in the face of much greater resistance than I faced. And it has made me grateful for the seemingly trivial comforts of domesticity in my other relationships, which, as with so many things, you only truly value once you’ve been denied them.

Annalie, 31

How long had you been in the relationship? What was it like?
Seven years, on and off for the first three but living together for the last four. It was loving and supportive once we got over the initial turbulence and living together was a total dream until a few months before things ended. We started to argue about tiny things, which we had never done before. We met when I was 24 and he was 23, so it spanned the majority of my 20s and early 30s — the ‘becoming’ years.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
Writing this down still shocks me. On a Tuesday afternoon, at around 4pm while I was at work, he texted me. His message simply read: “I’m not happy. I’m moving out.” I responded by saying “wow”. That night, we both got home at around the same time, he packed a bag and left. I’m not sure he actually wanted to break up with me that day, perhaps he just wanted some space. But it was like a switch had flipped, I just knew it was over for me. I absolutely refused to be treated like that and it felt like a line had been crossed.

How do you feel about it now?
This was two months ago so I think it’s too soon to tell what impact this will have on me in the future but on the whole, my overwhelming feeling is one of relief. I feel relieved that I’m free. Free to make my own decisions, to set my own boundaries and to steer the course of my life. I’m not necessarily glad it’s over, though. You don’t invest that much time and energy in any relationship thinking it will end but, equally, if someone is capable of texting you like that after nearly a decade-long relationship…perhaps you shouldn’t be with them anyway.

Shelley, 32

How long had you been in the relationship? What was it like?
Two years — for all of sixth form. It was first love for both of us, we lost our virginity to each other, were best friends, the whole shebang. We had a great relationship. But as uni approached (each heading to the other end of the country) he pulled away, already anticipating what we all know now about how literally no one manages to make it through first year with a partner back home. We broke up over the summer but I wasn’t ready to let go and so we kept hanging out as ‘friends’.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
During this mucky ‘friend’ stage I was hanging out at his house with friends watching movies and as he got up, his phone on the couch between us flashed up with a text message from this really beautiful girl we knew. I couldn’t see a preview of the text (pre-smartphones innit) but it was like all of a sudden, everything just fell into place. I knew they’d hooked up, that our relationship was really and truly over, and that it was time to get my shit together and move on. It hurt like hell but in retrospect it was cathartic as fuck.

How do you feel about it now?
The relationship totally would have ended one way or the other — as I said, first year of university is not kind to many high school relationships and we have ended up being very different people. Also, a few weeks into uni I met the man I would eventually end up spending the rest of my life with. I look back on that first relationship fondly but see the break-up, and that moment in particular, as a learning curve when it comes to self-respect — one which has filtered into all areas of my life. If someone’s not giving you as much as you’re giving them in terms of love or friendship, don’t go a million miles out of your way trying to make it work. You deserve someone who’s willing to give back as much as you’re putting in.

Millicent, 27

How long had you been in the relationship? What had it been like?
Only three months. It probably wouldn’t have lasted anyway but an event two months in definitely sped the end up.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
He wanted to show me his university town of Oxford (he went to Oxford Brookes) so we went for a dirty weekend to the Premier Inn about 10 mins outside of town. Obviously I was set ablaze with desire at this prospect and we decided to get a quick shag in before getting the park and ride into town. Even though he was 6ft 4 we somehow ended up 69ing with him on top. It is at this point I should mention that even though he was only in his mid 30s he had a chronic heart condition that had resulted in him having a pacemaker with inbuilt defibrillator put in a few years previously. Well, he took one look at my magnificent vagina, went into arrhythmia and copped it. Dead to the world, nose deep in my vagina. A few moments later the defibrillator kicked in, launching him into the air and waking me up (I had passed out because of dead man’s dick in my mouth) and I managed to prop him up and ask him if he was okay. I can still hear the sound of the defibrillator going off — I thought one of the lights had exploded, it was such an unpleasantly loud sound. Because of this “episode” his mum had to come and pick us up from the hotel as he had a six-month driving ban. A few weeks later he had the audacity to tell me that the spark had gone from our sex life. The. Spark. Was. What. I. Was. Worried. About.

How do you feel about it now?
We were only together for three months in total and although I don’t have particularly passionate feelings either way towards him, I am genuinely grateful for getting one of the most incredible stories from our short time together. He split up with me via text which I feel does give me enough grounds to write this. I am happily single and have been for many years now, so the only impact this has on my current situation is trying desperately not to tell this story on first dates.

