Relationships

A Realization That Changed My Dating Life

Before Sunrise

Indeed I am still single. And I realized something …

If you take an introductory fiction writing class, there’s a good chance it will touch on three-act structure. For today’s purposes, here’s what you need to know: Things always get messy near the end of Act II.

This is true of every story, both in fiction and in life.

I recently became enamored with a man who lived in a different city. Actor (not his real name, but totally his real profession) and I shared the kind of hopeful late-night texts one can only exchange when they are connecting more to a concept than a person. One weekend, we planned to meet in the middle, in a city that was not our own. We had one epic, marathon date, with enough walking, talking and laughing to be worthy of a movie montage.

“It’s like Before Sunrise,” gushed one friend. “Or Before Sunset? Whatever, it’s romantic.”

Then, as swiftly as he burst onto the scene, he ghosted. Gone, without a trace.

There was a time when I would have found this devastating. I would have searched for clues and red flags and possible missteps. But at this point in my life, I realized — I was in the throes of a classic Act II. It helped me appreciate the experience for what it was: a short story instead of an epic. And so, I moved on.

In any narrative, Act I holds the shimmery promise of new adventure, while later, Act III boasts a thrilling climax and the exhale of conclusion. Act II, on the other hand, is kind of meh. In the middle of the journey, the hero mucks around for a while, feeling confused as to how it will all work out. The caterpillar is in the cocoon. Frodo is making his arduous trek. Harry and Sally are having so many conversations, but where, exactly, are they going?

Whether it lasts for a day or a decade, the second act slump has many names: a low point, a breakdown, rock bottom. You know it when you’re in it. I have come to think of all these, simply, as Act II. This little shift in terminology has changed everything. Because when you’re in Act II, you needn’t lose hope. It means the story isn’t over yet.

While some relationships are like comets, sailing swiftly to a fiery end, others take a more circuitous path. I once spent the majority of a seven-year relationship in one long, interminable Act II. We broke up, we reconciled. We moved in, we moved out. We drew swords, we retreated. Where was it ultimately headed? It was never quite clear.

Finally, there was a sort of breakthrough. It came in the form of a hasty marriage proposal that — spoiler alert — did not end in matrimony.

It took me a long time to process this. Now, I understand, we were trying to jump to Act III; trying to force a resolution that would tie a bow around all that had come before it. But just as you cannot jump multiple levels in MarioKart, you cannot jump from one act to another. You must first learn the lessons that will carry you there.

Act II is waiting for a decision. It’s anticipating that difficult conversation and actually having it. It’s feeling stuck outside of your comfort zone. It’s navigating the in-between.

It is also where most of the story takes place.

In this hypothetical fiction writing class, you would learn another important rule: Act II is always followed by Act III. Every story must have an end. Act III ushers in all the good stuff — the climax, the resolution. It doesn’t always mean happily ever after, mind you, but it does mean clarity. There is a sigh of relief.

That is how you find yourself back at the beginning. Maybe it’s a sequel, or maybe it’s a brand new path.

Act I, Scene I. Where will you go?

P.S. Relationship tips from a wedding reporter and a seven-step guide to heartbreak.

  1. Patricia Perez says...

    What lovely writing and perspective. I’m here to offer a slightly different one. My boyfriend and I have been dating for 6 years. We’re 24 and finishing grad school. For a while now I’ve felt like we need to get to Act III—get engaged and married. But then I realized that our whole relationship has been more like a bunch of short stories; and I don’t doubt that that’s how it’s always going to be (and frankly, how it has to be). We’ve gone through so many things together—as soon as we get to Act III of one of our ‘stories,’ we start back up on Act I of the next one. Although the Act III is not always a ‘happy ending,’ the best part is that I’m the end we still choose to keep reading and writing the next short story and so on. We get to spend so much time with these characters—nurture and develop them and see th grow, fail, and flourish. I don’t think I would have it any other way.

  2. JS says...

    I’m late to comment but thank you so much for this Caroline. I love all of the cup of jo staff but you seem to most perfectly capture my own personal experiences and thoughts. I’m in the midst of an Act II that’s dragged on for the past 6 months (roughly 1/3 of the relationship). We live together but have been in a perpetual state of ‘this isn’t working’ ‘oh wait yes it is’ ‘just kidding it apparently was only working for me’ and just this week he decided to send things. A short 12 hours later he said he wanted to keep working on things and while I love him I’m so confused and feel like such a fool. This essay reminds me that a) this current state isn’t my forever place and b) that it’s ok if life is a little messy and seemingly directionless sometimes because it gets you to where you need to be.

    The morning after he ended things I thought to myself ‘look up Caroline’s essay on breakups’ to help keep it all in perspective and you’ve once again captured how I feel and given a new view point. You are a massively gifted writer and your words really do reach people.

  3. Onoriode Oghenetega says...

    Wow..
    I honestly do love this

  4. Lily says...

    Ok but is this actor famous so we can boycott his films?
    Inquiring minds need to know.

    :) Love your writing as usual, Caroline!

  5. This is brilliant.

  6. This is so magical an true. Very well written, Caroline!

  7. A says...

    Your posts are gold. Please keep writing!

  8. Alice L. says...

    Completely relatable. Beautiful writing, Caroline. Thank you for sharing (:

  9. I love this. What a hopeful way to look at a muddled situation with fresh eyes.

  10. Celeste says...

    Caroline, once again you are articulate and wise. Thank you for this piece!

  11. SHEBRIHART says...

    I feel like my entire adult life is my Act II (I’m 37). Perpetually single, with constant comments from relatives/friends of, “you’re so smart/funny/pretty/amazing I don’t understand why you’re still single!” Me too, person-trying-to-make-me-feel-better-but-really-insulting-me, me too. Not only that, I’m in the midst of another Act II with a guy who I love more than I should, considering he isn’t able to love me back. Despite the heartbreak this reminds me of, I needed to hear it. Thank you, Caroline!

    • HH says...

      Ditto. Caroline and Shebeihart, your posts brought tears to my eyes. I am 38 and continuously single or mired in Act II. The well meant comments from acquaintances like “you need to hurry up!” (as if I wouldn’t jump at the chance to marry a wonderful single, intelligent, emotionally available man should one miraculously appear) are more piercingly painful with each passing year. The only princes I’ve loved in my 30s were toads who wanted to remain toads in their Act I sludge-holes. That said, I tossed my dating apps this week having finally decided that it’s ok to hate meeting people in that way. The guy that I would make it to Act III with would probably loathe online dating too. We must have hope!

  12. Julie says...

    Thank you so much for this fresh perspective on things, Caroline!
    It’s very comforting for me to read (and for many others apparently!), it’s really bringing some clarity on a situation I went through.

    The fact that your words speak to so many shows how great of a writer you are! Thanks a lot for your work, I truly appreciate it.

  13. Tiffany Briery says...

    The only way out is through! I’ve had a tough week. I’m 32. My (possibly 83rd?) app date ended with a text that read “Sorry to bore you. Take care.” I’m so tired of putting so much energy into being okay, making the right decisions, holding out for a man of substance instead of the unavailable, messy (but fun and interesting!) lovers I used to date. I loooove so much of my life in New York, but I have lows that make it all feel like I’m setting the stage and the lead character isn’t showing up. So I feel you woman! This morning, I was trying to meditate and was overcome by sheer panic, sorrow, and loneliness. I wept, pulled my hair, and pleaded with god. Then I got up and went to work. I feel better. The only way out is through.

    • Pondicherry says...

      I have a single, available and amazing brother. Would you like to meet him?

