Why do we burn and smash stuff after splits?

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By Lauren Rosewarne

I have a friend who smudges at the end of romances. This ritual involves sticks and dried herbs and some kind of essential oil, all bundled together with twine. The crunchy bunch will be burnt and all the bad energy from the latest entanglement gets vanquished from her home.

It’s too easy to give this smoky ritual the side eye: I’ve been known to bring my own kind of closure to a relationship by ceremoniously dropping gifts and anything else that he might have touched/soiled/looked at into my building’s garbage chute and revelling in the shatter.

Other women cut their hair, tear up letters, delete emails or post on Instagram photos of themselves taken at the airport departure lounge.

Spurned fans of Taylor Swift who broke off the love affair after she came out as a Democrat took to social media with videos of themselves burning their Tay Tay memorabilia. So broken-hearted are they that she’s supporting two Democrat candidates in the upcoming US midterm election that fans have been denouncing her through the singeing of objects that were once totems of their love.

There’s something deliriously theatrical about the whole marking-the-bust up shebang: that as humans, quietly and privately mourning the end of something isn’t enough; that even rolling into the foetal position and having a good wrenching sob isn’t enough. That sometimes we need to channel our pain into a physical display, and occasionally we’re involving lighter fluid.

My grandma wasn’t a particularly histrionic person – she wasn’t for example, the kind of nonna who’d hurl herself into an open grave at a funeral. One area though, where she let her freak flag fly was by marking the breakdown of family marriages. She’d get out the nail scissors and cut out the ex. Out of every single photo. And then she’d put the photo back in the album or frame. Aunties dressed as brides are still there beaming, the grooms though, are gone in every sense of the word.

For Jews, sorrow at the death of a loved one is sometimes expressed through the tearing of clothes. A symbolic gesture that gives form to grief but also physically represents the gash that the departure has left.

Australians of various cultural/religious backgrounds engage in a range of grief and transition commemorations: think about flowers left near the sites of traffic accidents, or the posting of Facebook messages to dead loved ones who’ve long stopped accessing their account. Think scribbling all over our school uniforms on the last day of high school.

We don’t partake of the full burning/smashing/cutting activities when we’re merely irked, or a little sad, or feeling only vaguely hard done by. Nobody erects a makeshift bonfire in their front yard to burn things that didn’t once mean something – or everything – to us. We burn because it’s over and we don’t know of a better way to deal with our pain.

Such destruction forms part of a very deliberate closure ritual. In a kind of magical thinking venture, we’re expunging the relationship and our obsession with it, and getting rid of every trigger that might turn us into a weepy puddle. We’re making a dramatic statement that we’re done, that it’s over, that the relationship is in ashes and so too is every physical representation of that love.

That Swifties chose flames to conclude their relationship with the singer is a lovely illustration of the metaphor of love as a fire: hot and scorching initially, and charred and ruined at its conclusion. Taylor herself even sang about the ritual of burning photos when love turns to charcoal. The story therefore, has come full circle with Swift – or at least the collectables with her likeness – becoming just another thing for her fans to burn in the aftermath of passion seared by politics.

 

 

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