“People put so much effort into starting a relationship and so little effort into ending one.”
I was deeply touched by a story about Marina Abramovic in this issue of The New Yorker.
She and her partner are both well-known performance artists. Upon deciding to split—after a very long time together—they both started walking the Great Wall of China, but each starting on opposite ends. When they met in the middle, they said good-bye to each other.
My modus operandi, for so many things in life, has been to quietly let things go. I used to adore the Billy Joel song, “Surprises”: “Don’t get excited, don’t say a word. Nobody noticed, nothing was heard. It was committed discreetly, it was handled so neatly. And it shouldn’t surprise you at all.”
I used to think it was incredibly mature to end things without any fuss—that endings are simply the natural way of things, and if we scrub life down to basic-basic, what does it all really matter anyway?
The problem with this posturing is that it bypasses ritual and de-emphasizes the importance of a person or of a time in your life. It doesn’t acknowledge the start of a new cycle. And without a ritual to mark a new cycle, you can wake up with the past clinging to you like a cockleburr.
Another problem relates to what Alain de Botton has said: “Life without ritual: burden of having to mark all significance oneself.”
It’s bigger than that, though. It’s not just about marking and celebrating the significance with others. It’s also about gathering support, and signaling a change in direction so that other people can adjust, too.
As I write this, it all feels very simple and not worth pointing out.
But I come from a family where the concept of ritual is next to nonexistent. We don’t even have a way of saying good-bye to each other at the end of trips—we scatter.
I suppose there is a certain amount of vulnerability in these things. You have to admit through any ritual: This is (or has been) important to me. This is meaningful. You don’t protect how you feel or pretend that you’ll be just the same as always.
Sometimes, I’m amazed at how hard it can be to admit or reveal we really feel something.