    • Tiffany says...

      Sure! Accidentally included my entire name here so you’re welcome to DM me on facebook. =)

    • Pondicherry says...

      Are you on Instagram?

    • Rachel says...

      I just keep scrolling through these comments and I’m like me me me!! I’m in NYC too. Maybe we should start a meet-up?

  14. I love this! Beautiful writing, as always, and just so relatable.

    I, too, had a Before Sunrise night, one Monday evening in my late twenties. I spent A YEAR talking to this dream boy after he flew back to his native Australia — dating other people but never fully committing — until the day he invited me out. I actually flew to Australia to continue the romance. It … did not work out. (Nothing horrible, but not Before Sunset, either.) He was not the one, and that is okay. I will always cherish my Act II dating experiences — I need them all to get to Act III, where I am now.

    And also, Act II makes for great fiction fodder :) If I’d gone straight to happily ever after, my stories would all be so boring!

    (Also, I love both those movies with my whole heart and if there is anyone here who hasn’t seen them, you must do so this instant.)

  15. S says...

    Thank you for this! I’m curious: do you mean your romantic life in general is in Act 2? Or that particularly love story? I want to understand the way you’re using the term so I can adopt it myself when I inevitably have these moments (just getting back into dating after a long relationship…there were Act 2 moments in there FOR SURE).

  16. Franziska says...

    I’ve been really struggling lately because my dating life (at almost 27) is close to non-existent and this really helped me… it’s just Act II! I can survive until Act III!

  17. Kerry says...

    Fantastic insight, as well as stellar writing.

  18. your writing is like candy, caroline! there are so many lines that I loved/devoured.
    can’t wait to read all about Act III.

  19. Tala says...

    Have you read Ghosted? A couple spends seven perfect days together and then the man disappears. Hopefully Actor’s reasons were different from man in the book’s reasons-because that was a tragic mess. Well done you for being so philosophical about it all.
    When you write like you do (falling for a concept rather than the person- just brilliant), people should be queuing around the corner to meet you.

  20. Cailin says...

    Oh wow okay totally didn’t expect to cry at my desk this morning.

    I am deep in the throes of Act II. I hate Act II. Act II seems like it will never end. Thank you for reminding me that there is an Act III.

  21. Liz says...

    More of this please. Such beautiful writing!

  22. Kelli says...

    Beautiful writing. Thank you so much for this; it’s a great perspective I will carry along my current Act II.

  23. Jenny says...

    As always, honest and refreshing prose. You’re a gem, Caroline.

    Love this Cup of Jo world.

  24. s kay says...

    I love what Caroline brings to the table at CoJ SO much.

    Your writing conveys your voice so well, and the thoughts you put to pen are so novel and well explored. It is so pleasing to read something about love/singledom that isn’t the cheesiest thing on the planet.

    Also, as much as i’m obsessed with Joanna’s family and love her pieces on married life/etc, I, and i’m sure many other readers identify with Caroline’s place in life more. Would love to see more articles about navigating dating, being comfortable with singledom, how to balance yourself when you are in a spanking new relationship, DTR talks, how to check in with yourself about how you actually feel.

    • Tara says...

      Me too!

  25. Alex says...

    As someone who is the windy road of Act II not willing to accept that Act III will end with a disappointing, hurtful, possibly angry breakup conversation I loved this piece.

    Your writing strikes a cord with me so much and is constantly passed between all of my friends.

  26. Michelle says...

    This is beautifully written and very well put. Whenever someone I know gets married, I congratulate them on starting their next great adventure. (I thought the same thing when I got married.) Realizing who you want to spend your life with and committing to that person is both Act III and Act I. For me, Act III ended as all comedies do, with a wedding. Act I scene I picked up the next day, our first as a married couple.

    • Eloise says...

      So much this.

    • leslie morris says...

      yes!

  27. Bianca says...

    thank you so much for this. very relatable. made me cry.

  28. Hayley says...

    Thank you so much for this. Yesterday was the disolution of my five year Act II. Caroline you really nailed it again! So appreciate your healthy perspective, and can’t wait for your Act III… your cheering section is large!

  29. Lydia says...

    This is so helpful! Thank you

  30. Ceridwen says...

    This is so great! I’ve just realised, and said out loud, I’m in Act II. I’m in Act II but at work. We are going through a lot of change and I’m in a new role and I don’t know where it is headed and it can be exciting but uncomfortable and all the things. Act II. I suddenly feel relaxed and content. Thank you Caroline.

    • Sara says...

      Ceridwen, I read this thinking the same thing. My Act II isn’t romantic, it’s work, but it’s just as uncertain and uncomfortable. Re-framing it in this way makes it seem less frightening.
      Caroline, I’m so grateful for your perspective. It gives me hope.

    • Emily L says...

      Oh my gosh what a great way to think about work! I’m definitely in Act II and I’ve been searching for my Act III and this is a way to just feel it out…

  31. Jessie says...

    Loved reading this. Poetic!

  32. astrid says...

    Love this!

  33. SEVDI says...

    You know how sometimes you’re watching a complicated film, and it’s pretty much all your attention span can handle, but you suddenly realize that there is a film within the film. The three-act structure is still there, but you can hardly tell when one act ends and the other begins, and all you can do is sit back and wait for the story to unravel. My own life has always surprised me about the end of Act II. Every time I thought I was done with it, nope, it was just the film within the film and I was still very much in Act II. On the one hand, this gives me hope that my cathartic Act III is yet to come, on the other hand, my life may be one of those annoying arthouse films where Act II blends into Act III and before you know it end credits are rolling and you don’t know what the bleep just happened. I guess I’ll have sit through the whole film to find out how it ends.

  34. Melissa says...

    Just what I needed to read right now! I just came out of Act II, where i had a whirlwind, thrilling, and completely romantic fling with a guy that was never able to commit. Act II taught me a lot about myself, and that I was able to love and pursue what I wanted, however short the flame and passion burned. Thanks Caroline!

  35. This is trully beautifully written. Thank you so much.

  36. Natalie S says...

    This was everything. I loved reading it so much I read it again from the beginning.

  37. Joey says...

    Yep… post 50, but still a bit of the hopeless romantic… act 2…5 years…3…wow. Stil try to be the hopeful…but not sure it it is the wise thing… thx…very simple, clear…and yes…one does learn!

  38. xwde says...

    This was on time, indeed. Shared it with my friends too.

  39. Inês says...

    It’s 5:52AM where I live now, and hell yes, this piece changed my life. I’ve been on Act II for years and completely devastated everytime a guy unashamedly ignored me on social media. No more devastation, it’s just Act II.

    I could kiss the floor you walk on, Caroline. Thank you ever so much.

  40. Alex says...

    Are we allowed to try and set you up with amazing friend persons who are gorgeous male physicians who listen to greatest courses tapes while biking dozens of miles? Who cook? Just curious.

    • Rue says...

      Can we start a CoJ friends of friends matching service?! I really want to be set up by friends but nobody has delivered so far with a date with a guy they endorse.

    • Hayley says...

      Yes yes yes to this! And can we get a CoJ Dating series written by Caroline out of it please? #allthevoyeurism #butalsoallthelove #Carolinecheeringsection

    • ks says...

      yes to Alex- I’ll live vicariously through you Caroline if you do. And a whole hearted yes to Rue.

  41. Kate says...

    i haven’t checked out a Cup of Jo in a good year at least. Not sure what suddenly brought me here today, but wow! what a post. What timing ! After a very rough day and coming home to no one (again), I fell into feeling lower than low. I’m in an Act II, but thank you for the reminder there is an Act III!

