Relationships are hard. At least, that’s what many of us tell ourselves. And there is truth to it; to choose love, over and over, especially when it is not easy or convenient, requires enduring effort. But the endings of relationships are just as difficult, if not more so.
Like most, I’ve had my share of painful breakups. The worst for me happened last November, when I ended a relationship with my partner of three years and left our dream home and a comfortable life in the Bay Area for the great, lonely unknown.
Enter another age-old adage: Love, and the loss of it, makes you do crazy things. Breakups can lead you down impulsive, seemingly irrational paths. My experience is the perfect example of this.
Shortly after packing everything I owned into a stuffy 10x10 storage unit, I decided to leave the country for three months to work with an eclectic artist in Central America. I spent Christmas eating spaghetti all’ubriac with a family of Italians in the jungle of Belize, and welcomed the new year in an intimate women’s circle on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.
I couldn’t have planned that that was how 2017 would end for me. It was nothing I imagined for myself, and yet it was everything I needed.
The first thing that friends will tell you after a breakup is that everything happens for a reason ― even when the reason doesn’t reveal itself for months or even years. Everything happens for a reason. As cheesy as it sounds, I do believe that.
As part of my journey through emotional healing and self-exploration in Central America, I immersed myself in the practices of conscious, countercultural communities. I observed how more fluid romantic connections (read: poly/open relationships) could be sustained in a healthy, regenerative way. I witnessed how even the smallest, most insignificant events ― from collecting a few extra eggs for breakfast to waking up to unexpected rain ― can be celebrated and made sacred.
At a trance music festival in Guatemala, I met a couple who had held a beautiful closing ceremony to end their long-term partnership. I was intrigued; I had never thought to end a relationship in such a conscious, intentional way. Every life event, I mused, could be ceremonious, including breakups. I didn’t expect that months later, I would be given the opportunity to hold my own closing ceremony.
While at the same music festival, I met a man who changed my life. He was everything: smart, driven, spiritually awakened. I didn’t think I was ready for it, but my heart felt open to the possibility of loving again.
We cultivated a beautiful connection that lasted long after we left the jungle; me, back to the Bay Area, and him, across the country in Washington, D.C. For six months, we maintained a long-distance relationship and it was magical. Until, as sometimes happens, the connection no longer made sense for us to continue.
Despite the pain of our breakup, our closing ceremony was one of the most beautiful breakups ― and, possibly, life events ― I have ever experienced.
After the ceremony, I gushed about the experience to everyone ― friends, clients, even first dates. How did it take me this long to discover this? I wondered. Everyone should know about and practice closing ceremonies!
The basic premise of the closing ceremony involves co-creating special rituals to honor the end of the relationship.
If this sounds too big and unfathomable, it’s not. Think of it as planning a funeral (which, in a sense, it is). Often, we don’t allow ourselves to grieve breakups. But the end of a relationship, no matter how long or short, warrants a mourning period, just as a death does. And like a funeral, a closing ceremony might have speeches, songs, laughter, tears. Perhaps close friends and family. And it’s highly encouraged to have food.
At the same time, there is no “right way” to hold a closing ceremony. What it looks like will differ depending on the people involved. I know couples who have treated the event with as much fanfare as a wedding, announcing it on social media and inviting friends to participate. We opted for an “elopement” version ― a quieter, more intimate ceremony.
For us, the process was threefold and involved 1) gratitude, 2) honor and 3) vision.
Gratitude. We opened the ceremony by burning sage, followed by a period of individual reflection and journaling. We took time to express genuine thanks to each other, voicing the qualities we each loved most about the other person. This helped to establish a foundation built on respect and a new kind of love for each other.
Honor. Then we took turns sharing our favorite memories. We opted, at this point, to “break bread.” We had put together a picnic and sat on Baker Beach with breathtaking views of the shroud-covered Golden Gate Bridge. The mood felt light and nourishing.
Vision. Lastly, we imagined what the future held for us, as individuals and, now, as platonic partners. This helped to cultivate excitement about what lay ahead for us, and alleviated some of the pain of ending our relationship. The ceremony began with gratitude, but it closed on a hopeful note.
Writing these steps in retrospect is simple enough, but I’ll be honest: This wasn’t an easy process for me. My feelings of gratitude and love were peppered with doubt, disappointment, fear. Were we making the right decision? What if we (I) never found this kind of intimacy again? Could I endure being alone again?
The answer, of course, was yes. Sitting with that discomfort throughout the ceremony, knowing that this pain was necessary, I felt like I’d been given a gift. Essentially, I was pressing fast-forward through weeks, even months, of requisite post-breakup healing. Imagine if all suffering could be that efficient!
Closing ceremonies may not work for every relationship. They are most effective when both parties have open minds and hearts, and there is little resentment or ill feeling present. That’s not to say closing ceremonies are impossible under any other circumstances, but in some cases it might be a good idea to wait until the wounds aren’t as fresh, then try it.
One thing is certain: Breakups are never easy. I am convinced, though, that there is a better way to do them. And what “better” looks like can be different for each person. I encourage everyone to explore the idea of a more conscious alternative over the traditional way of breaking up.
In my experience, no relationship has ever ended as beautifully or honestly, or with as much love, intention and vulnerability, as the one I ended with a closing ceremony. And now I wish this for all of my relationships, romantic or otherwise. I wish this peace for everyone.
I think we can all do a better job of letting down our defenses, accepting who we are and what is present in our lives, honoring our endings with grace and gratitude, forgetting the cliches and reinventing the ways we break up.