Why We Broke Up

Matt and Violet were never the sort of people expected to get together. But in the end, the funny part was... they didn't quite know where they went wrong.

Why We Broke Up is a love story told backwards... to find where they went wrong, and where exactly they went right.


1. January 14th, 2013


“So,” she says. “Are you still in love with me?”

I take the first genuine spit-take of my life at that moment, spattering the drink on the table. As I fumble for napkins, she stays calm, looking at me with a steely and curious gaze.

“I’m sorry?” I say, shaking my head as I ball up the soiled mess on the corner of the table.

“Well,” she says. “Are you?”

I take a deep breath, letting the question seep in.

Am I?

Here’s the thing: Some people, you never stop loving completely. You can be over them. You can have all the closure in the world. You can be ready to let them leave your life. And that will be OK, and even though it’s hard, you’re OK, too. But in your heart you carry around tiny pieces of them. You carry with you the way that they laugh. The sound of their voice. The way they look at you. Their honesty. The way they were wonderfully imperfect in the perfect way. For you. At that time.

So, no. I’m not still in love with her. But I do still feel for her; in small ways. I understand how I once did. And that’s okay. We shouldn’t have to forget, completely. You just can’t let it consume you the way it did before.

I try to communicate that to her: try to tell her all those complex thoughts, the way I once did. She was the only one who ever understood them. We told each other a thousand secrets that the world could not comprehend. But instead, all that comes out is:


“Would you tell me if you were?”

“Well, no,” I admit. “But I do actually mean it.”

“I see.”

I can’t read her again; there’s nothing behind the phrase for me to find, and it’s frustrating. I find that I’m gripping my cup too hard and let go, exasperated, both in awe and frustration at her bluntness.

“So,” she says, and I wonder what bombshell she has to drop on me next. But instead comes the normal and the unexpected. “How are you?”

I’m almost as shocked to hear this as the last part, but my answer is a little more refined this time. “I’m alright. Busy. You know how it is. Always something to do.” It’s like talking to my grandmother, not Violet.

She nods. I realize I didn’t ask her.

“And you?”

“I’m fine.”

That’s all I’m getting, as usual. We sit there in silence, looking at each other for a few short moments. I should’ve gotten a smaller drink. There’s not much longer this can last.

I force myself to say something. “What are your plans next year?” I sort of already know. But maybe they’ve changed. Unlikely, though.

“You know what they are,” she says. “I’ve been accepted to Camberwell, so…”

I nod. Of course. As if they’d change. She’s not that different. She’ll always be an artist.

“Did you get in?” she asks.

She doesn’t need to say more. Cambridge Law. My big dream.

“Yeah,” I say.

“So you’re off there then.”

“Sort of,” I say. “I deferred entry. I’m going in the following year. I’m going to travel next year.”

She raises her eyebrows. “Oh. Where are you going to go?”

“Rome, first.” I have family there. I’m staying about six months. “Then Germany. France. And finally Spain. Briefly, each.”

“Stopping in Paris?” she says, and her voice is openly wistful.

“Yes, actually.”

“Stop by the Louvre for my sake.”

“I will.”

She smiles for the first time so far. And it sends me reeling again, because I’ve never seen anything compare to it. She never looks more alive than when she smiles. I want to reach out and brush a strand of hair from her face, but I clamp my hand to the desk. We are not together anymore.

“Thank you.” There’s something far-off in her eyes. She’s dreaming awake. The way we both used to. It’s too much, and I fear she’s about to sneak right back into my heart, so I start to drink the hot chocolate faster. It scalds my mouth. Her cup is almost gone.

She watches me carefully and pointedly as I finish the last dregs.

“Do you want another cup?”

“No,” I say, too quickly. “I mean… no, I’m sorry. I have to be back pretty early tonight.” I stop myself explaining why. Because it doesn’t matter anymore. Violet is not a part of my life anymore.

“Alright,” she says, as calm as ever. We get up and walk out of the shop, and then she touches my arm when we get outside. “It was nice seeing you.”

At least with Violet, I can tell she means it.

We stand, and there’s a lingering uncertainty between us. Do I hug her? Do I shake her hand? Neither are appropriate, so I settle for nodding. “You, too,” I say, then feel the need to iterate my vagueness: “Really.”

She smiles, but it’s sad. “Bye.”

I want to reach out and touch her face – to wipe the sadness away. But I can’t.

“Goodbye,” I say.

I turn, and I force myself not to look back.

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