In Both Sides of a Breakup, the Cut talks to exes about how they got together and why they split up. Eliza, 35, a physical therapist, and Mark, 35, a photographer, had issues with crushes from the very start. This is their story.
Eliza: In hindsight, I wish I had a fairy godmother telling me, Do NOT get engaged when you’re under 30. I was so young and stupid … Mark and I got engaged when we were 25 after one year of dating, and stayed engaged for three years. I wish I could get those years back.
Mark: We met at a friend’s birthday at a bar. I think we were both 22. I was really drawn to Eliza’s mysterious personality. I found her intriguing. She had this bitchy-on-the-outside but kind-on-the-inside thing that I was attracted to. I asked her out that night … we had a really nice dinner date a few days later.
Eliza: He took me to a restaurant where his friend was a bartender because he thought his friend could sneak us free food and drinks. Tacky.
Mark: A big part of our relationship was psychoanalyzing our parents, who were both divorced — her mom had cheated on her dad while they were married, and my dad had cheated on my mom. It was all kind of fresh for me, and Eliza was a great person to turn to at the time.
Eliza: We had some stuff in common and similar families, but it really came down to sex. We had a lot of sex and it was usually really good. He was more of a lovemaker than me, which got a little old. Everything had to be meaningful and affectionate. I think I was sometimes rolling my eyes when we fucked, even though it was all really good sex: Our bodies fit well together, and I always came … sometimes a couple times.
Mark: I’m a romantic. Always have been. If I had any skills I’d write poetry or erotica. I love that stuff.
Eliza: After a while it was like, okay, you’re being weird with all the ear whispering and spooning; please just fuck me and roll over and go to sleep. I’m tired!
Mark: I proposed early, after just a year together, for a few reasons. My family was falling apart and I think I craved stability. My mother had given me her engagement ring from my dad — who was now her ex-husband — and I guess it was kind of burning a hole in my pocket? I had it redone so it wouldn’t have the bad karma … even though I guess it did end up with its own bad karma.
Eliza: So he proposes. I’m surprised. I go with it because, again — young and stupid. AND he proposed in this big, elaborate fashion with family members flown in from around the country. I couldn’t say no. I loved him, but I had a pit in my stomach.
Mark: About a week after I proposed, I had to go overseas for a work project. At the time I worked for a magazine’s photography department and there was a shoot in England; it was a big deal and I was going to be there for like two or three weeks. I met Stella, a stylist, on that trip. I was really attracted to her … but I didn’t want to be like my father, who was a compulsive cheater. Then again, I was like, “But am I my father?”
It was this really weird time in my life where I was trying to figure out who I was as a man, not as my parents’ child, not as Eliza’s future husband, but who was I, at the core? I emailed Eliza this super-honest (but in hindsight, pretty insensitive) email about my feelings for Stella. I guess I was asking permission to hook up with her.
Eliza: I was like, what the fuck? Who emails their fiancée a love letter about another woman? I was so pissed. But then my sisters and my closest friends were like — “Hey, he’s being honest with you. It’s a good sign. This is a man of character!” I was like, “Really?????” I wrote back: Please keep your legs and dick to yourself. I told him if he cheated on me, it would be over, even if he played the “I was upfront with you the whole time” card. I’m sorry. It’s still cheating.
Mark: I respected her email and backed away from the Stella flirtation.
Eliza: I’m telling you, it was three more years of shit like that. I only stayed because I did love him. We were growing our life together. And as far as I know, he never actually cheated. They were just these infatuations that were mostly on his part. Like, fantasies about the women. But I know a few times there were inappropriate emails from the girls too. Not sexting, but emails that were flirty and not nice or classy at all considering they all knew he was engaged. I didn’t read his texts and emails so I’ll never really know.
Mark: Again, I’m a romantic. I love women and I love love. Did I have enough self-restraint not to act on anything? Yes. Of course. You don’t have to believe me, but I’m speaking the truth.
Eliza: The straw that broke the camel’s back was our third year of being engaged, when I actually got around to planning the wedding. I hired a very young, inexperienced wedding planner because she was basically doing it for free to build her portfolio. We go to meet with her and of course she’s adorable and fun. And I can see Mark gushing over her …
Mark: When I met Tasha, I just … I was … I found myself more aroused by her than I knew how to handle. Something overcame me. We started texting a little bit — wedding stuff but with a flirtatious tone. I got really distant at home. Eliza kept asking, “Did you text with Tasha today?” I was in charge of a few decisions, so I would say, “Yes, but it was just about the venue or budget” or whatever. But Eliza knew. It was like we both knew. We started fighting nonstop about Tasha. Eliza wanted to fire her. But she felt bad because technically Tasha hadn’t provoked any of this. And I don’t know, we just fought and fought for weeks.
Eliza: The Tasha thing was almost comical. You want to fuck the fucking wedding planner? I came up with an exit strategy and just said good-bye. It wasn’t even tearful. It was like, Bye, I’m done. And here’s your ring.
Mark: I was so compulsive about Tasha being my soul mate that I didn’t fully process that Eliza was gone for good.
Eliza: I moved in with my parents in Queens. Told everyone it was over. I honestly didn’t even want to talk to Mark about what went down. I was so done.
Mark: I invited Tasha for drinks to tell her there was no wedding and Eliza and I were over. She was bummed out. And then she got really weird and was like … “Um, okay so … can I leave now?” I remember feeling so embarrassed that it was all so one-sided. I had been living in some delusion and the bubble burst that night. Big time. I walked home feeling completely alone. I was sobbing. I was my father. I ruined everything.
Eliza: I never followed up with him on the Tasha front, but I assume she thought he was a creep and wanted nothing to do with either of us. It was all so ugly and weird. I stayed single for a few years and now I’m 35 and engaged to someone a lot more trustworthy and better in every way.
Mark: I got married a few years later to someone I met on another shoot. We got divorced a year later because — irony of ironies — she met someone else and fell for him. Now I’m single and enjoying it. Love can be amazing, but love also … sucks. I say that as a romantic!