What the Broken Heart Does Not Understand About Finding Closure

Love and Sex

What the Broken Heart Does Not Understand About Finding Closure

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

In the third season of Joe Swanberg’s wildly underrated Easy, Jo and Chase – a lesbian couple whose courtship and eventual coupling was passionately traced in the show’s two previous seasons – break up. The death of their relationship announces itself almost harmlessly, as matters of the heart tend to do. After an evening out, when Jo nudges Chase toward commitment by informing her that their lease is up for renewal, Chase’s hesitant, non-committal reply betrays the schisms in their utopia.

By that point, the two have left no room for ambiguity in their relationship – they shared a home, a set of friends, and an active interest in each other’s lives. So even when they break up, they vow to remain untethered to each other’s memories. Chase moves out of their shared home and Jo moves on from checking Chase’s Instagram stories that are splattered with innumerable faces of strangers. In the ensuing days, Chase throws herself into a series of one-night stands, accumulating experiences and living the life she envisioned for herself. While Jo starts flirting with a woman who doesn’t mind going all in. It seems like both of them have closure. That their past has no power to dictate their future. And yet, by the end of the episode, all it takes is one minor inconvenience for both of them to give up the new lives they’ve built for themselves and come back to each other.

Although this episode – befittingly titled “Spontaneous Combustion” – can come across as a bittersweet portrait of the travails of romance in an era defined by its commitment phobia, what it is, instead, is a searing critique of closure. Jo and Chase are living proof that those countless hours that the heartbroken spend toward the search for instant closure, is in fact, a colossal waste.

Closure is always the first word that is urgently thrown around every time someone sniffs heartbreak in their vicinity, even though it’s really the last emotion that a broken heart has the ability to process. Imagine a scenario where you’ve just broken up: You’ve exhausted all of Netflix’s supply of rom-com movies and exercised your tear-glands enough at that scene in Notting Hill when Julia Roberts goes “I’m just a girl…” You’re convinced that all love songs were written specifically to describe your grand connection and even a random object like a leaf ends up reminding you of that joke he cracked about climate change. At that point, you are hardly in a state to distance yourself from your heightened feelings but it’s exactly what the concept of closure insists that you do: Look at your relationship as an outsider investigating it rather than someone who’s mourning it.

Essentially, closure is just another term for acceptance; for moving on.

The act of closure is broadly defined as “the desire or need individuals have for information that will allow them to conclude an issue that had previously been shrouded in ambiguity and uncertainty.” Essentially, closure is just another term for acceptance; for moving on. Naturally then, it’s an emotion that should take time to manifest. Except, we’re made to believe that it comes with a deadline. It requires someone to relive their heartbreak – replay it in their heads – to arrive at an explanation that can justify the unexpected expiry date on a relationship… just after it has ended. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, a pioneer in the study of grief and loss, believes for instance, that closure might not be for everyone; that not every person gets to that grief stage of “acceptance” that can lead to it.

A New Yorker essay titled, “Why We Need Answers” explains the dichotomy of closure and how so often we tend to mistake our obsession for answers with the actual process of leaving our past behind. “The human mind is incredibly averse to uncertainty and ambiguity; from an early age, we respond to uncertainty or lack of clarity by spontaneously generating plausible explanations. What’s more, we hold on to these invented explanations as having intrinsic value of their own. Once we have them, we don’t like to let them go.”

Just last month, a close friend got out of a pretty intense three-year-long relationship. It was followed by multiple nights of uncontrolled drinking and a head-first dive into the world of casual hooking up. And yet, my friend still wanted to find all the missing pieces that led to his break up using it as an excuse to relentlessly text his ex. Every text was announced as the “very last” text he was sending her and every meeting was the “very last” time he was meeting her.

At the end of these unnecessary one-month long back-and-forth where they discussed the same things and had the same fights over and over again, he ended up more heartbroken than he was at the time of his break up. It’s been five days since, and my friend, now wiser, claims he has found “closure”. Yet he still checks his ex’s Instagram story the minute she puts it up. I hate to break it to him, but that is not what closure entails. It’s literally closing one chapter of your life and moving on without having to look back.

I know, eventually, my friend will get over it and I suspect he does too. So why is he forcing himself to find closure instead of letting it find him?

In the hyper-connected times we live in, what we often forget is that it’s impossible to stifle the urge to find out if people who broke our hearts are moving on with their lives. Unless we consciously decide to. There’s no secret to instantly moving on. It can happen in a day, week, or even years. Even an animated horse knows better: In one of Bojack Horseman’s most viral monologues, he says, “Closure is a made up thing invented by Steven Spielberg to sell more tickets.”