  42. What an amazing perspective. You deserve all the happiness and love in the world! And I’m glad you know this as well. Just because you are in Act II and it isn’t happening right now, you know it’s coming up in the next Act. Maybe right around the corner. You will attract good things with this perspective. Best of luck to you, although I know you do not need it :)

  43. Samantha says...

    This is pure solid gold.
    Shared it on my girlfriends group chat. They really appreciated it too.
    Thank you so much for sharing! Don’t stop sharing these!

  44. Girl In Gamba says...

    I feel like I really needed to hear this today. When I reflect on my personal life, I think this post came as a big realization for me. Like you mentioned, I think most of the time I am trying to jump to Act III just to avoid all the difficulty in between. I love this way of looking at it!

  45. Emma says...

    <3 i needed this today in the throws of starting to date someone who felt like a good thing only to hear they aren't sure if they can do this right now through a grapevine of mutual friends. It's just act 2 it's fine it's not the end, just an end.

  46. Kanga says...

    Woah … that resonated the socks off me today *!*

  47. LC Brown says...

    What an unique and humbling perspective on relationships. Recently, my friends and I have been discussing the purpose of relationships & marriage and the pressures of having either to be considered successful. I can’t wait to share this article with them.

  48. Jessica C says...

    I’m very very stuck in my Act II with no hope or end in sight. Thank you for this.

  49. C says...

    I mean this in the nicest way, but as a literature PhD who literally met my spouse through the mail and found him accidentally by recognizing the description of his skateboard 14 years ago, there is no Act III in marriage. Resolutions, that sigh of relief aren’t had at a wedding; it’s a trick. There’s a great scene in Anna Karenina where Levin gets married and imagines it’d be like watching someone row a boat from the shore, smooth and easy. Except it’s not that easy. It’s like actually rowing a boat–it’s a lot of work, happy work, to keep it robust and moving on course. And even then, character development gets in the way. What happens when characters develop in a way that doesn’t keep that resolution going? What happens when each person pursues ends they’re passionate about and a decade later they aren’t paddling towards the same shore? What happens when Act III isn’t Act III, but a sequel with a different ending? What if that sigh of relief cruelly prevents you from a resolution?

    Anyways, the important thing is that your swoon-worthy, Before Sunrise date sounds amazing, and something you’ll always remember. And 1000 virtual high fives for never once questioning whether his neuroses had anything to do with you. Because you’re fire.

    • Caroline Donofrio says...

      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment, that is beautifully put.

      I am definitely not suggesting that marriage is an Act III. More that every relationship, and even every life experience, has seasons. When I find myself getting stuck in that place where it seems like a feeling is final, this is my way of remembering that it will shift. I don’t think there is ever a true resolution. I imagine the cycle is always going for each of us, whether a relationship lasts a weekend or a lifetime.

    • Hilary says...

      I really applaud this comment. Thanks for writing it. I also agree that resolutions/happily ever after is a trick. There’s so much work involved! And listening, and humility, and hopefully the work becomes happy work and that realized happily ever after is a little dented or warped like a Shrinky Dink but you love the uniqueness and yours-ness of it and revel in the committed and loving imperfection. <3

  50. Maria says...

    MELTOWN SAYS…
    Heather (and everyone else), this is so spot on! Marriage, especially the middle part, can be a slog. I love my husband very much and I basically live in a teenage girl’s Pinterest bored, but sometimes it’s all so…boring.

    JULY 26, 2018 1:56PM /

    Totally laughed, totally agree! Heather really hit it and you ran with it, haha. Married 26! years, love my husband dearly – but sweet bejeebus, sometimes … bored. And yes, marriage is HARD. Whoever said earlier we all deserve a partner who thinks we’re funny, beautiful, etc. EVERY. DAY. ?! what?! Who is that unicorn?

    I think for most (and truly happy) couples just knowing your partner is there for you – EVERY. DAY. That is the pinnacle. NO one is going to think you’re all that and a bag of chips every damn day. Some days, you’re lucky to get through utter hatred and back to love. Haha. That’s being married. That’s life. And I still believe it’s the best damn thing. Even the boredom at times. Makes you truly appreciate when those magical moments happen.

    • Thanks Maria! I agree that the baseline goal is to marry someone who isn’t mean to you and isn’t going anywhere. I think stability is the main point (and why a good marriage can get a little dull). The other stuff comes and goes. Sometimes I find my husband irresistibly fun and sexy, sometimes I don’t really like him at all. He definitely does not find me funny and sexy and likable every day either, but he does a lot of the time. After 15 years of ups and downs (which are the easy parts) we just know we love each other enough to stick it out through the middles.

      Also, I definitely meant “Pinterest board.” I must be really bored! Haha.

  51. Ssan says...

    I really love this piece, Caroline!

  52. Rue says...

    Oof. I’m almost two years into a “will I be single forever??” Act II. Maybe that sounds like a short amount of time, but when you’re living it, it’s painful. I feel embarrassed each time I return to the “totally single” drawing board. I feel ashamed that I am still here in this Act II. It is reassuring to bring this out into the light, talk about it, and hear about similar experiences. I am still grappling with the fact that I can’t skip this part, or that it doesn’t always feel like forward progress (which is the biggest sticking point for me).

    It helps to hear about how marriages are nuanced and complex. But there’s also a thin line between realistic reassurances that married people are not Better Humans than single people, and that cringe-inducing “oh just you wait till the real work begins for you in a long term relationship! then you’ll be craving these halcyon single days.”

    People often feel right in the middle of the mud, and the best we can do is reassure each other that yes, your mud is real, and so is mine.

    • Your mud is real, and so is mine. Love that!!

      Also, I’m of the school of thought that the facade of “forward progress” is a lie. Progress toward what? And progress for whom? To me, the idea of “forward progress” presents life as a checklist or timeline; life is not a checklist or a timeline.

      I am working on no longer viewing life as linear at all.

      I am a big Rainer Maria Rilke fan, and he says “The only journey is the one within.” I remind myself of that every time I’m not “making” what society calls “progress.”

      Just wanted to share in case you could find these ideas helpful to contemplate. xoxo

    • Siobhan says...

      This resonated with me so much, I was “totally single” for a couple of years in my early 30s, following a year long relationship when I was 30/31 that should have lasted 3 months if that. Hearing that being in a relationship is also hard didn’t help me when i was singe, firstly because I’d had a 7 year relationship previously so was well aware it comes with it’s own difficulties, and also been single and dating for long enough periods of time to know it can be both fun and hideous. And secondly because I knew I’d rather deal with the hard bits of being in a relationship (assuming it was the right relationship) than the hard bits of being so “totally single”. Now a couple of years into a relationship with a baby on the way I still feel that way. Love the mud analogy – each other and respecting other people’s feelings about their own situation is the only way to be!

  53. Melissa says...

    Love your writing Caroline. This is so true for me right now too!

  54. Chitowngal says...

    I know this may sound strange for some but I am one of those lucky women. I found the love of my life and I was the love the love of his life. Sadly, he died suddenly 2 years ago. This experience taught me how to love without boundaries; to love without conditions or expectations. He told me that was the greatest gift that he’s ever received and we found each other on one of those “crappy dating sites”.

  55. Kelly says...

    I’m in the thick of ACT II and this is really what I needed to read today. Thanks for writing a piece that gives me some comfort during this strange, frustrating, perplexing, time.

