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With the factors that drive individuals apart and then pull them back in vary as widely as the actual people in the relationship, it's hard to point to any general reasons why some pairings come with an on/off switch. For insight, we asked three women around the country to share a snapshot of their romantic coupling, pre- and post-calling it quits.
Writer and life coach; Chicago suburbs
"Ryan and I met the first day of our freshman year at Columbia College in Chicago, where we lived across the hall from one another. I can still remember move-in day, along with his scribbled invitation on the white board that adorned my dorm door: Come say hi.
"We began as friends, which turned into best friends, which turned into inseparable. I'd thought long and hard about the kind of man I'd fall in love with someday. I imagined he'd be preppy and handsome, intellectual, and that he'd enjoy talking about his feelings. (I blame Nicholas Sparks.) So imagine my surprise when I fell in love with a rock band drummer from downtown Chicago who had a pierced ear and long hair. Ryan was effervescent, mildly inappropriate, and incredibly kind. In spite of all the 'Miss Independent' and 'Girl Power' books I had read—and was planning to write someday—I fell in love. Fast and furious.
"In some ways ours was an unlikely and untimely pairing, but we were made for each other. I knew he was the guy I'd be with forever the day he skipped work to watch Regis Philbin's final episode on Live with Regis and Kelly with me. I watched the talk show religiously, and while he didn't care about Regis or Kelly one tiny bit, he just cared that it mattered to me.
"Meeting at age 19 made for a sweet story, but it came with its share of challenges. We quickly learned that we didn't need to simply grow together, we had to grow up together. The perfect moments were sprinkled with difficult ones, including a breakup that nearly broke us.
"In 2008, as college graduation approached, we knew we weren't ready to get married, but real life was beginning and personal decisions had to be made. We'd been taught to forge our own paths, take pride in our accomplishments, build a career and felt we were facing a choice of conscience. Do we break up and risk losing each other, or do we stay together and risk losing ourselves?
"Rather than do the 'Let's be friends' thing, we decided to try a clean break. We didn't contact each other and saw our friends separately. I quickly realized there is grief involved in a loss like that; it's sudden and pervasive. You don't just lose the person, you're also losing the life you shared.
"We eventually realized we didn't need to choose between a relationship and satisfying our ambitions. We had to be brave enough to nurture both. After five months, we reunited and dated until we got married in 2012.
"There is a French saying, tu me manques. The literal translation is 'I miss you,' but what it really means is, 'You are missing from me.' During our time apart, we both felt that at different times and in different ways. It's a feeling neither of us forgets and it helps get us through the inevitable challenges. I realized that no matter the mountain I'm facing, the climb is better with Ryan than without him. I learned about the value of time and following my gut. I learned that sometimes, the most important things in life are worth a second try."
Violette de Ayala
Founder and CEO of FemCity (opens in new tab); Miami, FL
"Stephen and I met on a blind-ish date. His brother was dating one of my high school besties and they thought we'd be perfect for each other. For a long time, the timing wasn't right—one or both of us was always dating someone else—but we finally met at their college graduation in 1992.
"I'm an extrovert and gregarious by nature, but meeting him left me speechless. It really was—to borrow a cliché—love at first sight. Admittedly, a big part of that was because Stephen looked like Jason Bateman, my childhood crush. He was handsome, funny, quirky, and elegant. We got to know each other during that graduation weekend and spent more time together a week later when he and his brother drove from Raleigh, where Stephen was attending North Carolina State University, to Miami, where I was a student at Florida International University. Even though there was an attraction between us, we were both dating other people and had no interest in a long distance relationship.
"A few months later I broke up with my boyfriend. I confessed that I felt a connection with a guy I'd met a few months prior and that it seemed unfair to continue our relationship. The next day I was shocked to hear that Stephen had also broken up with his girlfriend! A few weeks later, he surprised me by showing up in Miami and that's when we became a couple. Right off the bat, we discussed marriage, rings, honeymoons, and our life together. A few months later, we got married.
"It all happened so fast that we never really had the chance to establish the kind of solid ground you need to sustain a marriage and make it through the inevitable stresses. We were investing in real estate, I was launching businesses, he was renovating a home while working full-time. Over the years, the fibers started to come undone. Though we loved each other, the relationship wasn't in balance. It wasn't healthy for us, or our kids.
"In 2013, after 20 years together, we divorced, but continued living together for the sake of our kids. I travel quite a bit for work and, at the time, he was doing a lot of business in Toronto and flying back and forth. The kids were our top priority and having the house stable for them was our focus. We were friends, cordial and respectful, but rarely spent time together because of our travels.
"During that time he became involved with another woman, and I used the time to work on myself. I traveled with friends, visiting Europe and bucket-list spots like Machu Picchu and Dominica. It was on a trip to France a year and a half into our separation that I realized I missed him. Turns out, he missed me, too.
"When I arrived back in Miami he showed up at the airport to pick me up and asked what I thought about us giving it a go again. We dated secretly for a few months and didn't tell anyone. After six months, we realized that there was more love between us than ever before. We are now what's known as legal domestic partners and have discussed getting remarried. Many of our friends don't even know that we ever divorced.
"I am more peaceful, balanced, calm, and have more clarity. He is more focused on the family, me, and our marriage. Even though it was horrible, the divorce was the biggest blessing. There's no way we would be where we are today had we not separated. It's like we both grew up into complete humans and now flow together in a healthy way. We are grateful that our paths led us back to each other."
Counselor and founder of Better Love Movement (opens in new tab); Richmond, VA
"When Dan and I began dating four years ago, I wasn't shy about my desire to get married again. It had been 14 years since my divorce and I was ready to give it another try. He'd only been divorced for about five years and was still dealing with the painful aftereffects, but agreed that he would marry again. But after dating for two years, we weren't moving in that direction. I told him that if he had no intention of marriage or if I wasn't the person he wanted, then I needed to move on. When he said he wasn't sure, I told him we needed to go our separate ways.
"That first month was the hardest. We didn't call or text or reach out to each other in any way. I expected him to fight for the relationship, but he didn't. Turns out, he'd felt blindsided by the breakup. We were both so hurt and disappointed that the relationship didn't work out that we just shut down. I threw myself into my work and travel and my children—and listened to a lot of breakup podcasts—and he threw himself into his own interests.
"After three months apart, the holidays were upon us. His best friend texted to wish me a happy Thanksgiving, which seemed odd given that we had never been close. Then I noticed Dan was liking my Facebook pictures. I continued to ignore the gestures until one day around Christmas he texted me. He said he noticed that I was away on a trip and that he was happy that I was enjoying myself. Slowly, we started to text each other and eventually decided we should get together and talk.
"We missed each other and wanted to be together, but I still wasn't okay with being together unless we were moving toward marriage. He admitted he was 'afraid of making another mistake.' So we decided to meet in the middle. We hired a couple's coach, a husband and wife team who are happily married, to guide us through the hard conversations we need to have in order to get to the altar. We also set a timeline that we both agreed on, as opposed to just going with the flow.
"Being apart gave us the opportunity to see what we appreciated and loved about each other. I had a chance to reflect on what was really important in my life and practiced gratitude for what I did have. I used our time apart to start a business and nurture friendships I hadn't cultivated in years. I feel much more secure in the relationship. Dan also had a chance to sit back and reflect on his role in our breakup. He's working on healing his past hurts so that he can move forward in our relationship for the right reasons.
"Sometimes a breakup is a much-needed wake-up call for both parties, a chance to reflect on what is and isn't theirs to own. We got to hit the restart button and make some necessary changes to the way we're doing things. I'd never gotten back together with an ex before this, so clearly something was very special about this man."
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