closure

Closure is a curious thing - this vague sense of peace, of amicable resolution, that we hold up as some kind of ideal ending to a relationship. Like if we can just come to an agreement about why or how or who, then we can part ways feeling like mature grown ups that have learned something from our time together.

Until I felt like I had closure, for most of my adult life, I felt anything from uneasy about to downright resentful towards my ex-partners. As if the things unsaid or the issues unresolved between us were actively preventing me from moving forward. Of course, it was just the opposite. It was me choosing not to let go, and using those unspoken words, and that unsettled score, as an excuse to hang on.

It's rare that two people cheerfully agree about their incompatibility and part romantic company on mutually respectful terms. More often one wants to hold on, and one wants to let go. Feelings get hurt. Egos get bruised. And when you're going into any interaction with a bruised ego, it's easy to bring an agenda along with you. It's hard to shake hands when you've got them wrapped around the handle of an axe you can't stop grinding. Once you feel like you've been undervalued by someone, it's natural to want to prove to them you are valuable, after all, And wow did you make a mistake, and I'm going to show you just how badly, by being just soooo mature and awesome and cool about all of this. A quick, honest examination of your motives might reveal that you're less interested in sincerely saying goodbye and more interested in leaving your ex pining for your return. And what the hell kind of progress or growth is that?

Pursuing closure with someone after the relationship has ended - particularly if it's been a while - is actually pretty selfish, I think. It's selfish to parachute back into someone's life out of the blue, when really you have no idea what their state of mind about you is. Maybe they've forgiven you, or themselves - maybe they haven't. Maybe they actively mourn the loss of you from their life, or maybe they're completely apathetic toward you. The point is, to reach out because you want to feel better about things doesn't take into account what's best for them, or how your sudden reappearance is going to affect them. Sometimes you've just got to bear the weight of your own shitty feelings alone. What gives you the right to disturb any inner peace they've reached on their own, particularly if you were the hurtful party?

And I say all of this as a former peace disturber and a former peace disturbee. I've been on both ends of it. I've desperately wanted to be forgiven, to be re-enlisted as a friend, to understand and make amends. I moved progressively through stages of sadness, anger, and confusion over the course of years - years - in my attempts to reestablish contact and friendship with a former boyfriend, someone who in my twenties deeply shaped my ideas about romantic relationships. I was first gently rebuffed, then pushed away with increasing frustration, and eventually ignored altogether. And it broke my heart not a little bit. But for years I managed to convince myself, hilariously enough, of his selfishness - of his immaturity in being unable to handle having me in his life. What disgusting hubris, right? I never stopped to think Hey Ellie, maybe, for reasons that are none of your business, a relationship with you isn't what's best for him. Maybe stop expecting other people to conform to what works best for you.

On the flip side, I've had exes bring their unresolved emotions to me, hoping I'll forgive/forget the hurts they inflicted, so that they can feel better about themselves. I was recently apologized to by someone I dated briefly, who I guess thought about things and realized he'd been less than great to me. And at first it felt good to have my feelings validated. But then it was like, Wait, what is this about? Why is he reaching out, out of nowhere? Is he regretful? Is he going through some period of self-examination and growth on which I'm a box to tick off? Is this really about him wanting to make me feel better? Or is it about him wanting to feel better about himself? And all of a sudden, I had all these thoughts to sort through and deal with, that I hadn't had five minutes before. And I realized that that first blush of warmth I felt at his apology was actually just my ego smoothing itself out again. My ego: nothing deeper than that. Just me straightening my shoulders a little bit, even thinking to myself, Yeah, that's right. You did screw up. Bet you wish you hadn't.

Is that growth? Is that maturity? And is that external validation anything I really needed, anyway? What good did it do me? Wasn't I doing just fine validating myself, before it came along?

At the end of the day, no one can give us true closure but ourselves. Because no matter how many conversations we have with an ex or how much territory we retread in pursuit of agreement, ultimately we're going to land, emotionally speaking, where we're going to land. So we may as well keep the power in our own hands by processing the relationship on our own - by determining what's useful to take away and what can be let go of. If we decide for ourselves what role we played in its successes and in its failures, we don't have to wait around for anyone else's gavel to fall, to let us know where we stand. And that's empowering.

And we know we're done, really done, when we're no longer chewing the bones. No longer stewing over undefended accusations, unexplained actions - or even unspoken apologies. When our thoughts are just plain elsewhere.

Closure is our own choice to make, and the faster we make it, the faster we'll be free and available for The Next Awesome Thing.