  56. Rob Constantine says...

    As a man I found this article very interesting I sincerely believe there’s an act 1 and act 2 and act 3 the sad part is the play doesn’t always end in the way you want it to. In my last relationship act one was fantastic. She looked past my disability and was the first woman I had ever dated that put a lot of effort to make intimacy work between us. We did a lot of great things together we learned to kayak I went camping with her and her family we would go to the mountains.. Then after about a year Acts 2 & 3 started.. the the intimacy between us gradually stopped and she became interested in a type of intimacy that I just could not do. She wanted to be friends but I couldn’t do that because I still had feelings for her. We hung on for a few months but it was really over. After that experience I had an epiphany and learned that sometimes people come into your life for a short while and it is what it is.I have also learned not to give too much power to other people over how I feel about myself. True happiness comes from within and it comes from pursuing your passions and interests and being good to others.

    • Corina-Alexandra Cucutianu says...

      Dear Rob,
      By the way that you express yourself I am positive that you are nothing short of a miracle. I know that your heart is gold and that your mind is ready for new adventures. Because you, my friend, have discovered the true meaning of life: not to put your happiness and moral integrity into the hands of others. Maybe they are just as good as the next person, but they were not the ones for us. Maybe not every relationship has to have a goal and not every question has to have an answer.
      I wish you all the best and WOW! how nice of you to stop by in our community of women :)

    • Caitlin says...

      I love knowing that men read these posts, too! They’re often relatable to everyone. It’s so nice when men and women can learn from each other and relate to one another. We can share struggles and epiphanies when it comes to dating, parenting, loss, joy. Rob, it’s so true. People are like thoughts. They come in, they go out. And it does not detract from your worth. I’m glad you had such a nice experience with that woman. I love your epiphany :)

  57. Kim says...

    I love this. I also want to relate that a couple of years ago I had a wonderful weekend with a man in another city. I was just coming out of a relationship, hurt, downtrodden, and we struck up a friendship (crush) after meeting through mutual friends when he was visiting in my city. Eventually he invited me to come visit him in his city. It was….more then perfect. It was butterflies when he kissed me, he danced me around his living room to soulful records. I felt adored for the first time in ages. But somehow I knew that this was a temporary, beautiful thing. Afterward, we just drifted apart. Fast forward several years later, and after much life living, I’m now engaged to the love of my life, a different man. BUT, I don’t think I could have opened up again and led to my now person had it not been for this lovely weekend, with this lovely person, who simply showed me how to BE after so many years of trying so hard to be someone else for the wrong someone. Thank you so much for sharing.

  58. jade lees says...

    I’ve also loved Caroline’s writing – this piece is no exception but I really love the Mario Kart reference.

  59. Misty says...

    Oh Caroline… how I love your writing! Thank you!

  60. Hillary says...

    I think about this same sort of idea a lot within the context of my relationship. My husband and I met at the end of our twenties. We dated 1 1/2 years before getting engaged. About a month before my husband proposed we almost broke up (end of Act II). I struggle with mental health issues and he was feeling afraid of what that could like in the future. I had jumped in with two feet and had already made huge decisions based on a future with him (I stopped working towards grad school because I didn’t want to be in a rigorous program while trying to get/being pregnant, nursing, etc). When he expressed his concerns, I realized how precarious of a position I had put myself in by relying on the promise of a future that wasn’t guaranteed. As I was making plans to re-enroll in school and figuring out what my next steps would be if he didn’t feel confident in our relationship, my husband was realizing that he couldn’t imagine a future without me. He proposed a month later. I think the difficult times make a relationship stronger, although they are horrible when you’re in the midst of it. Our marriage isn’t perfect, but we know that we can talk through difficult things. As for Act III, I think it’s a continuing cycle of Act I’s And Act II’s. I guess that’s the beauty of sharing your life with someone.

  61. Alice says...

    Caroline – I adore how you write and love the metaphor. I havr a feeling I will remind myself of it often. Thank you!

  62. Am says...

    You know, I’ve heard so many stories from people I know that they met “the one” once they stopped trying so hard to *find* “the one” (and it happened to me as well). They kind of threw it out to the universe that they were done bothering, and BOOM, along came the right person. So maybe it’ll happen to you too.

    • Inês Calisto says...

      Absolutely love this comment.
      Caroline, please take it to heart ;)

  63. Annie says...

    Act I Scene I….. ahhhh
    Getting that tattooed on my body. New beginnings, whether they be with a new relationship, a wedding , a child, coming out of a break up, a new friendship, new career path or a vacation are one of the things that makes life so exciting and beautiful despite the pain. Loved this piece so much. Thanks Caroline!!!

  64. Emilie says...

    THANK YOU – I needed this. Caroline, you’re brilliant!

  65. Michaela says...

    I was thinking this morning that all of the painful breakups I experienced in my past helped to prepare me to deal with the truly horrific loses of my adulthood – a lost parent, aunts, uncle, our baby. They gave me grieving guideposts and taught me that the pain of loss will ease with time. Damn life is messy. And painful. Sending everyone a big hug.

  66. Mariana says...

    Oh Caroline how i missed you! Funny and straight to my heart.
    Hoping for a brand new act I…
    Kindest warmest regards mari

  67. Elspeth says...

    I love this! Resonated so much. Keep going all you in Act II (myself included!). Up is just around the corner.

  68. Tara Ilsley says...

    I was in a 10 year relationship, recently divorced. This 2018 dating world, in my 30’s….WOW. I just fell madly for a man where there were so many red flags, except the sex. broke my fucking heart. we actually watched all 3 of the sunset movies. it was not act III. My heart and spirit knew this, but when you are in it you are aching. Sending lots of love.

    Found this on my iphone notes :
    January 15, 2018. Dating 2018: A never ending hell of of availability with unavailable souls. I’m hosting broken and battered men on my heart all siting at the table feasting on all the beautiful parts of me.

    • Beautifully put

    • S. says...

      Oh my gosh, Tara. I totally get you. I was in a 12-year relationship, recently divorced. Re-entering the dating world in my 30s has been full of crazy ups and downs. I too fell madly for a man with tons of red flags — but the sex was great. Like you said — “My heart and spirit knew this, but when you are in it you are aching.” Or maybe my brain knew but my heart was winning out. Anyway, sending *you* lots of love too! Hope things start looking up. <3 What you wrote in your iphone notes is so lovely & heartbreaking.

      Also, Caroline – thank you for this piece. Love your beautiful writing!

    • Corina-Alexandra Cucutianu says...

      Oh my heart! your note is everything! It’s like an unsung song of victory and loss, of heart and flesh, of desire and refraining. Beautiful soul, beautiful mind!

  69. Genevieve says...

    Beautiful Caroline!! Thank you.

  70. Shannon says...

    bummer about the guy! but it sounds like maybe you dodged a bullet…
    love the post.

  71. Arielle says...

    This was just the loveliest metaphor and piece of writing to read today! Thank you 💗

  72. Simona says...

    Your writing is simply beautiful.
    Enrichingz
    Thank you so much!

  73. Laura MILLER says...

    Caroline, keep writing. You do it so well. Thank you.

  74. Meg says...

    You are beloved by thousands upon thousands Caroline. Never settle. We won’t have it.

    • Melissa says...

      Yes yes yes

  75. Nisserine says...

    Love Love Love your writing Caroline and glad you are back. Cup of Jo is the one consistent blog i’ve been reading for many years and it just keeps getting better and better and better.

  76. Kate says...

    I think Caroline has consistently written about her personal life in a way that’s open and reflective but with a lot of tact. I appreciate that she shares with this, ahem, massive audience as much as she does.