Sarah, 31

How long had you been in the relationship? What was it like?
Two years, it was wonderfully wild — full of lust and no substance.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
We bumped into some of his new friends from work. The following phrase was a screaming hint that it was about to fall apart: “It’s so lovely to meet you [deafening pause and awkward smile] … He never told me he had a girlfriend.”

From then on I knew there was a time limit before I’d find out who I was being kept a secret from. Armed with his MySpace password, I found out two weeks later he’d been simultaneously dating a woman from his new work for the last couple of months.

How do you feel about it now?
Thank the lord. It was years ago, if you didn’t guess from the MySpace reference.

Idgie, 27

How long had you been in the relationship? What was it like?
The relationship only lasted two months, but I felt the effects of it for many years afterwards. I was 17 and had just come out of a very healthy ‘first love’ relationship that lasted two years and ended amicably. The new guy was 21, a musician and had been living in Brazil for a while. Everything about him was exciting to me, not least because he was the older brother of a friend and a son of one of my teachers — there was a forbidden fruit element to our relationship. Looking back I was super impressionable and naïve, but I lapped up all the stories he told me and ignored the big sparkly red flags coming my way. I even ignored people who knew him better, who warned me to stay away, because what we had felt untouchable — nobody could understand the depth of our connection. I didn’t care that his influence began to impact my previously excellent grades, attendance and behaviour at school. It felt like us against the world.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
I’d started to have my doubts but it wasn’t until he met my family that I knew it would end. He arrived at my parents’ house — a place of joy and creativity where cleaning is always bottom of the to-do list. Nobody was home yet so I took him on a tour and we drank tea in the garden. He convinced me it would be a nice thing for him to clean the kitchen for my family. I disagreed but of course, eventually caved. He knew better after all. Mum found it distressing when she found him reorganising and cleaning her kitchen, her personal space. Conversations that evening were difficult. He was defensive because he expected my parents to be less liberal or knowledgeable about music than they are. I was trying to steer all of us into safe ground. As we watched TV with my 13-year-old brother I checked in with him. “What do you want to do?” I asked. “Don’t mind,” he said. “We could stay here watching TV or we could go upstairs and fuck.” I was dumbstruck. I was so shocked that he would say something like that in front of a member of my family, people he should have been trying to impress, let alone in front of my young brother, that I just got up and left him there. He read that as me making a choice and was surprised to find I wasn’t waiting on my bed to receive him. We argued. I probably apologised for overreacting. And we ended up doing what he’d wanted to do anyway.

When the weekend was over I asked for the opinions of my family, knowing they were about to confirm everything I was choosing to ignore. But it still took me another week to do it. He cried and undressed me completely and held my naked body as he sobbed. I lay there expressionless, like a mannequin. “Your parents are going to be so confused, I only just met them,” he said. I smirked internally. He really had no idea who I am and where I come from.

How do you feel about it now?
It was over fast, but I felt its impact for many years after it ended. I didn’t want to give myself away again. I’ve only had relationships with friends since and committed to people I knew liked me for who I am, who wouldn’t mould me into someone they invented. It taught me a lot about what I don’t want in a relationship and what I will never put up with again, and I’m glad I learned those lessons relatively young. He’s now a spectre I talk about with my husband and friends when discussions arise about arseholes we once knew. But I still had a panic attack when I saw him at a gig two years later. I still felt sick when I learned he’d had a daughter. I still became flushed and jittery, my pulse elevating and my breath becoming shallower, as I wrote about him today, 10 years later.

He’s sadly not forgotten. But he is, thankfully, gone.

Grace, 57

How long had you been in the relationship?
One year, I was 23 years old and he was 40. I was the younger arm candy to his older silver fox.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
I found lace pants and stockings in a drawer in his bedroom. I was looking for a hairbrush and he’d told me to look for it in there. He thought I was in a different room when he called to tell me where to look. I felt sick — especially as I thought I’d been so cool and got a really good handle on the younger girlfriend gig. Turned out…not so cool. I wondered if I should get angry and confront him but I thought, What if it’s some old kit left from a previous girlfriend? I’d feel a total idiot… Or what if they’re actually his? Unfortunately for the lingerie a pair of scissors suddenly came to hand and decided to cut up the offending articles and put them back to see what would happen. If it was the discarded remains of an old relationship, no harm done and he’d be none the wiser.

I let this sleeping silver fox lie and didn’t burden him with what I’d done…and waited. Nothing happened for two weeks and I’d almost forgotten about knickergate. Turned out they were the other girlfriend’s expensive (though easily shredded) thongs. I feel bad now about ruining a sister’s property but to be fair I think I did us both a favour. If I ever see her again I promise to buy her suitable replacements. These days it’d probably be a nice pair of comfy cotton big knickers. More robust and tougher to hack through.

