This Book Will Put Even Your Worst Breakup In Perspective

Photo: Courtesy of Jennifer Wright.
Jennifer Wright's new book, It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History, opens with two quotes — one from Buddha and one from Taylor Swift. In the context of Wright's book, on sale today, this unlikely duo actually makes perfect sense. Presenting us with 13 seemingly different breakups from as far back as ancient Rome, Wright bends the timeline of romantic disasters and shows us just how little has changed in how people uncouple. It's an exercise in solidarity — even queens have struggled with recovering from breakups — and a source of comfort: If you still feel guilty about that one drunken phone call to your ex way too long after the split, this book is for you. Below, check out highlights from our conversation with Wright, and feel secure in knowing that you've never hand-written hundreds of letters to an ex, beheaded anyone, or built a sex doll in a lost lover's image. And if you have done any of these things, well, now you know you're in good company. What inspired this book?
"There are so many books out there that tell you how to behave well during a breakup, and, I don’t know about everyone else, but most of the embarrassing things that I’ve done in my life have been immediately after a breakup. So I wanted to write a book that focused on people who behaved in a way that was probably worse than any of us have behaved. No matter what you might have done after a breakup — maybe you drunk-texted your ex a few times — but you haven’t beheaded him. I was hoping that people could read some of these stories and have their own breakup behavior put in perspective." You connect these historic breakups to modern-day problems, with chapters listed by breakup issue (“If your family didn’t like your ex and thought you could do better, read about Lucrezia Borgia and Giovanni Sforza”). What are some lessons people can take away from these breakups?
"One of my favorite lessons from the book is that so few of these people’s lives, unless they actually tried to murder their ex, are defined by their breakup. You could be like Edith Wharton, who wrote hundreds of letters to her ex, which he largely declined to reply to, and use that pain and turn it into fantastic novels, and have a really beautiful life where you end up on the French Riviera... Or you could be like [Austrian artist] Oskar Kokoschka, who built a giant sex doll of his ex-girlfriend and went on to have an incredibly happy, 40-year-long marriage to another woman, who was seemingly not put off by the sex doll in his past. No matter what you’ve done, you’re probably going to be able to move on from it and hopefully be a stronger person. Unless you tried to kill your ex; then, that’s a problem."
What does a distinctly “bad” breakup look like?
"I think it’s the nature of breakups that it’s not going to be great, and usually there’s something really wrong in a relationship before a breakup happens — or, at least, there is for one of the parties involved. I think the worst breakups are when one person really wants to stay with the other person, and doesn’t see it coming at all, and the other person just thinks this is an unsustainable relationship. I think that those [kinds of breakups] obviously tend to be harder than if both people acknowledge [it] isn’t working for a lot of reasons. "I think that there are good ways to handle a breakup. I think doing it in person is always best, if you can, and...I think it’s always better if you’re clear: ‘I don’t want to be romantically involved with you, and that’s not going to change,’ so the other person can start to heal and move on."

You’ve done a brave thing by loving someone.

Jennifer Wright
What advice would you give someone recovering from a breakup?
"First of all, I think you’re supposed to feel bad, and you’re supposed to feel crazy, and those are not signs you’re a sociopath. So if you feel those things after a breakup, that doesn’t make you crazy. It would be crazy not to feel that way... I think the best advice is just to realize that you can move on and you’ve done a brave thing by loving someone. That means that you have the capacity to go out and be brave again." Were there any themes you noticed in your research?
"People really like to write tell-alls about their bad relationships... People can immediately detail everything that’s going on in their breakup online, and I thought that would be something I wouldn’t see so much of in the past, but, no — people were willing to wait, like, four years to get those books published so they could talk about how bad their ex-boyfriends were. People have really enjoyed doing that all the way through time." What’s next for you?
"My second book is called Get Well Soon. It’s [about] the 13 worst plagues in history and how we fought them." Interesting that both of these books are about bad moments in history and they both come in series of 13.
"It’s the ‘shit happens’ school of history, so 13 feels like the right number. [laughs]"

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