The big fat lie of closure.

When a relationship ends, there's one thing most of us obsess over: Getting closure. Whether it's a romantic relationship, friendship, or a divorce, you might find yourself finding excuses to contact the other party. You may send a text that didn't really need to be sent, or go out of your way to put yourself in their path.. You might suggest seemingly clandestine meetings, to talk about the kids or family members or your schedule or something, anything, to keep contact. You may tell yourself, "Well, I just need to get some closure." Seems innocent enough. You're in need of an apology, or vindication, or validation that your gut was right and ending the relationship was necessary for your sanity.

I didn't really feel any closure when my divorce became final, and I haven't found in the months since. There's been no tidy ending to what was a fifteen year marriage, no ceremonial goodbye. During those last few gut wrenching conversations my ex and I had at the very end of our marriage, he said things I knew not to be true. He clung to misconceptions in an attempt to avoid taking any personal responsibility. He blamed me for everything. While it's true that I was the one who initiated our divorce, we didn't have a conclusive conversation regarding what went wrong, why we each shared fault, and why our divorce was ultimately best both of us. The lack of such a conversation eats me up sometimes.

Fortunately, the truth is that closure - that thing that ties up the relationship in a nice neat bow and explains it all - it a big fat illusion that eludes everyone after a split.

When I was a high school student in the flush of my youth, my friends and I delighted in dissecting the end of our relationships. The arguments and debates and break-ups between us and our boyfriends were studied with the exacting deliberation of a forensic scientist. We analyzed the love letters, notes, answering machine messages and gifts from our ex's with the gut-wrenching solidarity only teenagers have. We were lovesick girls. We cursed and yelled and cried a little, and then we felt better. Mostly.

Closure has become central for explaining what people supposedly need to find in order to heal after a loss. Yet there's no agreed upon answer for what closure means or how you're supposed to find it. Closure has been described -- in contradictory ways -- as justice, peace, healing, acceptance, forgetting, remembering, forgiveness, moving on, answered questions, or revenge. There's even an emerging divorce party industry attempting to cash in on the desperation people feel to find closure, with break-up party games, cakes, cards and invitations.

Unfortunately, parties and forgiveness and all those things probably won't provide the emotional comfort that's needed. In the months immediately after my divorce, I asked myself, “When will I start feeling better? When will things get back to normal?  I wanted to banish all the sad, confused, angry feelings from my life, putting them behind me so I could move on. But what an odd concept really, closure….as if I could turn the lock and throw away the key, as if I could truly shut the door on my emotions and feelings for a marriage lost.

Perhaps it's better to lose the idea of closure and reframe in terms of healing and growth. Learning to live with some questions is okay. Recognizing the loss and giving myself time to grieve, taking the high road and letting go of anger, and giving myself permission to release of the guilt and shame that's haunted me are much more achievable than the arbitrary concept of closure.

Now I ask you: Have you ever felt a need for closure after a relationship ended? How did you manage those feelings?  Did you ever find the closure you were looking for?

1 comment:

  1. After my first marriage ended, I went through a period of overanalyzing, thinking that I would be able to determine when and where things went wrong. And then I spent months grieving and feeling guilty about grieving, since I was the one who decided to get divorced and I was certain that it was the best choice (still am, 12 years later). I think it's like having a miscarriage or even experiencing the death of people closest to you... we live in a culture that makes us think those experiences should be tidily packaged up and moved past within a week or a month... but in reality, you grieve them in cycles and it's natural. 12 years and there are times I still grieve the end of my first marriage... generally related to some new milestone with our shared children that we can't share in the way that still married parents could. Or thoughts of milestones to come that will have to be navigated...

    Anyhow, I say that to say... yes, it's a growth experience and you will get to your new normal at some point... and then you'll grow again until one day you look back and you'll feel okay with it all... wistful about some things, still sad about others... but okay. Don't push yourself to get there in any particular time frame, just let it unfold as it will.


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