Breaking up is hard to do. Really hard to do. Especially when you’ve got an ex like any one of the many you read about in magazine, books, and blog posts. Chances are, yours was worse. Think about all those things he said, or all those things she did…I’m sure your ex-husband or ex-wife could take the cake.
As you’ve seen in articles and novels since you were a teenager, plenty of people write about and publish pieces about what they’ve lived. Even more have written in journals, diaries, or notebooks about their ex-husband or ex-wife. The experience of getting the words out of your head and on paper can be cathartic.
You Thought Your Ex Was Crazy?
In “It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History,” Jennifer Wright tells us the story of Emperor Nero, who killed off everyone who was ever around him, including his family, friends, lovers, and spouses. She spells out the story of Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron – when they broke up, Caroline sent Lord Byron a bloody lock of pubic hair. And Oskar Kokoschka had a life-like doll made of his ex – which he took out on the town.
Think about it. If no one had ever written their stories down, if no one had taken the time to tell the story of these absolutely outrageous ex-husbands and ex-wives, we’d never know that our cyber-stalking of our ex is nothing compared to what one crazy ex did, or that the letter we regret sending can’t hold a torch to what Caroline sent to Lord Byron. I’m sure what she penned helped her get over their breakup, even if her instability may have spurred the breakup. If you take the time to write your story, you can even get the same healing without the dramatics.
Why? Well, writing is a safe way to get out the thoughts and feelings you have about a breakup or divorce. Putting the pen to paper, whether literally or figuratively, has a way of getting us to think outside of a situation, rather than stewing about it internally.
Many memoir authors write in great detail about high-profile breakups and being spurned by spouses or describe their own success having taken scissors to marriages that just weren’t working. Whether written from the giving or receiving end of the breakup, these memoirs are incredibly popular, either for entertainment or, in some cases, to share what really happened.
Breaking the Silence About a Broken Marriage
In 2004, the governor of New Jersey took the stage to share that he had been living the hidden life of a “gay American.” By his side was his wife, Dina Matos McGreevey, who shared her story after three years in “Silent Partner: A Memoir of My Marriage.” She fell in love with his principles, beliefs, and strong work ethic. What she found, though, was that for decades he’d had numerous affairs, even telling her that while she was in labor with their daughter, he started another one. He wrote a book about his story, which some have said does readers a disservice with the scarce treatment of the marriage he left. Dina’s story, on the other hand, talks about the devastation of being left to pick up the piece while he is warmly welcomed into an open community.
Dina’s story may have been written for therapeutic purposes, or it may have been written to shed light on the fact that even in the homes of well-respected politicians, couples are battling horrible situations.
Dina’s story shows that even when the ex-husband or -wife finds success after leaving the marriage, the only person who truly knows what happened behind closed doors is the spouse left behind – and they might not even have the whole story. She had few suspicions, just as you might have when your relationship ended. Later, as she was writing, though, red flags started to emerge. The fact that she wasn’t permitted to get to know his first wife and child. The secrecy. The way he left her alone to heal while he was spinning the story he would share with the public.
The main reason she wrote the story?
“I am tired of having other people concoct my life story, tired of having other people assume they know how I feel,” she said. “Enough is enough. I want to tell my own story. And now that I’ve begun to heal, I want to reach out to other people like me, people who have been hit with pain so excruciating they’re not sure they will survive it.
“This is my story, about my experience as I lived it at the moment and — not quite the same thing—about my experience as I look back on it. Tell others your story as I am telling you mine. Don’t let others tell it for you.”
Her statement rings true. Whether you’re reading these memoir summaries and nodding your head because you understand where the writers are coming from, or whether you’re shocked, appalled, and thinking that maybe your ex doesn’t look as bad anymore, your story is yours alone. Even if your ex turns out to be better than you thought, you still lived through a unique experience that is wholly and solely yours to tell. Like Dina’s, your story may also make an impact in the life of someone who has been left to pick up the pieces of what can only be called a crazy love story.
When Crazy Love is Crazier than Real Life
Leslie Morgan Steiner had a similar experience. She lived a life others envied. She’d graduated from Harvard, landed an amazing job at Seventeen magazine – ironically, the first place many young women read stories of crazy ex-boyfriends – and a dream boyfriend of her own. Behind the doors of their dream house, though, Steiner was physically and verbally abused by the man she thought she loved. She stayed, even after he pushed her down the stairs, dumped coffee grinds over her head, choked her, and pulled a gun on her.
Unlike Dina’s, though, Steiner was aware of everything happening around her. She is upfront with her readers in her memoir, “Crazy Love.”
