Closure is a myth our culture perpetuates


That word gets thrown around a lot, especially when we discuss the end of relationships and try to figure out how to get back to a baseline level of self-esteem and well-being.

“You have to get closure,” a friend might say to us, as if that was the reason we’re suffering and we wouldn’t be heartbroken if we got this evasive thing we call closure.

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what even closure is.

The main idea of closure, I’m guessing, is that it is a feeling we experience about a situation. Since it’s a feeling, it’s a subjective experience, unlike the closure of a factory or a business, which is objective.

So if feel like you’re past a relationship or hardly ever think about a situation in your life, then I suppose you’ve gained some sort of closure.

The idea originally comes from Gestalt philosophy, which postulates that the mind wants things to be “complete” in some way, such as filling in an incomplete circle or adding a missing part of an object.

Closure has since been extended to relationships, where the idea might relate to confronting an ex, learning the truth about a relationship, or even getting your last bit of things from their apartment.

The Myth of Closure

The problem with closure is that it is mythological in nature. What I mean by this is that it is an ideal that we look towards when we are in pain. We think if we could just get “closure”, then we wouldn’t feel any more pain and have to wallow through our days in suffering.

The idea of closure seems to be totally unaware of the reality of the grieving process, and that healing isn’t a linear process where you suddenly get over a hurdle and everything is fine.

Experts have even said that searching for closure can actually inhibit the healing process. By trying to attain it, we are actually stopping ourselves from exploring healthier ways of processing our pain and learning from it.

As we all know, though, you can’t just wipe your memories clean and totally start over. That relationship happened, and there are most likely plenty of things in your life that are different because of it.

Though it would be nice to start with a clean slate, that just isn’t how the human mind (or the human heart), works. Our lives and sense of ourselves are the result of our experiences and relationships. An instantaneous way of moving on from such a thing just isn’t realistic.

The Truth About Closure

The truth about closure, and healing in general, is that it happens gradually as we learn new habits, stop thinking about the relationship as much, and find new things to invest our time into.

Thinking back to my own former relationships (and the subsequent breakups and sadness that followed), I can’t think of single moment where I felt some sort of closure.

I suppose I could have pinpointed a moment, much later on, when the relationship truly felt like it was behind me. Though you could define this feeling as “closure”, it wasn’t something that I could “get” or “find” right after the relationship ended.

Instead, it was a state of mind that came gradually, over time, as my life changed and I gained more distance from the relationship and the feelings and anxieties that surrounded it.

As Alan Watts would say, one of the blessings of life is that we forget. Forgetting allows us to move on, because if we were omnisciently aware of everything that had happened in our lives, we would be unable to live in the present moment and start anew.

The true closure comes from slowly forgetting the relationship. We may not forget it fully, but we come to a point where the edges have softened, and the things we remember don’t carry as much weight or make us feel sad and hopeless.

So, with all that considered, it’s not really helpful to seek closure. There will always be unanswered questions, nights where you ask “why?” and wonder about what could have been. That’s just a part of life, and you can’t will yourself out of it.

Instead, seek healing, understanding — hell, even distraction. Don’t seek closure, because that’s really a fairytale about a world that exists in movies and romance novels, worlds where everything is black and white and all your relationships can be wrapped up in a nice little bow.

So don’t feel bad if you can’t get closure, because it doesn’t really exist.

Joseph A. Cornacchia