  77. Megan says...

    My two cents — this piece didn’t resonate with me. As someone else mentioned already, there are no Act III’s in a relationship; there are no Act III’s in life, no end except the final end (sorry, morbid). When I first moved to the city I went through the by-now ritualistic years of bad dates, terrible dating apps, etc., and when I finally started dating my boyfriend, whom I’d been crushing on for a couple years–it didn’t feel like any kind of resolution at all, frankly. How can we ever be so naively, confidently sure that we’ve reached an Act III, a resolution, an end? What does it look like?

    This age of dating sucks. It’s so easy to have an intense first connection that suddenly disappears for no apparent reason, like blowing out a candle. We all want to make these moments have meaning and believe that there’s greater significance to them so that we’re not suffering toward some indefinite non-conclusion, but in reality, life is full of these ups and downs. I’m not sure the narrative arc fits well here.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i hear you, megan. i think the act III she meant was more about finding a life partner (after acts I and II of dating). then, in your marriage, you start again at act I. :)

    • Megan says...

      thanks, Jo! appreciate your thoughtfulness!

  78. Kathy says...

    I love your writing. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  79. Lisa says...

    Good one!!! I love this blog!

  80. Tina says...

    What I love about your writing Caroline is that even though you and I have very different lives, you always transport me to the place you’re writing about. Your pieces are incredibly moving and insightful and as I said, even though we’re at different points in life, I can immediately apply what you’ve written to my own experiences. Isn’t that the best kind of writing? I just turned 50 and have been happily married for 18 years with three children (different), but I am in Act II and it’s not bad for me, just kind of meh, the middle part (same). The older I get, the more I realize we’re all just mostly slogging through (with some pockets of joy), no matter what the circumstances.

  81. nicole b. says...

    Still dealing with the pain/heartache/confusion over a break-up that happened A YEAR AGO. Thank you, Caroline. I needed this! XO

  82. Lana says...

    I LOVE this. I was once in an Act 2 for many years that. Looking back most of the Act was spent in drunken nights gushing our undying love for one another, only to retreat to the safety of our lives and not speaking for days, weeks, months (!!!) until we would see each other again and both drunkenly profess our undying love. Obviously we had major chemistry but what we had in chemistry we lacked in sustainability. He are to my apartment one night and told me I was the love of his life only to move to NYC and propose to the girl her had really been dating. Not just drunk chemistry dating. It sucked and I struggled with it for a long time. I still, ten years later one amazing husband and three kids later, still get butterflies when I hear his name. But that’s all he is is an Act 2. My husband? He’s the whole movie.

    • Katie says...

      Love this! My husband is the whole movie, too :)

  83. Dana says...

    Long-time reader, first-time commenter.

    This is so right on, Caroline. So many act I and II dudes, but when you find your guy who’s happy, willing, and ready to go through act III with you, it will be different than the others pretty early on. Not perfect, but easier to spot the good and different in a tangible way.

    Also – so many of the commenters here are so right about the series of acts within marriage – it’s not a continual state of act III! We learn to balance our own evolving lives while connected to a partner, and evolving the partnership as well. It’s a tricky balance with other challenges (but, well worth it).

    Rooting for you, Caroline. Don’t settle :).

  84. Marissa says...

    Loved this, Caroline. So spot on.

    “Indeed I am still single.” — If there’s anything I’ve learned in dating (and many bad Act IIs), “still-ness” is not a bad place to be. It’s not a place to feel obligated, or eager, to graduate from. In my experience, forcibly moving something from “still-ness” to Act I almost always results in a very dramatic Act II.

  85. Megan says...

    Dating is so exhausting, but more power to all the amazing women out there who are giving it their best and aren’t going to settle for someone who doesn’t make them feel smart, funny, and beautiful all the time and all at once.

    And if you just need a laugh about dating, you MUST watch Iliza Shlesinger’s new Netflix comedy special, Elder Millennial: https://www.netflix.com/title/80213658

  86. Amber J says...

    Gosh, I cannot get enough of Cup of Jo!! I love the variety of content — I live for the weeks of outfits, beauty uniform interviews, motherhood around the world posts, random features and thoughts — but it would be nothing without the posts I can read and re-read and re-read and ruminate. THANK YOU!!! Every perspective is so helpful, and so beautiful.

    • Hannah says...

      I agree – I woke up this morning and thought “I wonder what will be on Cup of Jo today?” I look forward to reading it daily over lunch!

  87. Jen says...

    Really needed this piece. Recently, I met someone who threw me deep into an Act II. So much promise…so many commonalities and lovely conversation. Just like that…ghosted. I used to analyze this behavior and wonder “What did I do?”. Now I realize, “Why would I want to be with someone who treats me this way?”.

    I may have more ghosts than a haunted house, but at least I’m learning to give myself closure.

    Thank you for your beautiful writing.

    • heather says...

      Totally.

      I used to buy copies of the book “What Smart Women Know” by the armload and hand them out to friends in my 20’s. There’s one bit of wisdom that goes like this, and it’s so true:

      “A man who can’t be reached, can’t be reached.”

      BOOM.

      Still a classic: https://www.amazon.com/WHAT-SMART-WOMEN-Steven-Carter-ebook/dp/B007MW2TLC

    • S. says...

      “A man who can’t be reached, can’t be reached.”

      Oh my gosh – I love that! Thanks for sharing, Heather! Really need to hear that after trying to sort through the past six months of drama involving my own someone with so many commonalities/great convo. Except rather than being totally ghosted, he left me hanging on … wouldn’t respond for days but then would respond within 5 minutes … and the pattern would continue. Ugh.

      But yes, he definitely couldn’t be reached. And didn’t care to really see/get me. So, whatevs!

  88. Nine says...

    Really wish my brother could meet a girl like you..sigh

  89. Andrea says...

    I know that Caroline has a dedicated following of readers, but every time I read her pieces, I feel like she is trying to be vengeful towards men she’s dated in a coy cutesie kind of way. I really think a big part of her writing is Taylor Swift-esque in that it is just a constant pessimistic outlook on dating and the ways men have mistreated her.

    I guess I sort of see it as immature and it’s not really the voice I like to read on Cup of Jo.

    • Anne says...

      I couldn’t disagree more. This doesn’t feel vengeful or immature at all. It feels like a person sharing an experience. Not all the women who read Cup of Jo are married with kids and some of us like to read that single perspective, too. To call her immature is to imply there is immaturity in being single and sharing that. It’s nice that you come from a place where you can do that.

      Also if you don’t like it maybe don’t read? But definitely don’t leave comments calling an experienced writer immature.

    • Cait says...

      A few points:
      Obviously, your opinion is yours, but many of us who struggled (or continue to struggle) in singledom LIVE for Caroline’s voice here amid the married couple/mom content. Those stories are also lovely, but it’s nice to be able to relate more to what you read sometimes.

      Though I’m now (finally!) in my Act III with my fiance, I was in Act II for legit over a decade. And it sucked. And while there were a few nice men, many were actually terrible people who deserved a bit of vengeance. That being said, no men are ever named or even easily figured out by the masses (unlike Swift’s situation,) so it’s really Caroline talking about her experiences and she has often made me feel less alone in mine.

      I’m somewhat confused by the labeling of this as “immature” when she explains that she didn’t go down the usual path that happens because we are humans and abrupt rejection generally leaves most hurt and looking for explanations.

      Dating is great for some people, and some people find their best relationship without a lot of strife or mistreatment. For some of us, it is/was a Mad Max-esque journey over hellfire and we are lucky to escape with our souls mostly in tact. Being honest about that is just as valid as being honest about happiness and doesn’t deserve the label of pessimistic.

