April 11, 2007—a date that likely has little to no significance to you, but it was one of the worst days of Kate Middleton’s life.
The night before, Kate and her boyfriend of four years, Prince William, had “the talk.” They were at a pivotal point in their relationship: Having been together since they were 20 years old and college students at the University of St. Andrews, they were now 25 and facing increasing pressure from the media and British public at large to get engaged. William, who, as his mother Princess Diana’s chief confidante during the deepest, darkest depths of her disastrous marriage to his father, Prince Charles, was, rightfully so, terrified of marriage himself. He did not have a good blueprint to follow, and he wasn’t ready. And as engagement speculation mounted, Kate’s life was beginning to resemble his mother’s – paparazzi everywhere. No privacy. No peace. Unsafe, even. Without a ring on her finger, Kate wasn’t entitled to any Royal protection, so she was essentially going it alone. And she actually was alone most of the time – for the past four months, Kate was in London while William was serving in the military three hours away. They rarely saw each other. In William’s words, it wasn’t fun anymore.
“The press will make your life unbearable as long as we’re together,” he told her on that April 10 talk. “I don’t want you suffering the way my mother did.”
Kate begged William to reconsider. She pleaded with him to remember all that they were to each other. Reminded him of his dreams of one day being a father. She implored him to try to find a way to make it work – he made her happy, she knew, and she made him happy, she thought, and couldn’t they find a way?
The next day, April 11, Kate got an incoming call from William while at work at Jigsaw, where she was an accessories buyer for the brand, basically biding her time until William proposed – earning her the degrading nickname “Waity Katie” from the brutal British press. Kate excused herself, ducked into a conference room away from her colleagues, and, for an hour, got dumped by the love of her life.
“I can’t,” William said. “It just isn’t going to work. It isn’t fair to you.”
And with that, every dream Kate had – not just of being Royalty, but of loving the man she felt she was meant to be with for the rest of her life, the children they could have had, the laughs they could have shared with their similar dry wit – went out the window of that office building in London.
I, too, was broken up with by the love of my life over the phone recently. I, too, shed copious tears for the life that could have been, and, much like Kate in 2007, the life I still feel, the life I still pray, might be. My love story doesn’t feel over to me any more than Kate’s love story felt over for her 13 years ago. It feels incomplete, unfinished, like there are so many more chapters to be written in an abruptly finished book.
I met him in February and, despite being 33 and with many a relationship to my name, I had never felt like this. Within a week, I felt like I had known him my entire life. I found out very quickly that he was very truly the best man I’ve ever known, which I still maintain. We would talk for six or more hours on the phone every night since he lived about 90 minutes away, often until 4 a.m., us looking at the clock and realizing that, in two hours, our day would begin when our night had never ended. Deep in the fiber of my bones, I knew this was the man I’d been waiting for. He was everything and then some. It was bliss.
And then, about a month into our relationship, a global pandemic happened. We went from dating to basically living together most of the week, as I was now working from home and every sense of normalcy was upended: We couldn’t go on dates. We couldn’t see friends. He was oftentimes the only person I saw face-to-face for weeks and even months at a time, which is so unhealthy and unsustainable, especially for a new relationship. It was all wrong, even though I believed the relationship was right. I fell in love with his family as if they were my own. I fell in love with his dog. I fell in love with his home, which reminded me of the house from The Notebook. But more than anything, I fell in love with him, completely and totally, truly, madly, deeply. But the new normal took its toll.
On his birthday in April, he turned 43. I bought him a “4” and a “3” candle, joking that in September, when I turned 34, we could reuse them and just flip the numbers around – having no idea that our relationship wouldn’t survive until then. I hoped for forever and got four months.
We spent every weekend together, but the weekend we broke up, he had gone to visit his sister in Atlanta. I had met his sister and her family and loved them and was hurt that he didn’t invite me to join him. We, much like William and Kate, had “the talk” the night before we inevitably broke up. And the next day, a Sunday, as he drove back home from Atlanta, he called me and said a version of those same words William said to Kate on April 11, 2007: “I can’t. It just isn’t going to work. It isn’t fair to you.”
Though in private she was shattered, Kate put on a brave face to the world after the breakup. She traveled – Kate and mom Carole jetted off to Ireland just days after the breakup, and then Kate and brother James went to Spanish hotspot Ibiza. When she returned to London, Kate was seen out and about, no longer a possible Royal bride and wearing shorter hemlines and lower necklines and hitting the London party circuit with aplomb. With sister Pippa often on her arm, Kate was photographed by paparazzi looking sexier than ever, smiling from ear-to-ear, nary a care in the world.
She also did what many of us heartbroken do – she started working out and picked up a new hobby, joining a rowing team and taking part in an intense training with her teammates. She was living her life. No longer “Waity Katie,” at 25 Kate was, for the first time in her adult life, fulling stepping into herself, no longer just “someone important’s girlfriend” but Kate, a woman in her own right.
And William noticed.
Within a couple of months, he was begging for her back. But with this newfound confidence, Kate pumped the brakes. She was still gutted and would rather have a life without her prince than be hurt like that ever again. By the end of the summer of 2007 they reconciled, and three years later were engaged. That was 10 years ago, and they remain, in a rather tumultuous time for the British Royal Family, the bedrock of stability, deeply in love and, it seems, actually strengthened by the breakup. They had to split apart to come back together as a stronger couple.
And it seems Kate, as I do, always hoped for reconciliation: Though her social life was booming and paparazzi swarmed, she never once spoke to the press, likely knowing that there would be a reconciliation if she just gave William time to figure it out. William, in he and Kate’s post-engagement announcement interview with ITV, said of that time: “It was very much trying to find our own way, and we were growing up so it was just a bit of space, and it worked out for the better.”
“At the time I wasn’t very happy about it, but it actually made me a stronger person,” Kate said in the same interview. “You find out things about yourself that maybe you hadn’t realized. I think you can get quite consumed by a relationship when you are younger, and I really valued that time for me as well, although I didn’t think it at the time.”
As a lifelong Royal Watcher, I remember when William and Kate split in 2007 and how upset I was for Kate. Can’t any love last in the Royal Family? I thought. I remember being delighted when they were spotted together again that summer, and, of course, followed their every move as they got engaged, got married, and became parents.
Since that phone call earlier this year, I’ve thrown myself into work, because unlike Kate, traveling and socializing aren’t exactly options right now. But I did take a page from Kate’s book and worked on my physical health, doing something I never thought I’d do – completing a 5K just five days before my 34th birthday. And while those candles I bought earlier this year weren’t on my cake like I had planned, hope still lives on in my heart. Hope that true love, like it did for the Cambridges, will always find a way to be with that one special person – even when, in the midst of a breakup, it seems impossible. That this time apart will make us better people individually so we can be better together, that the breakup is serving a greater purpose and will actually be, in the end, a blessing. That just because it’s not right now doesn’t mean that it’s never. And that, blessedly, in the end, love will always conquer all, and just as Kate ended up with her prince, maybe I will, too.