The Truth About Closure
Two years ago, I published a piece on Closure.
But I’m not so sure that’s true anymore.
Since writing that piece, I’ve experienced ‘better.’ I’m now in a healthy, long-term relationship with someone who makes me feel wholly and fully loved. He buys me flowers on the way home from work, sends funny texts throughout the day, and makes me a playlist of songs he thinks I’ll love. He makes me feel safe to be myself; flaws and all. He is everything my single, heartbroken self has always hoped for.
But two months ago, I was haunted by flashbacks and memories of someone I once had a short-lived fling with. I met him towards the end of high school, back when I confused adolescent infatuation with true love. He ticked all the boxes on my superficial list of requirements, and I was addicted to the rollercoaster of emotions I felt when I was with him: deliriously high one moment, miserably low the next.
But in the end, I was more emotionally invested in the idea of ‘us’ than he ever was. We were teenagers who didn’t enjoy having hard conversations, so we parted ways with an awkward text message. He appeared relatively unscathed while I carried the sting of rejection with me.
It had been years since I last spared him a thought. He’d become as irrelevant to me as the platform, Vine: something we occasionally bring up as a case study on why things fail but don’t linger on for too long.
Yet, this time my thoughts were different. I would sit down at my desk to work, only to wonder what he’d think about the fact that I was now a writer. When I got take-away from the restaurant we used to frequent, I’d remember that he was an especially picky eater. Dozens of questions began to swirl around my mind.
Does he ever think about me?
Would we have lasted if we’d been older, better, wiser?
What would I ever say if we ever crossed paths again?
The fascinating thing about memories is how they don’t stay fixed forever. Each time we recall a memory, we inadvertently start to alter them. Since we can’t possibly remember every single, tiny detail from our past, our brain fills in the gaps by borrowing pieces from our imagination and our emotions until suddenly, you end up with a slightly skewed version of events. It’s why eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Or why you and your best friend can go to the same event and remember vastly different things.
Often, nostalgia likes to creep in and add its own two cents into the mix. Nostalgia is like those filters on Snapchat that gives you flawless skin and makes you look lit from within. It presents a picture of perfection you wish you could emulate every day.
Every time the memory of my past fling cropped up in my mind, I continued to add the filter over and over again. I inadvertently wove in details I wished had happened and glossed over the parts that made me cringe. Before I knew it, my glossy, filtered version of events became the new memory, and I started to feel a longing for the ‘good old days’ with him.
It was at this point when I became certain something was dreadfully wrong with me. I called my boyfriend to tell him I should be crowned the world’s most ungrateful and terrible girlfriend. Then, I called my therapist to psychoanalyse why I was such a terrible girlfriend.
After listening to me regurgitate my fears, my therapist told me about her own flashbacks. She and her high school sweetheart were inseparable for years, but after graduation, the idea of dating other people in college was like a siren call. She fell into the trap so many of us do: she believed the grass would be greener on the other side. When she realised college flings weren’t as good as what she once had, she tried desperately to get back with her high school boyfriend.
“The memory of me calling and begging him to give us another chance still haunts me to this very day,” she sighed. “It’s been twenty years since then and I’m happily married with kids. But sometimes I still wonder about him and what would have happened if we never broke up.”
Then, she laughed. “It’s so funny you’re bringing this up. Just yesterday, one of my friends also started freaking out over the same thing. She’s married to her best friend, but she’s also been thinking about someone from her past.”
Why do we do that?
Why do we fantasise over the things that aren’t good for us?
Why do we devote our energy to prying open closed doors when we know they were shut for a reason?
I have multiple theories over why I keep flashing back to him.
Number one: It started when we were in the thick of the pandemic when there was nothing to do but work and overthink. My boyfriend and I isolated in different homes and I was separated from my group of friends who usually keep me in check. Because I couldn’t make plans to go outside or anticipate what was going to happen in the future, my idle mind wandered to a place where it could freely roam: the past.
Number two is a theory best summed up by John Green:
We accept the love we think we deserve.
Is it possible these trips down memory lane are a form of self-sabotage? Deep down, I must believe that my current relationship is too good to be true, and I only deserve to be with someone who doesn’t respect me.
My therapist offered up another theory. She believes I’m still thinking about him because our relationship didn’t end the way I wanted it to. All of us like to think of ourselves as the heroes of our own stories, and heroes always come out on top. The story I’d told myself since the day we ended was that I was the one who was left and rejected. Perhaps this is a story my mind has been trying to fight against ever since.
Or, perhaps there are no accurate theories. This could once again be a classic case of me desperately seeking the unattainable; forever chasing after greener pastures.
As I write this, the memories have (thankfully) begun to fade. After multiple sessions with my therapist and honest conversations with my boyfriend, I recognise that I wasn’t pining over my old fling; I was more heartbroken over my bruised ego. As someone who lives to tell stories, it hurt that it didn’t unfold the way I wanted. But it ultimately led me to where I’m supposed to be.
I don’t think my original definition of closure is wrong, per se. I just don’t think it’s as simple as deciding to stop thinking about our exes. It’s normal to think about the past and the people who shaped us into who we are today. I fact, it’s necessary so we can learn to make better choices.
Now I know closure is not a destination to be reached, it’s a habit. Just like how love is a daily decision to choose the other person, closure is an action we must rinse and repeat, like eating our vitamins daily or going to the gym. If memories from the past are going to float their way into the present, then closure is choosing to remove the glossy filter and accepting how the events really unfolded; cringy imperfections and all.