Love Will Tear Us Apart: 30 Literary Breakup Quotes


We hate to be the ones to say it, but the end of the summer romance is nigh, dear readers. As August becomes September, a noticeable chill lingers in the air; the cold creeps in slowly, hardening hearts and delivering sang-froid to young and old alike. In preparation, we suggest you arm yourselves with our modest arsenal of literary quotes that can be administered whenever you feel the time is right. Good luck, and let us know in the comments section what quotes have helped you get through a difficult breakup.

1. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

For the perpetual adolescent:

“I’ve seen men like you in Doris Day films, but I never thought they existed in real life…The men who can’t commit, who can’t say ‘I love you’ even when they want to, who start to cough and sputter and change the subject. But here you are. A living, breathing specimen. Incredible.”

2. Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

When you’re putting out the fire:

“[Their love] had burned itself out, like a forgotten candle in an empty room, leaving behind a ravenous discontent.”

3. “Search for Love” by D.H. Lawrence

For the cold-hearted ending:

“Those that go searching for love only make manifest their own lovelessness, and the loveless never find love, only the loving find love, and they never have to seek for it.”

4. Douglas Yates

When it’s been too tepid for too long:

“People who are sensible about love are incapable of it.”

5. Gertrude by Herman Hesse

When you’re caught in a Gaga-esque bad romance:

“Passion is always a mystery and unaccountable, and unfortunately there is no doubt that life does not spare its purest children; often it is just the most deserving people who cannot help loving those that destroy them.”

6. Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway

When you’re in Key West, musing to a polydactyl cat with a whiskey in one hand:

“If two people love each other, there can be no happy end to it.”

7. Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut

For all the times when you said hurtful things:

“I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, ‘Please—a little less love, and a little more common decency.'”

8. “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop

When you need to steel yourself for the inevitable:

“Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident the art of losing’s not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.”

9. “Break It Down” by Lydia Davis

When your man’s got a cheatin’ heart:

“Maybe the truth does not matter, but I want to know it if only so that I can come to some conclusions about such questions as: whether he is angry with me or not; if he is, then how angry; whether he still loves me or not; if he does, then how much; whether he loves me or not; how much; how capable he is of deceiving me in the act and after the act in the telling.”

10. What My Lips Have Kissed: Love Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay

For tender-hearted lovers of lyrical poetry:

“Sweet love, sweet thorn, when lightly to my heart / I took your thrust, whereby I since am slain, / And I lie disheveled in the grass apart, / A sodden thing bedrenched by tears and rain.”

11. How Stella Got Her Groove Back by Terry McMillan

When you want to be the man who delivers a lengthy run-on sentence before he leaves:

“…being in your presence for any length of time depresses the hell out of me and I don’t need this shit who needs this shit so I’m like out of here.”

12. Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

When you need to channel your inner Marilyn:

“I want to tell you that I love you I want to tell you that I love you I want to tell you that I love I love I love I love but you do not.”

13. Rabbit Redux by John Updike

Get ready to get yelled at while you nurse your drink:

“That’s the trouble with caring about anybody, you begin to feel overprotective. Then you begin to feel crowded.”

14. Cheap Diamonds by Norris Church Mailer

For old souls with a lot of regrets:

“The old line ‘You deserve someone better than me’ in this case was not just an old line. She deserved someone who would love her and take care of her and he knew he never would.”

15. Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

When you’re a Dionysian in an argument with the Apollonian mind:

“The difference between love and logic is that in the eyes of a lover, a toad can be a prince, whereas in the analysis of a logistician, the lover would have to prove that the toad was a prince, an enterprise destined to dull the shine of many a passion.”

16. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

When you need to talk some sense into a rich girl:

“Did you ever see the way the clouds love a mountain? They circle all around it; sometimes you can’t even see the mountain for the clouds. But you know what? … The clouds never cover the head. His head pokes through, because the clouds let him; they don’t wrap him up. They let him keep his head high, free.”

17. The Ragged Way People Fall Out of Love by Elizabeth Cox

Sometimes honesty is the best policy:

“I don’t love you anymore … It comes down to that, I think.”

18. Waiting by Ha Jin

When your man won’t get a divorce:

“We can’t continue to be like this. Who am I? Your fiancée or your concubine?”

19. Angle of Repose by Wallace Earle Stegner

When you’ve violated the Sixth Commandment:

“I think, don’t you, that a girl with any delicacy of feeling couldn’t bring herself to marry a man indirectly responsible for her father’s death. No matter how much she was in love with him.”

20. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

When you need some perspective:

“In her opinion, the parrots were annoying arrogant. You could buy the most beautiful one in town, she observed, but that won’t make it love you. You could feed it, care for it and exclaim over its loveliness, but there was nothing to guarantee that it would stay home with you.

There had to be a lesson in there somewhere.”

21. Eight White Nights by André Aciman

When you’re thinking of cutting off a relationship before it even begins:

“Would I still feel this way on leaving the party tonight? Or would I find cunning ways to latch on to minor defects so they’d start to bother me and allow me to snuff the dream till it tapered off and lost its luster and, with its luster gone, remind me once again, as ever again, that happiness is the one thing that in our lives others cannot bring.”

22. A poem by Otomo no Yakamochi featured in Written on the Sky: Poems from the Japanese by Kenneth Rexroth

When the bed has been cold and empty for too long:

“Better never to have met you in my dream than to wake and reach for hands that are not there.”

23. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

When you’re a swarthy visitor from Charleston in the presence of a spirited lady:

“I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken — and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken places as long as I lived.

24. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

When you’re having a Lord Henry moment:

“When one is in love, one always begins by deceiving one’s self, and one always ends by deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance.”

25. How To Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu

When you’ve seen too much, too young:

“You see, at the beginning we weren’t fighters. We weren’t yellers or throwers, even if we eventually came to be. It would take time and much deeper wounds for us to get to that point.”

26. You Think That’s Bad by Jim Shepard

Just when you think you’ve figured someone out, you realize you had no idea how bad it could get:

“She thought she’d put up with however many years of stonewalling for a good reason, and she’d just figured out that as far as Castle Hubby went, she hadn’t even crossed the moat yet.”

27 . Indignation by Philip Roth

At your first year of college, when your world explodes:

“I think you’re a wonder. You’re beautiful. You’re mature. You are, I admit, vastly more experienced than I am. That’s what threw me. I was thrown. Forgive me.”

28. The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

When you’ve lost too much already to keep it up:

“Every minute we were together, I felt like I was wandering in the dark through a strange house, groping for a light switch. And then, whenever I found one and turned it on, the bulb was dead.”

29. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes

Best written in a letter while hungover, preferably sealed with a kiss:

“None of us suffers as much as we should, or loves as much as we say. Love is the first lie; wisdom the last.”

30. Dimanche and Other Stories by Irene Némirovsky

When détente isn’t possible:

“Love is just a peculiar, fleeting affair that isn’t very important, but in marriage there is always hostility between two different tribes of human beings. There are two opposing forces, who fight each other until one of them wins, and you and I, my poor old Alain, have been knocked out too easily.”