November 21, 2018

Finding Closure Post-Breakup on Your Own | A Personal Holiday Special


At the risk of sounding like the Dos Equis guy, I don't usually do this, but I've decided to get a little more personal than usual right before the holidays. The months of August and September were extremely tumultuous for me, and having landed in a place so good I almost feel like the universe is paying me reparations - which is a fitting term for this time of year, if you're picking up what I'm putting down - I thought I'd share a couple of self-care holiday tips. 

First, if you're feeling heightened anxiety around this time of year at the anticipation of seeing and spending time with family that you maybe don't get along too well with - you're not the only one. Tis the season! But here are a few things to remember:

1. You have agency 

You don't have to do anything. You have choices. So what that your family always does [insert obligatory ritual here] on Thanksgiving. It doesn't mean that you need to force yourself. If the idea of doing that thing you're supposed to do is stressful for you, either because of money you'll have to spend on travel, the stress of traveling itself, the potential for awkward family interactions, or the fact that you just don't like turkey, you are allowed to make an alternate plan! 

This is not a hostage situation, so don't hold yourself hostage to something you don't truly want. 


2. You can choose to celebrate something else 

I'm about 1/4 Native American (my 23 & me results haven't gotten back yet, so that statement could very well change in the near future, but I digress...). I got really pissed off this year when I saw that Columbus Day was still being acknowledged as a US Holiday alongside Indigenous People's Day. That's not to say that you need to be a part of a certain group to feel viscerally disgusted by that group's mistreatment, but in this case there is the added ancestry factor that makes it personal. To me, Thanksgiving represents the whitewashing of a genocide which has still not been adequately acknowledged nor remedied (if such a thing can even be remedied) by this government. Certainly not something to celebrate. 

However, just because you have the day, or the weekend, or whatever you have off, doesn't mean you need to celebrate what the United States or your iPhone calendar tells you to. 

Personally, I refuse to acknowledge the holiday, so instead, I'll be having Friendsgiving. I'm going to get together with my besties, cook for each other, potentially enjoy the recreational use of a certain something that should be nationally legalized already, and just celebrate the meaningful, enduring relationships in my life that I do cherish. 

Last year and the year before I ordered in Chinese food, did a facial and a hair masque, and it was glorious. 

Point is, whatever your feelings about the holiday may be, you are not beholden to the ideology behind it. Celebrate your friends, your pets, your pores, whatever the hell you want. 

3. Be kind to yourself 

The thing about holidays is that they are a marker of time, and as humans we tend to hold ourselves to rather stringent expectations when it comes to time. Perhaps this time last year you expected to be in a certain place by now, and it turns out that you're not. Maybe you were in a long relationship that recently ended. Maybe nothing is particularly wrong, but many of your friends have made big changes this year (career change, bought a house, wedding, hatched offspring) and you're worried that you're falling behind or stuck in a rut. 

The holidays don't have to be an arbitrary marker of success or failure, or a reason for negative self-talk. I suspect that one of the reasons this happens is that if you do attend big family gatherings, you end up giving people you haven't seen in a while the high level overview of your year, and may feel a "certain type of way" if your report isn't as glittery as someone else's. 

Excuse my language (or don't - I don't give a fuck), but try to let all that shit go. You aren't in a competition. This isn't some sort of sick reality show, and your family, your friends, or whomever are not a panel of judges. There may very well be things you want to do or changes you want to make. All of that is fine. But the holidays need not add extra pressure. 

It's just a day. It's just a bird. And frankly, it's just not that deep. I mean...except for the genocide. 

That's fucking bullshit. 

On another personal note, this summer I was involved in a very disappointing relationship. After exhausting all of my other options and finally going No Contact with them (which included blocking their number), my ex began attempting to contact me from other phone numbers, calling, texting, and leaving messages asking me to meet, if only for closure. Never mind that several months before when I'd wanted the same thing (except without having treated them to months of flagrant disrespect), I was blatantly ignored and not afforded the same respect that said ex was now aggressively demanding from me. One such contact occurred today, just before I took my lunch break, as I was musing over what dessert to pickup for tomorrow. When I realized that the agitation of being randomly caught off guard by this person's attempts was keeping the issue at the front of my mind - the last place I wanted it! - I realized there was an acceptable time and way to break No Contact. Which is a perfect segue into today's article...

