When did it start to go wrong?

Did you know intuitively, even from the very beginning, why things would eventually head south? Did you always know that the condescending way they talked about their parents was going to break it? Or was it the way they bobbed their head to music they liked—a small glimpse of something that didn’t matter at first?

But then it grew, and you knew; you could sense it before you dared to admit it to yourself, couldn't you? Did you know it when you started to feel a stab of annoyance as soon as their name lit up your phone display? At what point did you start to desperately grasp for ways to explain your constant bad moods?

How long did you carry this knowledge inside you before it exploded? When you told your friends, it set in motion an avalanche that couldn’t be stopped. Romantic relationships are hermetic systems. There is an order of intimacy that can’t be broken without the relationship breaking too.

Crashing through the hermetic seal, we asked a number of wise writers to tell us about the period when they realized the end was nigh. We were interested in the swirl of feelings of that time—in how doubt dances with affection, grief with exhilaration—because we think it says something about the way romantic relationships are conceived. We think that what pop culture privileges—the ecstatic drunkenness of falling in love—is only half the picture. We think this focus makes relationships less interesting than they actually are.

We don’t think the end is a failure. We don’t think it’s a judgment on what two people had. It just means that it’s time to move on. Most of us have, one time or many. Here are thirteen accounts of how it happened.

Kira Josefsson and Julia Alsop
Brooklyn, October 2016