The breakup of Prince William
and Kate Middleton
shocked fans and veteran royal-watchers alike, but those close to the couple say that there was no last-straw moment, just a gradual unraveling of their relationship, PEOPLE reports in its new issue.
"[Everyone says] how good Kate was for him, but I think they were good for each other, really," a Middleton pal tells PEOPLE. "Its sad."
Those who know William, 24, and Kate, 25, cite a variety of reasons for the split, beginning with the prince's famous declaration in 2005 that he couldn't imagine getting married before age 28.
"She knew that he was not ready for marriage," says an insider, noting that she was still "surprised" when things ended.
There is also their physical distance: Kate works in London as an accessories buyer for the British fashion chain Jigsaw, while William is training at a British army camp in Bovington, some 125 miles away.
Middleton, for her part, won't miss one aspect of the relationship that was also a strain: as one source notes, she had tired of the relentless public scrutiny and media harassment that comes with romancing the future king of England.
Still, she has had no trouble holding her head high in the days following the breakup.
"She has her family and she's getting through this as well as anyone could," says one of her friends. Adds another insider:
"She knows [the split] was the right thing."
Despite speculation in the British tabloids that William was forced by the royal family to either commit to Middleton or sever ties, a source close to the prince says that no such royal decree occurred. "He is a strong character," says a friend, "and won’t be told what to do."
For now, at least, William appears focused on his work, and on his new life as a bachelor. Back out playing the field, "maybe he will find the grass is greener, but then maybe not," says the family friend.
And many friends hope this is not truly the end. "I don't think it's really over," says a Middleton pal.
"I don't think this is the last you'll see of the two of them."
For more on Prince William and Kate Middleton's split, pick up PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.
Reporting by SIMON PERRY and COURTNEY RUBIN