Old business first: Here’s the missing link to the Polan chapter on pot from last week.

When a partnership ends, how do you decide what happened? How do you formulate the end of the story? How do you get closure? How do you box its remains and label them for storage?

There are 50 ways to leave your lover, or business partner or parent or mentor or student or band mate, or pal–they apply to any kind of breakup. I’m going to concentrate here on three general approaches. Three main ways we do it: One by land, two by sea.

One by land

During your partnership you occupied common ground. As citizens of the same territory you had a patriotic story about the partnership, about who you were, why you were together and what was great about it. Having agreed for so long about the partnership’s meaning, it’s natural to try to find common ground on the meaning of its ending.

Natural, but pretty much impossible. As a partnership starts to fall apart the common ground develops fissures. Some of these fissures are in the partners’ behaviors and some are in the stories that the partners tell about the partnership. Conversation fills increasingly with one partner trying to persuade the other how to read what’s going on with “us.” As the partners fight more unsuccessfully they also resist more, and their respective stories become increasingly polarized.

And once a breakup is imminent, the story’s function changes radically too. While you were trying to make the partnership work you focused on what is good, and ignored what was bad about being in it. But as you start to pull away you want the opposite kind of story. Focusing on what was good about it is painful and erodes your resolve to leave it. Focusing on what was bad about it is how you gain escape velocity so you can achieve lift-off out of your partnership’s gravitational field.

As it ends you have to tell stories that affirm your decision to give up. You say things like, “He has this bad trait and it’s never going to change. And to the extent that he agrees that it’s a bad trait, he’s got to believe that it can change. You need different stories now. Stories that will be like oil and water to each other.

In other words, the one by land has too many land mines. Realistically you’re going to have to come up with your own story.

One by sea:

You and your ex are now islands to each other. Sad but true. There’s a great sea between you and so you’re going to have to decide how to read the end by yourself.

In a way though, that’s perfect. With your partner out of the picture, you can picture your partner anyway that suits you. This freedom affords you a very efficient way to get closure. Simply say it was all your partner’s fault.

Very efficient and possibly very accurate. While it’s rare that a partnership’s demise is fully one partners fault, it’s not impossible. Sometimes it’s just like that. Mostly though it’s not, but since sometimes it is, claims that it was in your case are potentially credible to yourself and others.

So the story of the end can be simple, short, easy to remember, and easy to tell:

“She was insane.”

“Swear to God, I tried put up with him it was simply impossible. He had a mean streak a mile long.”

“Sure I made mistakes too. I made the mistake of believing I could make it work with that evil creep.”

To add to your story’s credibility, all you have to do is speak with judicious authority. Diagnose your partner as though you are primarily concerned for his or her welfare and for the welfare of his or her future partners. Do it with insistent conviction and your friends will be too polite and backed off to challenge you.

Don’t go overboard, of course. A few carefully chosen words of condemnation will suffice. Usually, the less said the better, or even your friends might try to remind you of your ex’s good side.

At least choose your audience well. Most of us have at least one friend who will side with us enthusiastically no matter what. Talk to that friend.

You can tell I’m not very fond of this approach, but I do see why people would use it. And people use it a lot. First, because sometimes it really is mostly one partner’s fault, but most importantly because it provides instantaneous peace of mind. If you can believe it, you’re instantly exonerated. You don’t have to feel remorse, regret, or self-doubt.

The practical costs and risks are high though. For one, you forego the chance to learn from your mistakes so you’re likely to repeat them and cause yourself and others further pain. For another it often backfires by encouraging your partner to do the same and blame you for everything, which can be excruciating. And speaking of excruciating, dumping undeserved blame on your ex-partners is cruel and crippling to people you professed to care for, making them that much more wary to love again. We should try not to leave our partners more hardened and callous than we found them.

Perhaps most importantly, taking this approach will degrade your BS detector. Every time you fast-track a self-serving rationalization that explains away your own contribution to problems, you de-calibrate your intuition. You increase your self-deceptibility. And while a little self-deceptibility is good for us, too much throws us way off course.

So all things considered, this is a risky path to closure.

The other by sea

This approach entails actually being at sea a while, a little lost and confused, not sure what happened. You sit with your doubt for a while, or more precisely, you try un-successfully to settle on one story or another until, with time, a story settles out.

You’ll oscillate between blaming yourself and blaming your partner in what I call a “Sorrytaliatory Cycle.”

This approach is very inefficient. It takes restless uncomfortable time and even still you won’t end up with a fully accurate story. How could you? Partnerships are so complex. We never want just one thing. We never do anything for just one reason. What we do never has just one effect.

No matter how much deliberation you give it, your partnership will end up summarized in a way that slights the nuance. Eventually you’ll take that massive knotted tangle of tentacles you attached to each other and put them in a box, label it and store it in your memory. The label can’t possibly describe all the tentacles ,explain how they got there, and divide up the responsibility fair and square. But that’s no reason not to try at least for a while. Of course it’s a question of how long.

It’s humiliating to dwell on past breakups. It seems to indicate you’re the loser, you’re the one who couldn’t find anything better to do after it was over. It’s dwelling on it that makes you want to try to find some precarious land bridge over to your ex- to work it out.

But for those of us who can’t just turn on our heels and trip away from a partnership we were invested in, there is consolation in knowing our BS detectors are, to this extent intact. We are not immune to the power of guilt, shame and remorse. We can’t simply dump it all on someone else for convenience sake. We have the ability to learn and therefore to experience guilt’s counterpart, hard earned joy.

Guilt has dubious status in our culture, but when feeling bad about doing wrong is matched by feeling great for doing right, there’s nothing wrong with it. To be able to tolerate a little guilt means we can pause a moment to reflect as we pack up the partnership’s memorabilia, labeling it carefully before storing it away and moving on.