I'm happy to report that I am going into this long holiday weekend with my mind at ease. And if you have any unresolved, messy ex issues, I hope this helps you do the same. 

Happy paid vacation. See you after the feasting. 

How to Move on Without Formal Closure

Spoiler Alert: The implication of this photo is a spa visit - not Santeria. 

What is closure after a breakup, and furthermore, why do we need it? 

The answer is different for everyone, I suspect, but if you're anything like me there's a logical component to moving on after a relationship. When a relationship ends, I need to understand why it ended - both when I am the breaker and the breakee - in order to feel confident that, 1 - The relationship cannot work even if "worked on", 2 - I will not end up in the exact same situation with a new person, and, 3 - I will not end up in a boomerang relationship (also known as hot and cold / on and off) with the same person. 

Unfortunately, whilst it only takes one to end a relationship, it often feels like it takes two to achieve closure. Breakups can sometimes be abrupt and inexplicable, which can be confusing after the fact. You may have broken up in a text flurry after a week or so of awkward and unexplained distance. You may have gotten slow faded or, even worse, ghosted. While this can be extremely painful, angering, and sometimes even maddening, for many (and certainly for me) the worst part of a breakup like this is the sheer confusion of the thing. Even in a truly awful scenario - your partner cheating on you with your best friend, say - at least a week into your Telemundo con entire sticks of butter dipped in Nutella marathon you can accurately answer the question when someone asks you why you broke up! But when someone slow fades/ghosts out of your life, or abruptly knee jerks out with a sudden and incoherent excuse (or several), it can be beyond frustrating. Nothing is worse than a sympathetic friend buying you a shot and asking what happened, only to have to sullenly admit that you just don't know. 

There are lots of reasons why a relationship may have ended without closure. Lots of reasons.

Reasons like...

- The relationship was never "official", so the SO didn't see a need to formally end something that, in their eyes, hadn't had a formal beginning. 

- There was a fight or other negative event that the SO assumed was the breakup. 

- The SO is uncomfortable with confrontation and hoped to soft-breakup gradually over time rather than having one definitive conversation (also known as managing down expectations), not realizing the cruel impact of forcing a person to figure out that they are being broken up with by an increasingly ambivalent partner. 

- The SO - for whatever reason, be it BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), or APD (Asshole Personality Disorder*) - has instantly emotionally detached from the ex (you), if they were ever attached in the first place, and could give a shit about your feelings or need for closure. Hell, they may even enjoy your confused, "can we please at least meet in person to talk about this" texts, because it makes them feel important and powerful.

- The SO has already moved on to a new partner whom they were already getting involved with while you were dating. Discussing the true "why" behind the breakup would mean revealing relationship overlap and/or cheating (not referring to consensual non-monogamy), and the SO does not want this information known. Hence, they let you believe the breakup is about that one time you mispronounced the name of a fancy wine in front of their fancy friends. They'd rather damage your self-esteem than their reputation.  

Point is, there are countless reasons why someone may end a relationship without offering you closure. It may be very tempting to sit around thinking up all sorts of reasons why, and all sorts of excuses at that. Maybe you said something off color one night after having too much wine and they've held it against you. Maybe they have unresolved childhood trauma and attachment issues. Maybe their pet turtle of eighteen years just died and they're taking it really hard. But the bottom line is that whatever the reasons of the person who ends a relationship with you without due process (read: care, respect, consideration), especially if you are someone they profess to love, that is really all the information that you need. You don't need to know the why. You don't need to know their damage. The point is not to figure out why you're being treated poorly. The point is simply to acknowledge that you are being treated poorly and address that fact, irrespective of any myriad of excuses.

