I’ve always believed in a clean breakup. In other words, I do the breaking up and then I insist we have no further contact.
That is why I was struck by this sentiment uttered by performance artist Marina Abramovic in the New Yorker: ”People put so much effort into starting a relationship and so little effort into ending one.”
The obvious rebuttal is “duh.” Of course. In the end, you’re over it; you’re done trying.
In many of my past relationships, I’ve walked away irritated and fed up, my frustrations building and my armor on long before the words “it’s over” were said. I believed in preliminary coping through resentment. My instinct, even when my heart was broken, was to immediately gather up whatever dignity I had left and move on. Survive.
To have the courage to honor what you once had, in the moment that it’s over, to celebrate its existence and its ending simultaneously, both of you together, seems absurdly healthy. To also incorporate individual time and space to heal, not to mention, one last romantic gesture done in solidarity, seems downright miraculous.
For decades, Abramovic has used her body and mind in studies of willpower and endurance, and throughout the 70s and 80s, her longtime lover and collaborator, Ulay, would also perform with her—their backs to each other, their hair braided together; their mouths connected, sucking in each other’s breath until they had run out of oxygen; their naked bodies facing each other in a museum doorway, forcing those passing through to squeeze between them.
They had planned to walk along the Great Wall of China as well, but by the time the arrangements had gone through, they had broken up.
Still, they continued with the performance. Except now she walked from the east, he from the west. On March 30, 1988, three months later, they met in the middle and said goodbye.
(Above: Last month at her MOMA performance/retrospective, “The Artist Is Present,” where every day, Abramovic invites museum goers to sit across from her in silence. With her is Ulay. This is the first time they have seen each other since 1988.)