EXT. DAY. BOLIVIA.
Butch and Sundance emerge from the barn at a run, guns drawn. Both fire a couple of rounds.
The shot freezes on them and slowly begins to close in. As it does, we hear the commander of the Bolivian force surrounding the pair’s hideout give the order to fire.
There is a long volley of shots. The firing ceases momentarily before the commander repeats the order to fire. There is another sustained volley of shots, during which the image of Butch & Sundance begins to fade to sepia, and then melts away entirely.
It’s arguably one of the greatest endings in movie history.
The moment when Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid bet the farm on escaping capture is significant because although we’re reasonably sure they’ve actually bought the farm instead we’ll never be completely certain.
There is no closure to the movie. There’s no girl-gets-guy moment, no defeating of the villain, no Eddie Murphy, Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Akroyd on the beach.
In our hearts, we kind of hope Butch and Sundance made it, that they got to Australia like Butch planned. We want to know if they did, but at the same time we don’t. It is, without doubt, the most satisfyingly unsatisfying film ever made.
And we can learn something from if for ourselves, because life is pretty awful when it comes to tying up loose ends for us. Life is a spaghetti-like nest of hanging threads that we’ll never be able to pull through – and we have to learn to deal with that and move on.
We see many clients who are upset, heartbroken or just plain angry and pissed off because life has been the end of the rake they suddenly stood on and smashed them in the face with a bad ending.
Make no mistake – life is the absolute king (or queen) of leaving you hanging from sudden abandonment followed by ghosted calls, no explanations and no opportunity to find out what went wrong.
But no matter how ‘ouchy’ bad endings are, you make things worse for yourself – and take a sandblaster to your dignity in the process – if you become hellbent on finding what that elusive things we call closure.
In an ideal world, we’d always get to understand why things happen to us and at Zoe Clews & Associates we’re big advocates of conscious relationships, counselling people to be kind enough to end things with love.
If something isn’t right then leave with love, but make sure you leave. Both elements are crucial for your own emotional health.
The only exception is if you’re a teenager, in which case it’s totally fine to end a relationship by throwing chips in their face.*
But in addition to sometimes being cruel, life is also rarely ideal and people don’t always act as we’d generally prefer them to.
The reality in all that, of course, is that it emphasises the real and uncomfortable truth that ultimately we’re powerless over what other people do, so harking on about closure is often more detrimental than giving you the ‘rounding off’ and ‘boxing away’ that you think you want.
In practice, time has a lot of say in the way things end. A marriage or years-long relationship requires closure and a suitable parting, if it’s possible to deliver them – you’ve both invested huge emotional currency in each other and no matter how difficult the relationship has become, you probably owe it to each other to explain why you no longer felt the way you did.
We are in many ways the product of the junk-food society we’ve created for ourselves. We get high on choice and what we serve ourselves is increasingly disposable as a result. If you get bored with McDonalds, there’s a KFC two doors down and a Burger King around the corner to satisfy your needs.
We turbo-bond with others, but that connection (and therefore commitment) is inevitably shallow. If you haven’t put in the early work to invest in another person and how they fit into your life, it’s the easiest thing in the world for one of you to walk away when it gets too tough to stay.
And even when you do put in the work, there’s absolutely no guarantee that the relationship will survive. That means we all need to be adult and self-loving enough to withstand and tolerate rejection.
Because in the end, for lots of the people we see, closure isn’t what they want. What they actually want is to stop feeling shamed and worthless.
Which means that unconsciously, what they really, really seeking is a shot at convincing the other person to reopen the relationship to prove to themselves that they’re loved and valued.
There’s a really good saying that says people with self-respect simply don’t engage with people who don’t show them respect, and if the ending you’ve experienced wasn’t respectful or kind to you or to the time you spent together, then going after closure is only likely to deepen the wound
We argue with ourselves that closure provides us with the information we need to improve. If we know what went wrong, we can move on and be better next time. But it’s a subjective argument at best – and the truth is that people who have self-respect and self-love don’t need closure in that sense.
Yet even though closure is an intangible concept that we can’t see or feel, people base their entire break-up recovery on it, which isn’t good for recovery at all.
And here’s an uncomfortable thought: maybe the real reason the relationship didn’t work out is something you’re better off not knowing.
When closure turns out to be a long list of why someone else thinks that you’re not worth staying with, it’s going to be pretty corrosive – even though that other person’s opinion is probably a million miles from reality.
If the other person can’t dignify you with an explanation as to why he or she no longer wants to be with you, then the reason is almost certainly useless and superficial.
So if you didn’t get closure, it’s OK. It’s time to move on, let it be and treat yourself with kindness. The relationship didn’t work out because it just wasn’t meant to be, or the timing was off.
We’re allowed to give ourselves the dignity of our own closure and make our endings more Butch and Sundance. It’s something you’re very unlikely to regret.
*Actually, even teenagers should try to end things with love. Chips are never the solution.