Washington - There's a relationship fantasy that has nothing to with getting physical. Rather, it's verbal. And the climax isn't orgasm; it's that ever-elusive concept of "closure."
In this fantasy, maybe you're berating your ex for ghosting, or mustering up all the perfect comebacks at the exact right moments. Or maybe they have had a rare flash of self-awareness and are apologizing for how they hurt you when you were together; you were right in every single argument, they admit, and they were wrong. In response, all you do is sit there, smile and say: "Thank you."
That's the fantasy. But reality is often more frustrating.
So how do you get closure if you might not talk to the person again? Or if you know they're not going to apologize? Maybe you won't forget what they did, but you can recognize that it's time to forgive and move on. In search of relationship zen, I spoke with a dating coach, a relationship writer, a meditation teacher and a rabbi, and they all stressed that finding closure and forgiveness starts within and can be done entirely on your own.
Like many of our sky-high expectations about love, pop culture reinforces the notion that we are owed (and will receive!) a satisfying sense of closure after a relationship ends. "Culturally we have a lot of conditioning, movies that tell us it is important to have that one pivotal conversation where everything gets resolved. You can't count on that and you can't hold yourself back because of it," said Francesca Hogi, a dating coach in New York. "One thing I tell my clients when ... things are unresolved with an ex, is that it becomes a crutch for you to not be vulnerable again because you've created this whole story about a relationship in the past and you're still stuck there."
Hogi said she has seen a lot of people who are single and want to meet someone new, but "they still have so much anger about a past relationship - and it's so clear on the outside, looking in, how much that anger is holding them back."
So then, how to move on?
First: Embrace the suck, but don't get stuck there. Everyone I spoke to emphasized that, before you can move on from something painful, you have to sit with the sadness, disappointment, anger or whatever you're feeling. "Allow yourself to grieve and to just have whatever feelings of hurt and pain are happening. Allow them to be there without judgment," said Sara Eckel, author of It's Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You're Single. If you're feeling that you should already be over a certain breakup or traumatic event, Eckel said she has found it useful to remember "that it's not about what I should be feeling. It's about what I am feeling."
Eckel added that it's good to be aware of when righteous anger arises - a la "he's so terrible and I'm so much better." These reactions to pain are less productive. "The thing to watch out for," Eckel said, "is when it starts to feel really pleasant to go over [the offending situation] again and again."
How do you avoid getting all riled up in self-righteous anger? Lodro Rinzler, a meditation teacher in New York and author of Love Hurts: Buddhist Advice For The Heartbroken, explains it this way: You're not intending to add fuel to the fire with lots of stories of how to respond to being wronged. Rather, "we're just holding our hands up to the fire itself, to feel the emotion without (getting mired in) the story behind it."
Like all forms of grief, it takes time and space to even be ready to move on. But once you're there, you can:
- Meditate. okay, so it's no surprise that Rinzler, the meditation teacher, suggests meditation as a path to forgiveness.
- Acknowledge that forgiveness is not condoning.
- Write a letter you never intend to send.
- Or place a photograph of the person you want to forgive, or move past, somewhere you'll see every day.
- You can even visualize the person at your dinner table.