“I’d tell you why I stayed for years, and how I finally confronted someone whose love I valued almost more than my own life,” she wrote. “Then maybe the next time you came across a woman in an abusive relationship, instead of asking why anyone stays with a man who beats her, you’d have the empathy and courage to help her on her way.”
Relationships are often compared to a two-way street, but when one side of the street is torn up, filled with potholes, cracks, and other issues that cause damage, it’s important to consider taking a different street. Writing your story down helps you see the impact that the damage has done in your life. As in Steiner’s case, it can also serve as a tool to not just help those traveling the same road, but also enlighten anyone watching as to why someone might stay on that road.
More than Meets the Eye
While women tend to be the most expressive when it comes to telling the story of their crazy spouses, Christ Easterly, a Hollywood screenwriter, puts together a beautifully written, yet heartbreaking, tale of reconstructing his life after his wife had an affair. He said he wrote “Falling Forward: A Man’s Memoir of Divorce,” but wished he’d never have had to.
“When I was going through my divorce, I searched for books that would offer advice and hope, affirm what I was going through, and let me know I’d survive it,” he wrote. “Where were the books written by men?…Few spoke to the pain, grief, and anger I struggled with…Whoever the reader, I’m telling my story for one reason: to assure you that you will survive.”
Obviously, you survived your crazy ex. It may have been the hardest thing you’ve done – and, as you look around, you’re not alone. People who wrote their stories, whether they told their story in a published piece or wrote something that, like Caroline Lamb, was discovered hundreds of years later, provide insight to the rest of us. Maybe your ex is far worse than these (though sending bloody body parts is hard to top).
No matter what happened, telling your story can be just as cathartic for you as it was for the authors of these memoirs. They found insight and strength by getting the thoughts out of their head and onto a piece of paper; imagine how much better you might feel by doing the same. You don’t ever have to publish the piece – you might even find you’d rather set it on fire. I doubt it, though, because I’m sure you’ll realize the value in sharing your experiences, just as these authors did.
Start by thinking about your own relationships. Whether you have one ex, or have found a series of commonalities in a string of ex-partners, you have a story to tell, even if it’s just to yourself. Get the words out and find the peace you deserve.
But what if…
Whether you plan to write a three-page journal entry for you alone, or a full-length memoir about why-your-ex-is-the-biggest-scumbag-to-ever-walk-upon-the-Planet-Earth-and-that-no-one-should-ever-get-married-lest-they-end-up-with-someone-even-half-as-obnoxious-as-your-ex, you may have doubts.
Even if you think you have a good story to share – and you do – there are probably some lingering reservations in your mind. Let’s look at some of the most popular myths regarding a breakup related memoir:
- No one will want to read it. False! No matter how mundane you think your story is, there is an audience that will identify with it and will enjoy reading it immensely. (They will also probably share it with their friends.)
- It’s already been written. False! Your story has not been told. Are there similar ones to it? Maybe. But your story is wholly unique and needs to be told.
- Memoir is a dying genre. False! For as many people whining online about how outdated the genre is, there are just as many falling in love with it and snatching up memoirs like they’re going out of style.
- I’ll make myself look like an ass. Maybe. Breakups are complicated, so we can’t say for certain that you’ll look like a total angel one hundred percent of the time. But hey, you’re the one writing the story… Tell it as you see it. If there are particularly incriminating events or you fear that others, like your children or in-laws, might be unjustly hurt by your story, consider turning it into fiction or writing the story for your own edification alone.
- Dredging up this part of my life is too painful and going through those details will only make me sadder. Again, maybe. Working through some aspects of your breakup will probably be difficult. But putting them behind you in a tangible way (by writing) will make you feel better and more resolved. Grab a bottle of wine and a box of tissues for working through the tough parts and hammer away.
Homework & action steps
Are you itching to write yet? It’s time to get started on your memoir. Here are some questions to help you get started with telling your story:
- Do you want to share your memoir or keep it private?
- Will it be fact or fiction?
- What is your main storyline?
- Who are the characters involved?
- Where does your story take place?
- What have you learned from your breakup?
- What do you want others to learn from your breakup?
- What makes your breakup unique?
If you’d like to air your worst ex ever story, check out our one-day course: The Art of Remembering to Forget: Why Write a Life Story You Never Intend to Publish. It’s for people who have lived through tough life situations. Death of a loved one, a relationship crash, battling a disease, financial or career crisis…anything which has caused trauma in your life. Click the graphic below to discover more.