Life Advice for Book Lovers: Looking for Closure After a “Situationship”
Book Recommendations for the Troubled Soul
I’m a working-to-be writer who just got out of a “situationship,” as the kids call it, with an established and commercially successful artist. We never had any expectation of monogamy, though I have not seen anyone but him. While we were together this man was deeply kind, attentive, and thoughtful. He is well known in the art community in my city for being this way, has many friends, and is overall deeply loved by many people. When we were not together it was like I didn’t exist.
In the last few months he has become especially busy with his art and traveling quite a bit. He kept telling me that this was why I couldn’t see him, and I was happy for him that at least he was doing something that he loved. Come to find out through mutual contacts that he is also seeing someone else, who just happens to be younger and thinner than me, and is seeing her quite frequently while he told me he just didn’t have time.
I’m not angry that he was seeing someone else. And I’m not mad if he wants to start seeing this person and not see me anymore. But every other breakup that I’ve had has actually been a breakup. Here, however, I’ve just been set adrift. It’s not quite ghosting since he will answer me if I text him, but he’s made excuses to not fit me into his schedule for about two months now, so I can take a hint. My birthday is next week and I don’t even anticipate a perfunctory text message.
It’s one thing to be a little bummed that someone you had really liked doesn’t want to continue your relationship, it’s another to not even be worth the decency of a text stating that so I can have my cry and move on. Especially when the relationship wasn’t toxic or abusive or manipulative or any of those things, but someone just exhibits run of the mill shittiness.
The book I usually reach for in times like this is Patti Smith’s M Train. I’m looking for other things along those lines, for essays about when closure doesn’t come and stories that don’t wrap up in a satisfactory way, and yet the characters go on. Overall my life is going well and this is a minor thing, but I still want to take my time to feel a bit sorry for myself with a book that understands.
Stuck in a Nebulous Cloud
Belatedly, happy birthday. You might or might not have gotten that perfunctory text, but I hope this shoutout is a worthy consolation prize.
I’m sorry that this situationship didn’t pan out the way you wanted. It’s disconcerting to reach the end of a story and to find an ellipses where you thought a period would be, or no punctuation mark at all, really. Closure is a tricky thing. We chase after it, but rarely is any ending satisfying because we build them up so much in our heads: the grand goodbye. We think it’s going to be Humphrey Bogart in a trench coat saying, “Here’s looking at you kid.”
In reality, men are more like groundhogs. They pop up occasionally, and then they retreat underground. We hold them up and look to them for signs of the future: six more weeks of winter, or will we get to feel the warmth of the sun soon? We’re always disappointed with the results. And the groundhog? He gets to go back to his hole and seems overall unaffected by this whole ceremony. (Not to dismiss the aforementioned man’s shitty behavior, though! Unlike the humble groundhog, that guy knew what he was doing. Punxsutawney Phil would never!)
In life, I think we search for endings that honor the thing we had. It feels like a lackluster final act reflects poorly on the whole show. It casts a shadow (sorry, still thinking about groundhogs) of doubt over every good memory. But both things can be true: It was great while it lasted. And he wasn’t deserving of you in the end.
No one seeks closure more than a writer, which you are. (You are!) We want so badly for the arc of our lives to make sense, or at least to be satisfying in some beautiful way. Take it from someone who has tried to force her life into the shape of a good story many times: it doesn’t work, and that’s okay. People never say the script we’ve written for them in our heads, but you know who does? Our characters.
Because you mentioned Patti Smith’s essays, I might recommend Chelsea Hodson’s collection Tonight I’m Someone Else, which has a similar meandering and ruminative quality, contemplative about love and self, cut with sharp wit and gutting sentences.
But the book I think you need most of all right now is Lily King’s Writers & Lovers, a wonderful novel about a “working-to-be-writer” (as you put it) who is mourning the death of her mother and who is navigating two affairs—one with an older, more established novelist. The men she dates are enchanting, infuriating, confounding. She’s good company to wallow with. But the heart of the whole thing is the protagonist’s dedication to her novel-in-progress. She laments the fact that most of her artistic friends have shed their ambitions in favor of a more “practical” career path. Men come and go, but Writers & Lovers is a much-needed reminder that we will always have our own stories, and in that way, we can still have the life we imagined for ourselves.
Much love and luck to you, writer.