    • Emma says...

      Couldn’t disagree more either.

      I think that Caroline writes about the growing pains of dating and the good things that come out of tough times. I see this bully-like comment as immature.

    • Heather says...

      Aww, try to have a little compassion for Caroline. I don’t think she’s a pessimist about men at all! If anything, girl keeps putting herself out there!

      She is still young and trying to figure it all out, and I think for people who are also young and trying to figure it all out, it feels good and reassuring to have someone articulate what they’re feeling, too.

      And whatever your opinions of the sophistication of her writing, it takes courage to open yourself and be vulnerable with your feelings in a wide audience the way she is doing, and I admire her for that.

    • anna says...

      Here to say that I looooove Caroline and her writing. I am one of her dedicated followers. She is smart grounded funny & wise and I find her outlook on dating and relationships refreshing & modern. Her writing feels like a pep talk to me and so many of us and everytime I see her byline I’m excited to click through and read.

    • Claire says...

      I think the main point here is to reach a broad audience. Not all of us are in the same life stage or local, and of course we relate separately to different experiences.
      Caroline is a light in my opinion, shedding humour on what is usually a very frustrating modern-age of dating.

    • Chandra says...

      Don’t need no hateration, holleration in this dancerie.

      We love your writing Caroline. It’s very relatable and relevant for me and so many other women who read and love CoJ.

    • Kathy says...

      What??!! Totally disagree. But I get it, sometimes the tone or attitude just rubs you the wrong way personally. I feel that way about some books or movies that’s universally loved and people think I’m crazy. To each his own.

    • Laura says...

      +1 to say I adore Caroline’s writing.

    • Nicole says...

      There’s a saying in recovery that I think is apt here: take what you like and leave the rest.
      For me, seeing Caroline’s byline on a post makes my heart sing.

    • I really don’t understand posting this comment. By all means, if someone writes something harmful, let’s call them out on it, but if it’s something you simply don’t enjoy or relate to? Why not think to yourself, meh, not for me, and move on? (And I know the response is, “it’s the internet and I can do what I want” but I really wish people would stop and think before sharing their every little reaction to something they don’t like.)

      Just want to add my support for Caroline’s writing, in case for some reason this comment gets to her. It is the opposite of immature, and also the opposite of pessimistic. It takes a lot of maturity and hope (not to mention courage) to put yourself, your insecurities, and your vulnerabilities out there, in life, in writing, and especially on the internet. Please keep it coming!

    • D says...

      To each her own, but I disagree as well. After reading Caroline’s posts (especially on personal topics), I always feel like I’ve shared a bottle of wine and a long chat with a friend after a rough day. And that’s an invaluable find on the Internet, which is sometimes great but usually the worst thing in the world.

    • Siobhan says...

      I’ve always read the opposite from Caroline’s pieces about men she’s dated. As a long time single, now in a relationship (while still hearing lots of very familiar stories from my single girlfriends) I think Caroline’s dose of realism is a much more mature take on dating than I often read and is inspiring. Rather than criticising the men in her life I see it as her being honest about her experiences and taking responsibility for her response to them, again much more mature than I often read (or see others behave/have behaved myself at times ha!). I always think she sounds quite affectionate about the men involved which to me comes across as optimistic and is impressive when you’re in the dating trenches and it’s easy to feel bitter about being “still” single (which is in no way a bad thing! – better no relationship than a bad or even an average one!)

  90. Rebekka says...

    Wow, Caroline! Loved this. I’ve loved the “hero’s journey” for a long time. And then I read a book called “God on mute” by Pete Greig which explains the Easter story in a similar way – and how we live in “Easter Saturday” most of our lives. With the hope and some glimpses of resurrection but the experience of death and trauma and simple hurt behind us. Helped me make new sense of so much of my faith and life journey, too. xxx

  91. Tori says...

    Very insightful, Caroline! Thank you for writing this! :)

  92. k says...

    Amen, I say to you.

  93. LS says...

    Whoa. I just burst into tears. Only on CoJ. I’m in the middle of fertility treatment, and I needed this today. Thank you, Caroline (and Joanna for bringing this amazing group of women together).

  94. Maggie says...

    Dang Caroline! You’re always hitting the mark, and this time is no different. But yet different, because WOW. Right now I feel like I’m in Act II professionally and with my health. I’m going to remind myself of this on the daily: “…you cannot jump from one act to another. You must first learn the lessons that will carry you there.”

    Thank you, as always, for willing to be vulnerable and sharing your life and mind with us. It’s such a joyous treat to share in these moments with ya.

  95. Lizzie Jean says...

    And this is why I keep coming back to COJ for insight, clarity, and inspiration.

    THANK YOU.

  96. Elisabeth says...

    This is really good — both wise and hopeful. Thanks for sharing, Caroline.

  97. A Martin says...

    This is beautiful! When I was single, my good friend and I sat at a bar and wrote down a list of our non-negotiables, what we will NOT compromise on with a partner. I remember that my list included: must know how to swim, must have a solid credit score, must have a wonderful, loving relationships with immediate family. The list of non-negotiables acted almost as a “filter” like when shopping online. It is true what they say, when you specifically look for the color yellow, you see yellow everywhere. Ghosting would definitely be on a list of non-negotiables. Ain’t nobody got time for that especially given how complex life gets as we get married, have kids and having to navigate life with aging parents and illnesses, etc.

  98. Bobbi says...

    I feel this so hard.

    Thanks, Caroline, for articulating where I am in my current relationship, and for reestablishing my faith that there will be some resolution or clarity.

  99. AB says...

    Can Caroline write more posts about actual story structure? Obviously this post is great for its message, but I love learning about how to actually write a good story. And Caroline is a pro. More please!

    • Em says...

      Yes, please!

    • +1 on more writing how-to posts, if that’s something the larger community might find interesting!

  100. Hannah says...

    Love this essay but also want to point out that the three-part narrative structure isn’t the way all cultures tell stories, so there are other options and outlooks too! :) I recommend reading the Sacred Hoop by Paula Gunn Allen for more on Native storytelling (and feminism :) xoxo

    • Alex says...

      thanks, sounds great!

    • SB says...

      Oh thank you for the recommendation – a much needed reminder, Hannah!

  101. ellie says...

    I am smiling as much as is possible in an office setting without drawing too much attention! I feel like Act II is finishing up, but I’m crossing my fingers for a happily-ever-after ending, but this time without any toxic attachment to any specific outcome. Funnily enough, he just watched Before Sunset (a movie I half-jokingly criticize all the time) and said he really liked it. Attaching zero analysis to that…;)

  102. Jules says...

    Thank you so much for writing this Caroline! I have been reading this blog since near the beginning and have never commented but I was going through the same Actor storyline and it’s hard not to have questions and want answers and wonder but I’m realizing the only thing you can have control over is your perspective. You can’t always change the situation but you can change how you feel about it. This article meant so much! Thank you again for writing it! XO

  103. Grace says...

    An interesting perspective…the only thing is, I think The Two Towers is the best out of The Lord of the Rings trilogy haha!

  104. grace says...

    loved this. i feel like that simple perspective shift of “act II” could’ve saved me a lot of heartache in the past. thanks, caroline!

  105. Rae says...

    Yes, love this!

    What I needed to hear, “Now, I understand, we were trying to jump to Act III; trying to force a resolution that would tie a bow around all that had come before it.”

