I went through the motions, like they do in all romantic comedies, all the way down to the bottom of the wine glass. In many ways, it was more of a performance than something sincere. Maybe that’s all that “closure” really is — a performance.
I have been pondering what “closure” really means for the last four years, since I broke things off with my ex.
In that span of time, I’ve moved across the country, started building my career, begun my gender transition, got married to the dreamiest person ever, and, of course, I did a lot of soul-searching and emerged on the other side of that a healthier and happier person.
So, as far as I can tell, I did what I was “supposed” to do. By all accounts, this past relationship should be the furthest thing from my mind.
I’ve heard a lot about this magical thing called “closure.” It sounds really great. My understanding of it is that, as time goes on, this person from the past becomes so distant that you no longer feel an emotional attachment. New romances fill the void left in your heart, and eventually this person who was once so significant suddenly becomes a blip on the screen.
That’s not to say that my ex — we’ll call him Trevor — has the same significance in my life that he did four years ago. But I also wouldn’t say that he’s insignificant, either. Trevor has become something of a ghost, passing through now and then, stirring up old feelings and curiosities as I begin to wonder if we’ll ever cross paths again.
It’s in those moments — allowing the feelings to bubble up to the surface and wondering what it means — that I begin to question this idea of closure. Because while love is not a feeling that I have when I recall Trevor, sometimes there is warmth or melancholy or regret — take your pick — and they are by no measure small or unimportant.
Searching through the academic literature on “closure,” you’ll find that it’s an ambiguous concept at best, and highly contested at worst. Many psychologists argue that closure does not accurately reflect how most people handle grief. In fact, it’s been said that the pressure to find closure only makes the grieving process more difficult.
So why are we clinging to this idea of “closure”?
It’s the promise of something, to be sure. The promise that, someday, the vacancy will be filled and the sharp pains will become nothing more than the memory of a dull ache. This is comforting for some, and necessary, even, for others.
At first, I liked this promise. It was this promise that convinced me to get rid of a number of the photographs, books, paintings, ornaments, and jewelry (the latter of which rest now in a body of water not far from our hometown) that he gave me.
It was this promise that urged me to throw away the many love letters I found after we separated, and even burn a few while I imagined myself being the triumphant protagonist in some kind of movie.
It was this promise that pushed me out into the dating world, meeting a handful of interesting characters (a trilingual opera singer, a chain-smoking guitar player, a moody pianist — we could have formed a really strange band), until I eventually found the sweetheart that I would marry three years later.
I went through the motions, like they do in all romantic comedies, all the way down to the bottom of the wine glass. In many ways, it was more of a performance than something sincere. Maybe that’s all that closure really is — a performance.
I did break a few rules. At least, that’s what I’m told.
Because I still held onto a few books (with Trevor’s writings on the inside cover, something about Rumi and poetry and love, something about never letting go), I still kept the Matisse print (it was too beautiful to throw away, I reasoned), and I have my favorite photograph tucked away in a box someplace at my parents’ place in Michigan — a photograph that now looks nothing like me and, I imagine, nothing like him.
Some part of me knew that I would want these things later on. And four years down the line, I’m grateful that my half-hearted attempts at “closure” didn’t ruin what few artifacts I have left. Because there’s grieving to be done, even now, and I’d rather grieve over Trevor’s handwritten letter than stare at his Facebook profile for who knows how long.
I’ve accepted now that if closure means erasing him, maybe I don’t actually want closure.
What’s the alternative? Maybe it’s about finding a place and a time to feel something. Maybe it’s about letting ourselves remember instead of building walls around the past. Maybe there’s no such thing as closure, and maybe that’s actually OK.
I have to confess: During my last visit to our hometown, I went back to this old park that Trevor and I used to frequent. And I sat on the swings with my spouse.
We talked about our exes — me about Trevor, and my partner about someone named Lee. We watched the fireflies flicker underneath the big cedar trees and I could remember, clearly, a time when those fireflies would remind me of Trevor.
In that moment, I could feel his ghost on my heels and my partner holding my hand — a collision between my past and my future.
I know this isn’t what closure is supposed to look like. People say that when you find closure, you’ll stop revisiting old memories like this. People say that partners with closure won’t talk about their exes like this. People say that when you’ve moved on, you won’t feel the kind of grief that I felt.
But I imagine if closure is anything, this is what it feels like: Even with the absence of Trevor — absent of his humor, his warmth, his temper — I still felt whole, even more whole than I was when I knew him.
And I found myself hoping that he felt the same.