That being said, resist the urge to question every punctuation choice you've made in the last six months of texts you've sent. Resist the urge to diagnose your ex with some disorder out of the DSM-5 just so you can offer to nurse them back to sanity. And goodness gracious, resist the urge to text them just one more time - stop! Put down that phone.



Accept that the relationship is over. The truth is that a perfect breakup is rare. Would it have been nice if you'd had a calm, heartfelt discussion over dinner, or a long conversation on the phone where you both analyzed the whole relationship and mutually agreed it was the best thing to end it? Sure. That would have been nice. It would have been nice if Hillary had won the 2016 election (and also become President). But, alas. The nice thing doesn't always happen. 

Yes, certain breakups are shittier than others. Dinner and/or a phone call is typically better than hearing it through a friend, reading a post-it stuck to your laptop, or figuring it out after weeks of strange behavior. But the bottom line is that a breakup is a breakup. It's over either way.

There's no sense in chasing after your ex over bad etiquette. 

Move On

So remember that joke about Telemundo earlier? That was just a joke. I know you want to plop yourself on the couch with that bottle of scotch and that pound of Gorgonzola, but no! Don't do that! Don't dwell in what was, go out and experience what is. 

I'm not saying you don't get to be sad about it and experience your emotions. By all means. Emote. Just not alone in the living room. See your friends. Go out and make new ones. Hell, I took myself out for one night after getting a shitty text from my now ex, met a girl who was just out with some friends, and five months later I have a new, true friend who has not only helped me through the shitty breakup at times, but who I've been able to enjoy life and have actual fun with! Between piano bars and drag brunches, who has time to worry about a breakup? 

So don't go dwelling. Go dancing! Or something. You get the point. 

Close The Door

This one sucks, but it may be the most important thing you do in a relationship that ended without closure. 

People like to have closure in order to give a relationship a definitive end. In order to be able to confidently say that this chapter is over. In order to point to a date on the calendar and say, here, this is when we broke up and now we're just friends. (Or now that human is dead to me.)

Without closure it can sort of seem like the relationship is still in play. Maybe not in full swing. Maybe not all hot and heavy, intense, and sunshine and rainbows. But no closure makes it feel like something is still happening, or that something still could happen in the future. This is very dangerous territory to be in. How many of us have gone through all the breakup mourning and genuinely felt better only to be thrown off balance months later by a random "I miss you" text?

Granted, some people opt to downshift from in-a-relationship to friends-with-occasional-benefits but the operative word there is opt. This is only safe and fair territory when both parties are on the same page, not in a situation where one person is still holding out hope for the relationship and the other thinks it would be cool to "hookup" every now and then. 

I know it feels like you need the other person to gain closure, but the truth is that you don't. You have all the power you need to close the door and give the relationship a definitive end. You don't have to send an email, text, or Facebook wall post (although if you choose to, more power to you). All you need to do is decide for yourself that it is over, and make choices that support that decision. That might mean taking a break from any places you may likely run into the ex. That might mean asking mutual friends not to mention them to you. It may even mean unfollowing them on social media, or going full on No Contact unless or until you have the closure you need.

In rare cases, you may have to do more than close the door. You may need to slam the door, bolt the door, or have your Rottweiler sit out on your stoop. That might look like temporarily unblocking and calling the ex, letting them know they better not call you again (welcome to my lunch). It might look like letting friends and family know what the offending ex is doing to motivate them to stop the bad behavior (raise your hand if you can take a hint). It may even look like a restraining order.

Whatever you need, it's fine. 

For those of us who need closure to effectively move on after a breakup, it can be achieved alone, with a commitment to boundaries and self-care. Give yourself what your ex didn't give you. The respect and consideration that will allow you to happily move forward and enjoy the rest of your life.

And maybe...I don't know. A facial.

Happy holiday weekend.


* I completely made up this personality disorder, but I suspect may exist! Who knows, maybe I'll craft some diagnostic criteria that they'll include in the future DSM-6. 


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