Nietzsche—and Kelly Clarkson—said it best: "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." These 8 people might not have amounted to much, if they hadn't had their hearts broken.
1. Ira Glass
There’s a great This American Life episode about breakups, but it doesn’t include host Ira Glass’s story. During the publicity tour for Mike Birbiglia’s Sleepwalk With Me, a film This American Life produced, Ira Glass told Nerve about two ex-girlfriends who shattered his heart—and self-confidence: “I just thought, ‘Wow, you’re smarter than me, and way funnier than me, and more interesting than me, and you have better values than I have.’ And in one case, she totally agreed with me... And I think that those are the relationships you just have to get out of. It was really only when the relationship ended that my work got better and I felt a sense of confidence.”
After those relationships ended, Glass continued to work on his “dumb little radio stories,” as he called them. This American Life debuted on WBEZ Chicago in 1995 and remains a hit.
But here’s a twist to the story: Glass wasn’t always a loving, supportive boyfriend. Cartoonist Lynda Barry told the story of their doomed relationship in her 2002 graphic memoir One! Hundred! Demons! The chapter’s called “Head Lice and My Worst Boyfriend.”
2. Olinka Vištica and Dražen Grubišić
When Olinka Vištica, a film producer, and Dražen Grubišić, a sculptor, broke up in 2003 after four years together, they had accumulated enough stuff to fill a museum. Three years later, they decided to actually make one. They asked friends to contribute their own failed relationship artifacts and curated an exhibit in their hometown of Zagreb, Croatia.
The exhibit eventually toured the world, collecting cast-off mementos, love letters, and forget-me-nots, along the way. In 2010, the Museum of Broken Relationships settled in a permanent spot in Zagreb’s Upper Town neighborhood. It was awarded the 2011 Kenneth Hudson Award for being the most innovative museum in Europe.
3. Jonathan Mann and Ivory King
During their five years of dating, Jonathan Mann and Ivory King enjoyed recording original songs on YouTube together. And they finally went viral when they announced they were breaking up … in a song. “We’ve Got To Break Up” shares the reason for the split with heartfelt lyrics, harmonica and clarinet accompaniment, and silly dance moves.
4. Nev Schulman
What do you do when you find out your online girlfriend doesn’t really exist and you don't play football for Notre Dame?
You do what 25-year-old Nev Schulman did and make a documentary about it with your brother and his friend. The story goes that Schulman knew something was fishy about his online girlfriend Megan, whom he met on Facebook. But he had no idea how much work had gone into her deception ... until he met her in real life. Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost filmed the lies as they unraveled and coined the term “catfish” to describe a person who perpetuates fake relationships online by posting false information.
Many critics say the film about an online hoax is a hoax itself. If that’s true, then Nev Schulman is catfishing us all the way to the bank. The 2010 film Catfish led to Catfish: The TV Show on MTV, which Schulman hosts and executive produces. Directors Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost moved on to 100 percent fictional horror films and directed Paranormal Activity 3 and 4. “Catfish” became part of the online lexicon. And Megan, who never was, continues to not exist.
5. Joni Mitchell
When Kris Kristofferson first heard Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue, he cried out, “Please! Leave something of yourself!” Mitchell was heartbroken after breaking up with long-term boyfriend Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills & Nash (the folk-rock group, not a law firm). And she sang all about it.
Blue was a critical and commercial success. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it #30 on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, the highest position of any album by a woman ever. The album Déjà Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young also made the list—at the less impressive #148.
6. Edvard Munch
Expressionist Edvard Munch’s most famous work is a series of paintings and pastels called "The Scream." And surprise, it may have been inspired by a breakup! In a 1892 diary entry, Munch wrote, “One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature...” What else was happening at the time? A tortured, two-year affair with his cousin’s wife.
Munch struggled with alcoholism, and love was another powerful addiction. His on-again, off-again mistress Tulla Larsen inspired later works, including "The Dance of Life." That affair ended when Larsen shot off one of Munch’s fingers with a revolver during an argument. The artist was still able to paint, but he never forgave the woman who did him wrong. She later married one of Munch’s colleagues. Awkwaaaard.
7 & 8. Adele … and Amy Winehouse ... and so many more
Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills & Nash said, “There are three things men can do with women: Love them, suffer for them, or turn them into literature.”
If you want to be a successful contemporary female musician, you should try all three. Singing about heartbreak is nothing new, but breakup music has been the soundtrack of the aughts. Last year, Adele won six Grammys, including Record of the Year, for an album of songs inspired by her ex-boyfriend.
But she might never have set fire to the rain—or the U.S.—without Amy Winehouse's 2007 album Back to Black. Winehouse culled material from failed relationships to write songs that made people want to cry … and dance. A new wave of soulful British torch singers was born.
Whether you prefer the gritty “Back to Black” or the tearjerker “Someone Like You,” both singers have earned a permanent spot on breakup playlists, along with so many more. Who wrote your favorite breakup song?