A New Breakup Method Just Dropped: ‘Letter of Closure’
“Guys, she said yes, and it’s now official!” sounds like an engagement announcement. But, as part of a tweet that is going viral on social media, it’s a far cry from a declaration of coupling. Instead, it reports the formal end to a situationship — replete with a “letter of closure” signed and executed by the parties. “I regret to inform you that I will be unable to continue our relationship… I hope you appreciate that this was not an easy decision for me to make. Yet, I believe it is critical for me to be true to myself and my ideals,” it states.
In a culture where casual dates, one-night stands, and situatonships are growing increasingly common, attaining closure is becoming progressively elusive. In our quest for closure, however, we may have just fallen into another feature of the zeitgeist that this letter epitomizes: templatized communication that, for some, may feel worse than blunt honesty.
The term, “closure,” attained buzzword status years ago — attributed, often, to our cultural obsession with Ross and Rachel’s on-and-off, will they-won’t they dynamic on the TV show F.R.I.E.N.D.S. When a besotted, heartbroken, and inebriated Rachel left messages on Ross’s answering machine in her pursuit of closure, audiences watched with bated breath — absorbing the word into their vocabulary, finally able to verbalize the angst that follows in the aftermath of a relationship that ended abruptly.
Experts have frequently weighed in on how important closure can be for people. “Closure looks different for everyone, but at its core, it’s a sense of completion and release from the entanglement of the relationship,” explains Myree Morsi, a transformational therapist. In the absence of closure, one may find themselves “entangled energetically, mentally or emotionally with [their exes].” This is precisely what often makes almost relationships — or, situationships — more difficult to move on from, compared to actual relationships.
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Closure can be hard to come by in today’s dating landscape — dominated by situationships that often lack clear communication between the parties involved. The lack of commitment complicates the process of seeking accountability, often denying people the closure they might need to put the situationship behind them. “When we seek closure we are looking for answers as to the cause of a certain loss in order to resolve the painful feelings it has created. In doing this, we appear to form a mental puzzle of what’s happened — examining each piece and its relationship to the overall puzzle,” psychologist Pam Ramsden had written in The Conversation in 2018. “Closure is achieved when we are satisfied that the puzzle has been assembled to our satisfaction, that the answers have been reached and it is, therefore, possible to move on.”
The hot-and-cold cycle of situationships, further, makes it challenging to even discern its closing — let alone granting one closure. This is, perhaps, the reason behind the appeal of the explicit, unambiguous letter, which, too, was born out of a situationship.
But while many netizens have lauded the viral letter as an amiable solution, some do find it off-putting and distant. The letter speaks to the permeation of therapy-speak — template-like responses that sound like an HR representative’s email, or stuff one hears from their therapist — into our everyday conversations and relationships. Especially in the aftermath of the pandemic, with #mentalhealth trending on social media on an almost-daily basis, the language of therapy has caught on — HR-ifying our relationships, in the process. “We are psychologically overwhelmed by the pandemic and world events in a way that has brought many of us to our knees… Language feels like a way to rebuild and support a structure for a healthier approach to life,” Charlotte Fox Weber, a psychotherapist, told the British Vogue.
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On the one hand, the rise of therapy speak can foster direct communication in an age where instant reactions are the default expectation in communication. It can also come in handy as a readymade script for situations where one may not know how to respond in a way that’s not insensitive or invalidating to the experience of their conversation partner. 25-year-old Anjali* had told The Swaddle in 2021: “When big things are being communicated to me, I just want to sit in silence and process it before saying anything. But that is often construed as ‘I told her so much, and she didn’t say anything.'”
But on the other hand, parroting a script at people can also sound impersonal — or, as Slate called it, “canned and prescriptive.” The viral letter, too, doesn’t delve into the impugned “issue” that prompted its writer to “reconsider [the] relationship.” It is entirely possible that the couple discussed it between themselves, and didn’t want to make it a part of the public announcement of their uncoupling. But with scores of people requesting PDF copies of the letter to use in their own dating lives, it stands the risk of becoming a template response, perpetuating more, not less, indifference in a culture that’s already reeling from the lack of connection — and from loneliness.
Much like the anxiety that seeing one’s partner unexpectedly change their relationship status on social media can trigger, being served with a letter terminating the union with vague references to “issues,” can be perplexing and emotionally jarring. “[It] sounds awfully cruel, completely robbing you of your right to find out why you have been dumped so that you can get some closure and move on,” Ramsden had opined on a similar tactic. The letter of closure, then, can paradoxically deny its recipients precisely that: closure.
Not to mention, it can adversely impact open communication and passionate discourse, too, much like the pressure to say the “right” things, at all times, has already done. For those intending to use the letter in their personal lives, then, customization appears to be the key.