both sides of a breakup

He Felt ‘Bullied’ Into Starting a Family

Illustration: Jeni Zhen

In “Both Sides of a Breakup,” the Cut talks to exes about how they got together and why they split up. After meeting in their early 20s, Liz, 42, and Michael, 45, broke up a few years later after Liz wanted to take concrete steps toward starting a family. By the time Michael decided he wanted her back, it was too late. 

Liz: Michael was my first real boyfriend. I was in my senior year at NYU and he was already out of college, working in the city, doing consulting. We met at a little dive bar near school. My friends stood next to his friends, and the two of us started talking. I found him very attractive, and I also liked his voice, which was really deep and kind of raspy, like a country singer. He’s from New York, so I have no idea where he got that cowboy thing, but I loved it.

Michael: Liz was the prettiest of all her friends, so I focused on her. And then she told me that she spent her summers in Italy, and spoke fluent Italian, and that made her stand out a little more. I thought it made her exotic. By the end of the night, we had exchanged numbers and I called her the next night to have dinner with me.

Liz: I think I called him and asked him out. I used to be so fiesty and forward like that. I totally wanted him. That’s all it was for me at first. I wanted to get drunk and make out with him and take him home with me … which is what I did. And then we started going out and hooking up all the time. It was a pretty easy and natural progression into a serious relationship. I don’t remember any issues for the first few months.

Michael: What scared me a little was how traditional she was in terms of kids and marriage. I wasn’t sure I wanted kids or marriage, and on our second date, she was like, “You’re going to marry me.” That planted an “uh oh” seed inside me. I got scared she was going to hunt me down and capture me if I didn’t watch out.

Liz: We moved in together after two years. We were still having a lot of sex and were generally a happy couple. But I was ready for the next steps. I didn’t care that I was in my early 20s, that seemed like a great time to get married. Why wait? So I started riding him about it. At first in a joking way, and then in a way that always got us both worked up, and upset.

Michael: After we moved in, I felt very suffocated. It all started to go downhill. That’s when I stopped wanting to come home at night. I’d stay at work longer than I needed to because I didn’t want to come home to her bullshit (that’s how I saw it then, at least). I felt way too young to have a nagging wife of a girlfriend.

Liz: My mom took me to freeze my eggs when I turned 24. It’s not that she thought I was getting too old to have kids, but she knew it was important to me someday, and we both thought that was a smart move. I came home from the doctor’s consultation and told Michael I was freezing my eggs, and he basically broke up with me right there. The entire conversation was too much for him. I was like, “Okay, this is scary. This man can’t even handle a conversation about having kids in, like, ten years from now.” It was a huge, terrible fight. We didn’t speak for like a week … though I assumed we’d get back on track.

Michael: After the egg-freezing saga, I was done. She had kept threatening to leave me, and we wanted such different things and the divide was only getting bigger over time. I always said I wasn’t sure about kids. She thought she could change me. I hated the feeling of being bullied into it. And that night, I ripped the Band-Aid off. I was like, “This is done. We’re over.” I felt relieved that it was finally done. I just had to figure out how to find a new apartment quickly. That was what I focused my attention on.

Liz: But there’s a crazy twist! I met someone new five days after Michael moved out. Someone amazing. I met him at a party that my friend dragged me to, to cheer me up. So I got over Michael really, really, really fast. It was crazy. I thought I’d be sad for months, if not years, over our breakup. I think the fact that I moved on so quickly triggered something in Michael.

Michael: As soon as I moved out, she completely cut me off. And I missed her really bad. She wasn’t calling me back. When I did speak to her, she was, like gone, just emotionally gone. I had this major change of heart. Suddenly I did want to give her everything she wanted. But it was too late. In a matter of two weeks, I had blown my chance of ever being with her again.

Liz: The tables turned. Of course they did. Isn’t that what always happens?

Michael: I tried to win her over a few different ways. Mostly just by trying to see her, to tell her I was wrong and that I shouldn’t have been so immature about our future. But she was too busy with this new guy, and then they went to Italy together … and poof, it was completely over. I’d never get her back.

Liz: I ended up marrying that “new guy.” We went to Italy and decided to stay there for a year. He was an architect and loved Rome, and I was starting a travel blog, so it was a dream scenario for us. I almost never thought of Michael romantically again.

Michael: I follow her on Facebook. I like her pictures of her kids. I’m happy for her. Do I think she would have been an amazing wife and mother of my kids? Yes. Do I have regrets? It’s been so long, who knows, I don’t sit home and cry about it or anything. I’m engaged now and feel very happy about my future. I still get cold feet sometimes and I’m not sure I want children. She knows I’m on the fence about kids and, actually, so is she. She also knows that this was the big issue for Liz and I. With my fiancée now, I don’t feel any pressure to have kids or not. It might happen, it might not. That’s all I’m comfortable with at this point. So in the end it probably wouldn’t have worked with me and Liz. It did help me grow up though.

Liz: I look back on the Michael era with mostly happy memories. The breakup was hard, and I think the aftermath of the breakup would have been hard too, but luckily fate intervened and I met my husband, and I was spared too much pain. Life is hard enough, who needs to cry over a man? Especially a man who doesn’t want to marry you!

Both Sides of a Breakup: He Felt ‘Bullied’ Into Having Kids