  106. Belle says...

    I was in a Stage II relationship for eight years until I put an end to it. After eight more years we were back in touch mostly because the current political climate and all the scary things in the world made us realize how much we still loved each other and missed each other. We had each imagined ourselves on our death beds with the regret of Us. So now we’re in a Stage III where all is not perfect but with the realization that Together is so much better than Apart.

  107. Erin says...

    Love this article – it’s such an interesting perspective. I never thought of relationships like that.

  108. One of the most lovely posts I’ve read in a long time. Beautifully written and even more beautifully insightful.

  109. Love when Caroline writes!! “Act III ushers in all the good stuff — the climax, the resolution. It doesn’t always mean happily ever after, mind you, but it does mean clarity. There is a sigh of relief.”

    I love that “sigh of relief” bit. There have been so many times when a chapter ends with just that. Or if it was a happy chapter that just needed to end it’s sometimes just a sigh, maybe of acceptance, but there nonetheless. And ultimately it means a new Act I is just on the horizon and that often makes me feel a nice burst of hope. :)

    xox
    Allie

  110. Nicole says...

    This was lovely, and so appreciated. Glad you are back, Caroline!

  111. Riana says...

    As someone in the middle of a painful marriage that I don’t want to give up on (and yet has been the hardest thing to do, in all my 30+ years) and yet, with no signs of things getting better, this post just made so much sense. Thank you, Caroline.

  112. Kelley says...

    This resonated with me so much! Not about dating and relationships but about life in general. I went through what can only be described as a hellish Act I in the past 2 years and now as I’m coming out of that time, I’m trying to figure out my new life post death, post babies (twins!) and post cross country move. It’s all a little muddled right now, but it’s good to keep in mind that Act III will come and I should enjoy the journey along the way. Thanks, Caroline!

  113. I don’t usually comment, but as a novelist (and someone who didn’t get married until age 35 — so I spent plenty of time single, having lots of dramatic Act IIs!), I absolutely adored this! So smart and insightful–and SO true! Thank you!

  114. martha says...

    oh man this is so timely! especially with mercury retrograde and blood moon vibes. time for a CHANGE – give up those men that don’t mean anything to me and are just a side stop on the ultimate destination.

  115. Erin G. says...

    Beautifully written, Caroline. I am currently ending a seven-year Act II myself. One in which, we were constantly toying with the idea of tossing ourselves into Act III in the hope that it would bring us clarity and peace (“Oh, let’s just get married! It’ll all work out!”). As we barrel toward the bitter end (endlessly complicated by the fact we share a five year old), it was so enlightening to think of the relationship in these terms, and to take a bit of solace (which I need at the moment) in the realization that we were not meant for Act III. Or rather, our Act III is our final dissolution; our ultimate sigh of relief. Thank you for this.

  116. Nancy says...

    This is a perfectly simple, hopeful, relatable way of framing it. So well written and timely!

  117. Vanessa says...

    Holy shit this piece just blew my mind. I think I’m gonna print this out and carry it around to share during drinks with friends. I think it can apply to so many parts of life and can be a very comforting thought in seemingly sadder times. Thank you for sharing this.

  118. Emily says...

    I don’t usually comment, but my resolution for this year was to combat negativity on the internet by adding my .02 when I normally would have kept my thoughts to myself. This was beautiful. You’re a beautiful writer. I hope to keep seeing your name in bylines!

    • what an excellent resolution, emily – i might just try that myself. thanks for the inspiration. :)

  119. Elle says...

    Lots of truth in this! Also, one learns to be wary of actors, especially if they live elsewhere.

    I’ve learned the hard way that, if Act II is dragging, with fighting and more than one reunion after a breakup, it’s a bad play. All that drama is your cue to exit the stage. When your play is going to have a happy ending, there’s a surprising lack of drama throughout because the leads are compatible and kind to each other, generally heading in the same direction, and know how to communicate effectively. The stories that end with happily ever after are lovely, but also a bit boring for everyone else to watch. I hope you find yourself in such a play someday soon.

    • Meg says...

      Yes, yes, yes! So well said, Elle.

    • Beth says...

      “All of that drama is your cue to exit the stage.”
      And I see myself striking my palm to my forehead and saying “Oh, DUH.”

      WELL SAID. Damn you ladies amaze me with your insights in these comments.

    • Kate says...

      Agreed! And I wish as a culture we weren’t quite so enamored with a stretched out, zigging and zagging Act II. (Looking at you, SATC.) I think they can be kind of harmful.

  120. MK says...

    I could have written this, but about the life transition that I’m in right now. After over ten years in NYC, my family and I left and are now making a strange new place our home. I feel weird and out of place all damn day, and things that used to be easy are now a struggle. It is SO Act 2!
    Doesn’t Brene Brown also mention something about this very thing in her work?

  121. Lauren E. says...

    This brought me to tears. I’ve never seen it said to succinctly.

  122. Sadie says...

    I’m glad you’re back, Caroline.

  123. Laureline says...

    Beautiful text!

  124. Caitlin Kunzle says...

    I absolutely LOVE your writing, Caroline. I get so excited when I see your name under the title of a new post!

    Also – love the MarioKart reference! (insert crying-laughing emoji here)

  125. Calla says...

    Thanks so much for this. I had a very similar experience (great connection, marathon dates, ghosted) and it was hard to give up on the idea of what I thought it would be. While I think all the future recurrences of this type of thing will still be difficult, this is a very helpful framework to change how I view it.

    It also weirdly reminds me a lot of what I used to tell myself when I would get very seasick on diving boats “No matter how miserable you feel right now, 24 hours from now you will be feeling great and thinking of other things” (Somehow it helped to think of a time much farther away than when I would actually be back on land). It was just the uncomfortable middle between the joy of diving and the relief of being back on land. I’m going to try to keep that mentality with dating as well now.

    • Olivia says...

      I used to do the same thing when cramming for a test or slogging through writing a paper :) helped so much.

  126. Erica McCarthy says...

    wow wow wow, you are such a poignant writer!!! ty for sharing, Caroline :)

  127. hannah says...

    oh my god, caroline, yes. i am in act II and will be forever grateful for the language to make sense of it all.

  128. Mariana says...

    Brilliant!

  129. KL says...

    Caroline, CoJ readers are so lucky to have you and your prose.

    • Quinn says...

      I’ll second this. We are indeed so lucky.

  130. Ginny says...

    Love this. I’m currently in Act II not romantically, but career-wise. This is exactly what I needed to hear.

    • Kathryn says...

      Me too! It has been at top of mind this week, and this is a good way to reframe it.

    • Me too! Act II is winding down, but it was looooong.

  131. Julie says...

    Caroline, it is good to have you here!!!

    I just read No One Tells You This, by Glynnis Macnicol, and your essay reminds me of that lovely read. Lots of exploring of Act III, there are so many ways to have happy endings that are really just evolving, expanding, contracting, scenes of our lives.

  132. Allyson says...

    This is beautiful and feels true for me as well. SO MANY ACT II DUDES. Then, via Tinder, I found my husband, now we have a daughter. Both are relationships I decided were out of the picture for me despite wanting them. Hold steady. It’s all right in the end, and if it’s not alright then it’s not the end.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “It’s all right in the end, and if it’s not alright then it’s not the end.” = love that.

  133. Emily says...

    So beautifully written! And a wonderful reminder. Thank you!!

  134. Louise says...

    Thank you for this! It came at just the right time for me x

  135. Lena says...

    Love this way of looking at life. Thanks Caroline!

