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  • Olivia Sanders
    Olivia Sanders

    Why Do We Care So Much About Endings?

    When we think back to our most meaningful experiences, we often find ourselves reflecting upon their endings. When a relationship has fallen apart, even after having been nurtured for years, it is the emotional sting of the farewell that can linger for days or weeks afterward. After hearing a song we love, it's the crescendo that resonates loudest in our recollection. When something has gone unresolved, the final moments seem to be encapsulated into a feeling that lingers and clouds our next steps. We care so deeply about endings because they affix a profound level of gravity to our recollections – we use them as tools to determine how we perceive a story, situation, or track. And while we recognize this pull and sway, should we really care so much about endings?

    Throughout our lives we accept that endings are inevitable; however, what if our dependency on them as markers for memory are misplaced? We ground ourselves in them for guidance, for solace, and for guidance. Yet, what opportunity does this dependency on our endings create for stopping short of finding a proactive solution? Perhaps, the lingering power of the end is drawing us away from the strength that comes from generating better awareness during the experience, rather than once it's through.

    In spite of this, we continue to be swayed by endings. According to a seminal study, people were found to prefer a longer painful experience to a shorter one, so long as the end was difficulty-free. Human behavior is seemingly subject to the emotions associated with endpoints instead of the act itself, which could explain why, for example, relationships break up with such regularity despite the potential stimulation, warmth and excitement that may have built up earlier. Thus, our care for endings is rooted in feeling – not data, experience or judgement – and this lends itself to a vulnerability that makes us emotionally susceptible to prolonging an already failing relationship.

    Our care for endings goes beyond relational pain. Studies have found that when anticipatory outcomes are strongest at the close of an event or situation, these positive or negative expectations can actually dictate the satisfaction we feel about our experience, even if the entirety of the endeavor was marked by strong emotions. Endings, then, come to become glorified gateways between perception and fulfillment – between wondering and knowing. But it's worth noting that aligning our hope too firmly with the heart of the ending can create a dangerous reliance on purity of closure as a marker of the health of a relationship, situation or task.

    What Do We Lose?

    When we allow endings to take precedence over the journey toward them, we potentially surrender the good parts that could compensate for the bad – an appreciation for the journey, pride in the work and contentment in the in-between. In many ways, the obsession with endings disposes us to see timing as a predicating factor as opposed to having faith in the subtlety of human experience. Endings may signify change, but for the sake of ridding ourselves of perpetual dissatisfaction, shouldn't our focus be on retrospectively harvesting insight and knowledge rather than leaning too far either way solely on the basis of endings?

    We hear the adage "all good things must come to an end" and it's perhaps no surprise that we have become so invested in openings and closings, in beginnings and endings; what else do we have to show for the rush of life? But as we are educated and nurtured, should we start to adjust our compasses to gift priority to the in-between moments? To test our capacity to make sound judgements both during and after fully exploring a situation? Rather channelling our energy into the power of endings, which can often be problematic predictors, maybe the trick is accepting the chaos of life and gaining courage and confidence to embrace the liminal moments that await us without relying so heavily on preordained summations.

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