If you have ever counseled someone through a break-up (romantic or otherwise), you have probably heard the following phrase: “I just need closure”. Perhaps you have even uttered this sentiment yourself. Relationships don’t tend to end in neat and predictable ways; they usually leave loose ends and unanswered questions in their wake. We think to ourselves, “If I just had closure. If I just knew what he was thinking, if I just knew why she did this, I’d have peace.” My question is: would you?
I was once a proponent of closure. I, like so many other women my age, have been spoon-fed closure since I can remember. My childhood books had predictable, happy endings. My favorite sitcoms resolved issues in less than half an hour. My beloved Disney movies swiftly wrapped up their stories even after characters turned into giant cobras or wreaked havoc on the sea. Later on, romantic comedies and episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit cemented for me the idea that closure was natural and to be expected. I wanted endings, happy or otherwise. I wanted answers to my questions.
It took me years to realize how often closure does not come. Life, it turns out, is more like an episode of Dragon Ball Z than an episode of Full House. On Full House you can see issues like eating disorders, child abuse, and grief over Alzheimer’s disease solved in twenty-two minutes with encouraging words and some Italian food. On Dragon Ball Z you wait and wait for Goku to power up only to be told to tune in to the next episode (or so I am told: I have never willingly watched Dragon Ball Z). Does Goku ever power up? Probably, but there’s a good chance that the day he does you’ll be at Grandma’s, and Grandma does not move the channel from CBS. And I just realized I could have saved a paragraph by saying life was more like Unsolved Mysteries. Oh, well.
It is disappointing to know how rare closure is because closure can be so satisfying. Think of the joy and accomplishment you feel when you finish a book, a class, or a ten-foot hoagie. However, there are also times when closure—dare I say?—sucks.
You may be silently (or not so silently if you’re a little unhinged) shouting at your screen, “What? I remember when Goku finally powered up, and it was awesome!” I am sure it was, but I am also sure that there have been times when closure wasn’t all you dreamed it should be. Think of all the TV series finales you’ve ever seen. Some of them, like the last episodes of Breaking Bad and The Golden Girls, were suitable endings. Others left most viewers wishing their shows had ended years earlier: I’m looking at you, Dexter, Roseanne, and Dexter (I know I mentioned Dexter twice: it was infuriatingly bad).
Think also of all the movies that drag on for too long in order to reach a "satisfying" ending. Titanic comes to mind: we sat through over three hours, most of which were just a boat sinking, just to see that old bird—spoiler alert!—dump her priceless pendant into the ocean. What that closure that we really needed? What was even going on there?
I know TV is trivial (which makes me feel sad that I’ve wasted so much of my life on it), but closure can suck in real life, too. I think when we seek closure in relationships we tend to envision the Hollywood version where our exes are still in love with us, our former friends want desperately to reconnect, and our estranged parents are secretly proud of us. The reality is often more grim. If you seek closure, you need to ask yourself if you are really prepared for the answers to your questions, or if you just are just looking to be told what you want to hear. Your ex may never have loved you at all. Your old friend may think you’re a jerk. Your parent may feel that you are a failure. I would not wish these scenarios on anyone, but they do occur.
One of my best (and worst) examples of closure gone sour is of someone I know (we’ll call her Sam) feeling distant from a long-time friend. I’m sure Sam was looking for some kind of closure: maybe she thought her friend would say she’d just been feeling grumpy, or that she’d been busy and was now ready to be a better companion. Instead that closure came in the form of a Christmas card. Yes, Sam’s friend sent a Christmas card saying she no longer wanted to be friends and listing some reasons she did not like Sam. I would guess that most people would have preferred for that friendship to just fade away rather than end abruptly via catty Christmas card.
I’ve had my own lousy experiences with closure—both with receiving it and being pushed to give it to others. Call me a wiener, but at this point I just don’t seek closure. I guess I just don’t want to hear the negative things I’ve already deduced for myself. I can’t recall a time when I’ve sought closure and thought, “Well, that went better than expected.” And that includes the time I watched the entire Jem series on Netflix.
Of course closure isn’t all negative. There are times when closure brings peace of mind, satisfaction, or growth. However, I think we do ourselves a disservice by thinking closure only brings those things. Closure can be very painful if we aren’t prepared for it. Hell, it can be painful even when we are prepared. Before seeking closure, I feel it is important to figure out what the desired outcome would be. If that outcome is to find out the truth for better or worse, then I think finding those answers (assuming they can still be found) is an excellent idea. However, if the desired outcome is anything different, closure may not be what is needed. Comfort and satisfaction can be found in other ways. And, if all else fails, heed the Reddit mantra: delete Facebook, hit the gym, lawyer up.