  136. Nadia says...

    for me Act 2 is a try to see if a synergy of two makes their lives better. For majority of relationships I see it wasn’t. Sometimes, it wasn’t enough to split but won’t enough to continue.

  137. Rebecca says...

    When does you book come out Caroline?! I love everything you write. I always want more :)

  138. Lana says...

    Caroline, please write a book!

  139. Brooke says...

    needed this so much today. thank you.

  140. Sarah says...

    Skin prickles. This is amazing. I only wish I’d read it 10 years ago, when my heart vacillated from hopeful to heavy all the time. You’re an incredible writer – keep writing. (Aka, do not ever leave :)).

  141. Heather says...

    I think… when you aren’t married, you think marriage or commitment seems very settled. An act III. A resolution.

    But when you are married, you realize you are committed to relive Act II over and over and over again – or a variety of Act II’s – b/c all relationships have peaks and troughs. And you might sometimes look at the unmarried person, and think, How easy to only have to take yourself into consideration when making dinner, or decorating, or travel, or life decisions. How nice not to have to live with the resolution that we barely tolerate one another’s families and thus must accept a dampening on the time I spend with my family b/c I know my husband doesn’t want to be there, or the resolution that we fundamentally disagree on whether children should be permitted to walk around barefoot outside and so I must compromise on this little thing that I kind of care about more than I thought I would.

    I think it’s good to use any metaphor you can to help with the radical acceptance that the formation, dissolution, and maintenance of our most important relationships is one of the hardest parts of being human. On the other hand, it’s also the most thrilling and satisfying. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy all the Act II’s.

    • Lynne says...

      I love this, very well said. Life is a series of ups and downs and every time you think you are in the happy conclusion there is another act one creeping up on you.

    • DM says...

      THIS. So much.

    • Danielle says...

      Very well said! When I was younger I always thought Act III was it. Then I would freak out whenever a relationship ebbed and flowed. When there was uncertainty or it was just “meh”. Now I know this is just part of it all. The beauty of it is that you can be in a committed relationship and have the “meh” moments but you get experience the arrival of third act over and over and that’s nice too.

    • molly says...

      So good to hear I am not the only one in a long term relationship that has issues with the “in laws”. So tough. I would love a post on dealing with tough in law relationships, including dealing with being married to an identical twin. As an only child, we both cannot relate even in the slightest about the issues with dealing with a problematic identical twin.

    • Kerri says...

      Beautiful comment, Heather! I’ll be thinking about this all day…

    • Katherine says...

      Your comments really resonated with me — I’m married with kids, a good job and a lovely home (all of which I always longed for when I was long-term single), but it turns out a lot of that can be pretty ‘meh’ too, and part of me is still always hankering for something new/different on the horizon! Recently, I’ve been really trying hard to just enjoy and be in the moment a bit more. I think that’s where my Act III can be found : )

    • I love your comment, Laura. I agree…marriage has felt like more of an Act II than anything else in my life. The dating/traveling/single years were a breathless and excited Act I. The older I get, the more it’s difficult for me to use the elements of story to frame my understanding of being human. The elements of story ARE a frame–they help you focus on one chunk of time, or one single theme over the course of a longer chunk of time, but they can never encompass the complexity–the many layers of being human. I heard Robert McKee (story guru) say at a conference that the difference between complicated and complex is that complicated has many parts and complex has many layers. The messy, thrilling experience of being human on this earth is both complicated and complex, made up of the mundane and the extraordinary, the animal and the spirit, the domestic and the wild, births and deaths, relationships and projects, grief and bliss. I don’t know if it’s a story, but it’s definitely a wild ride.

    • Lydia says...

      Enjoyed Caroline’s essay and this comment is spot on, too.

    • Kelly says...

      So well said, Heather. So true.

    • Joy says...

      Oops! I meant, “I love your comment, HEATHER.” :)

    • Megan says...

      YES! I love this couldn’t agree more.

      Marriage looks really different from the outside than it feels on the inside– it’s not the ‘happily ever after’ denouement it’s painted to be– even in solid relationships. Although I can’t speak for all married people, I feel that same ‘Act II’ frustration often in my marriage! It saddens me a bit when I see my single friends and my brother chasing that Hollywood ending, as they keep growing older and keep ending relationships with great people because somehow it wasn’t how they pictured a relationship would be. Things are just messy in real life. SO many Act II’s :)

      But, I’m also glad my story didn’t disappear into some glossed-over ‘happily ever after’. My partner continues to challenge me, and vice versa, and so we’re still growing as individuals after 12 years together.

    • Elizabeth says...

      I think of marriage not so much as a continuation of Act II but as a new play. Wedding = Act III of the first play, a resolution. Newlywed bliss, honeymoon phase = Act I of the second play. Act II = everything Heather described. Act III could be any of many things; it could be having a child, could be divorce, could be death, etc. There could be another play to follow, or not. There could be many, or not. Enjoy all the plays, and all the acts, as much as you can, amidst the heartaches that inevitably pepper them.

    • Heather (and everyone else), this is so spot on! Marriage, especially the middle part, can be a slog. I love my husband very much and I basically live in a teenage girl’s Pinterest bored, but sometimes it’s all so…boring.

    • Olivia says...

      LOL to Meltown – I can totally relate because my husband and I are high school sweethearts. Sometimes, when I’m feeling this way, I remind myself of what 13 or 16 or even 22-year-old me would think of our life right now. She would pass out! Hahaha

    • Heather says...

      It’s interesting to me to note that the movies being referenced here are Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. Because the third act there – Before Midnight – is an important recalibration of expectations. It’s brilliant and gorgeous and also not an easy movie to watch. Together 10 years, spending their one night away together to revisit all of these deep heartaches and hurts and the lingering anxieties of their years together. Unlike the first two movies, which felt so exciting and sexy, it all felt a little raw. But they were supposed to be destined to be together! Their romance was timeless and intense! What happened?!?! But one thing I loved about Before Midnight was that at the end, they seem to be taking a deep breath and just being with all of the lack of clarity and lack of resolution in this third Act.

    • Sarah A. says...

      This is so on the mark, Heather! Any long-term relationship is in a state of constant evolution as both people grow and transform and the world changes around them. They can be very hard work to maintain, but there is beauty in that chaos.

  142. Jill says...

    I could read your writing all day, Caroline! Brilliantly written.

  143. Laura says...

    Caroline, you are so gifted! That’s not to say you don’t work hard to write well because like all good things, I know it must take a lot of thought, care, effort, and just plain WORK. But I hope you know how good you are at it- and how much your writing touches others! As a fellow Barnard alum, I’m always so proud to see such talent coming from Barnard :)

  144. Anna says...

    Caroline thanks for writing this. Perfect timing as I’m reading it stuck somewhere in the middle of act II. It feels good to think about it this way and not try to precipitate act III just to have a denouement. Xx

  145. Nina Nattiv says...

    I had a 7 year Act II. It was worth it. Good luck!

  146. Ashleigh says...

    Well said!

  147. Jess says...

    Brené Brown discusses Act 2 as an essential (but difficult) stage in her book “Rising Strong.”

  148. LC says...

    Caroline, do you watch the show Jane the Virgin? On the off chance you don’t, and just have been waiting for a stranger on the internet to recommend it – I feel like you would appreciate its narrative structure.

    • laura says...

      I LOVE JANE THE VIRGIN. I’m still recovering from my impatience to watch the next season. They recreated the telenovela form in such a creative way (I used to watch some of the novelas my parents watched when I was younger).

    • Hannah says...

      I love JTV <3

  149. Ali News says...

    Wow… what a perfect way of looking at it… thank you