How do you feel about it now?
In retrospect I think it was a pretty smart though slightly psychopathic thing to do. We were never really a match and he’s had two wives (even younger than I was) and I had one husband. The funny thing is the same scenario cropped up 20 years later when I was dating in my 40s. This time I just popped a little note in with the knickers to give her the heads up and told him to fuck off.

Kyla, 27

How long had you been in the relationship? What was it like?
I’d been with him for 3+ years. He had cheated on me in the first few months of our relationship, but he really had a hold over me — he would tell me I was lucky that he put up with me, and I started to believe I had to keep him happy because no one else would want me. In the last year of our relationship we were on and off — he was studying in a different city for that last year, and when he went away he’d break things off so he could “be free to focus on himself”. Or, as he would also make clear, see other people. When he came back every now and then to visit family or for weekends he’d want to “see me” which ended in me always feeling used and alone.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
Eventually I started to feel desperately unhappy, but still couldn’t escape the hold he had on me. I knew things needed to completely end between us, but I felt like I couldn’t imagine my life without him. Until one day, when he’d come back to visit his parents and I stayed over. I was in a separate room underneath his room and I heard him through the floorboards having phone sex with some girl. Suddenly I felt completely repulsed by this guy and I realised this is not what I deserve, nothing close to what I deserve. I felt a complete release, as if that hold he had over me completely vanished. For the first time in years, I felt hopeful that I would be okay.

How do you feel about it now?
I feel utter relief. For me, that moment of knowing it was over, was a really positive thing. It makes me feel empowered. I’ve been in the most incredible relationship with someone for the past four years now, who respects and supports me.

Becka, 26

How long had you been in the relationship? What was it like?
We were together for six years, from when I was 19 and he was 20. We met at uni — I had never been in a serious relationship before but he had just come out of a five-year relationship (I know). It was a pretty rocky relationship from the beginning — as he’d been in a monogamous relationship for pretty much his entire life, he found it uncomfortable to know about the various hook-ups I’d had or people I’d casually dated before I met him. This adolescent chip on his shoulder pretty much never wore off — I’d say he just grew used to not being okay with it. In the beginning I was so in love with him that I would apologise for the things I’d done. Looking back on it now I realise how absolutely fucked up that was, but at the time it felt like the only way for us to progress to a stable place. We worked hard at it and were pretty happy for a good few years, but he always had a strained relationship with my friends and family because the rough start to our relationship had given them a negative perception of the whole thing.

Tell us about the moment you knew it was over.
We’d been together for nearly six years by this point. I was catching up one lunchtime with a friend who was complaining about her dating life, her experiences of app culture and how it makes it so easy to move from one person to the next person. She complained to me that “dating is like someone holding a pack of cards, and flipping them over one by one. Sure, you might be holding a seven now, but how do you know there isn’t an ace on the next card? How do you ever know that the person you’re with is the best person for you?” It freaked me out because I realised I’d stopped asking myself if what I had was what I really wanted: I was in my relationship not because I wanted to be, but just because it was sort of happening to me. I’d stopped being the agent in my own life. I feel like being in your mid 20s is the typical debate of ‘Okay, are we getting married or should we just break up now so we both have time to rebuild with someone else?’ I needed to take back control over my own life and think about what I really wanted in a relationship, so I broke up with him.

How do you feel about it now?
It was like losing a best friend. It sucks not having someone who was so big a part of your life be around anymore. It’s like a bereavement and it is hard breaking habits that you built with someone over a long period of time. I’m glad that I wasn’t giving him hope anymore that ‘if we just do X differently then it will all magically work out’. In the end, I loved him but I wasn’t in love with him. He took it really hard in the beginning but from what I’ve heard he’s in a much better place now, and I’m learning to ask for more in a relationship than to settle or feel I have to convince someone to be with me.

Originally published at https://www.refinery29.com.

Refinery29

Refinery29 is the #1 new-media brand for smart, creative…

Refinery29 UK

Written by

The leading global media company focused on young women. We inspire, entertain, and empower our audience through optimistic and diverse storytelling.

Refinery29

Refinery29 is the #1 new-media brand for smart, creative and stylish women everywhere.

Refinery29 UK

Written by

The leading global media company focused on young women. We inspire, entertain, and empower our audience through optimistic and diverse storytelling.

Refinery29

Refinery29 is the #1 new-media brand for smart, creative and stylish women everywhere.

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