Kayaking for Closure


Most recently split-up couples wouldn’t plan a vacation to the romantic San Juan Islands. My ex and I ended up there when he worked a stint at the university’s research station. Six months after ending our four-year relationship, we missed each other. It hadn’t been a stormy break-up – it was just that we couldn’t agree on anything, and after graduate school, it seemed a natural time to go our separate ways.

Reminder of what we lost?
After a tentative first day on the island, dancing politely around each other, on the second day we signed up for a half-day sea kayaking excursion. As we donned our life vests and chose our kayak, I noticed the three other two-somes were couples. I thought to myself, “Was this a mistake? Spending hours on a trip with couples, only to remind us of what we’d lost?”

I got my answer when we hit our first bed of kelp. The two other couples that were about our age, or slightly older, were arguing so loudly we could all hear it. “I TOLD you not to go this way!” “If you’d only listened to me, we wouldn’t be stuck!”

My ex and I managed to teamwork our way through the kelp. We knew each other’s trigger points and instead of launching grenades into them, we bent over backwards trying to see the other person’s perspective.  We no longer needed to keep score, or to gather more proof that our way was better. As we enjoyed each other’s company, and the view, one of the arguing couples paddled by. The woman smoldered with resentment as the man glared in disgust.  And so it went, all the way down the island, and all the way back.

Knowing it was meant to be
At our mid-way stop for snacks, we saw the youngest couple canoodling on a log. After hearing the other couples locked in the power struggle my ex and I had recently freed ourselves from, I was able to be happy for these young ‘uns. They told us they were on their honeymoon. The woman looked at the other couples and back to us, and asked, “What’s your secret to getting along? You seem to be doing better than those other couples.”

Ahh, the irony.  My ex and I smiled at each other – our glance acknowledged then that we both knew it was over. Even better for our mental health, we knew it was meant to be over. We’d had a great love and it had run its course. We had to tell the young couple that our secret to getting along on the kayak was that we’d just split up as a couple.

I realize there are some couples out there who successfully manage real teamwork, but it’s a complex formula. After years of trying, my ex and I just couldn’t manage to live together even though we loved each other. The trip that we hoped would rekindle the relationship helped us to end it gracefully.