#2: The Relationship is Over When Emotional Distance Becomes a Chasm
Then there’s emotional closeness, and a lack thereof—an emotional chasm—is yet another way to know when a relationship is over.
We’ve all seen movie after movie of cold-hearted husbands or wives making our poor hero or heroine miserable, and we sympathize with them because we think they deserve better, in part because we believe that we would want better for ourselves, as well, were we in such a loveless relationship.
However, emotional distance isn’t always so clear cut, and people are rarely so cartoonishly-villainous.
People grow apart, and recognizing that you no longer share the same interests with someone—or that your hopes and dreams run contrary to theirs—is yet another way to know when a relationship is over, and it’s time to move on, as failing to do so can be costly.
Take the example of Tony and Brenda Last from Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust. They’re in their 30s, are both nice if easily-mocked characters—as is the case with so many Waugh creations—and they get along…fine. Just fine. And Tony himself is…well, just fine with that.
For Brenda, however, the lack of excitement or emotional engagement on Tony’s part depresses and bores her. She wants to get out there and live life, while he’s more of a homebody and dedicated to the preservation of his estate.
Nothing’s intrinsically wrong with either position there, and neither person is really venomous or totally at fault—it’s simply a case of two people drifting apart, but lacking the foresight to know when the relationship is over between them.
They quibble over the look of their home, Hetton. Tony prefers its calm, stony, “English Gothic” style, while Brenda wants something more modern and inviting, because she wants guests over so she can actually socialize.
Both are so wrapped up in their own sense of pride and appearances—how they appear to one another and others, the appearances of the home, etc.—that they lose sight of the fact that things aren’t working between them…or perhaps that’s their intent.
It is tempting, if you know when a relationship is over, to do your best to ignore that fact. Waugh presents satirical portrait of both that classic British trope of “keeping up appearances” and the crumbling foundations of a relationship beneath that façade.
Eventually, Brenda rents a flat in London and has a fling with a younger, malleable, more naïve man, while Tony is so fixated on his home that he’s completely oblivious to the growing emotional distance between himself and his wife—again, before it’s too late.
A divorce finally comes, which promises to be long, and so Tony goes off to South America for a trip, one which, through a series of events, ends with him presumed dead at home while actually remaining captive to a passive-aggressive old white man in Brazil who insists he read him the works of Dickens over and over (did we mention Waugh had a taste for irony?)
Neither admit or know when the relationship is over between them, and it costs them both—Tony loses home (and maybe his life) while Brenda can’t get her divorce with Tony absent so long according to the law, and little by little loses the money and lifestyle she wanted in the first place.
Recognizing emotional distance, rather than distancing yourself from that reality a la Tony and Brenda, is vital in gaining the ability to know when a relationship is over.