Opinion | Seniors, it’s time to burn your bridges

By Sarah Liez, Senior Staff Columnist

I’m the kind of person who likes to burn bridges. In the summer between middle and high school, I reconsidered most of my friendships. Who spent time with me because I was funny? Who spent time with me because it was easy? Who spent time with me because they really cared for me? 

After “careful” consideration — and I put this in quotes because I was an angsty 14-year-old who hadn’t yet learned the difference between convenient friends and real friends — I cut off most of my so-called friends.

While I ended up rekindling most of these relationships after more thought — and because I was a lonely teenager in over her head — I repeated the pattern when I graduated high school. Fed up with drama and exclusive social circles and petty gossip, I called it quits. Screw everyone else, I thought to myself. I know who my real friends are and they’re not you, you or you.

At the end of my four years of undergraduate education, I find myself tempted to do the same once more. I graduated middle school and burnt all of my bridges. I graduated high school and burnt all of my bridges — I’m graduating college, so am I going to burn my bridges once more?

I ask myself the following questions. Is this a pattern I’m proud of? One I want to continue? Do I want to burn all my bridges and destroy most of my relationships every time I move on to another stage in life?

As the clock ticks and my departure from Pittsburgh grows closer, I find myself at an impasse. I’ve decided that while, yes, I am going to burn my bridges once more, my philosophy has changed. Burning my bridges doesn’t mean ending all of my fake friendships — what it really means is telling people the truth.

In order to properly — and, hopefully, once and for all — burn my bridges, I’ve decided to employ honesty, tie up loose ends and get closure. Whether that means mending a broken relationship or burning one to the ground, I’m going to do it — at least, this is what I keep telling myself — and you should too.

By telling people your truth, you lift a weight off of your chest. Turbulent relationships can create significant strains on your mental health and personal image. When conflict arises with a person you care about, you may question your worth. You may question your place in the world. You may question whether they felt, or still feel, the same for you — and you will never know the answer until you ask them.

Closure is a valuable commodity, a sword you can thrust through the heart of your anguish. By actively pursuing closure, you regain some semblance of control over your emotions. You can choose how to navigate relationships on your own terms, not on someone else’s. Instead of merely licking the wounds from a relationship gone awry, you can heal them.

You will never find true closure — closure in your relationships or closure within yourself — if you refrain from speaking the truth. We go through life feigning sincerity. We pretend to miss people when we don’t, we say we’ll make plans and catch up when we won’t and we say we’re okay when we’re not. If you never say what’s truly on your mind, if you keep your emotions too close to your chest, you’ll never get honesty. Instead, you’ll perpetuate the cycle of falsity, deception and lies.

However, our honest words have strings attached. The phrase “burn your bridges” literally means to do something that makes it impossible to return to the previous situation. Once you tell someone the truth, once you take the bridge between you and them and light it on fire, you can’t turn back. You can build upon those ashes, but while some of the infrastructure might have survived, it can take a lot of work. It may even be impossible.

And, like many others, I’m not good with change. Many of my unresolved relationships are in a stalemate. They may not be put to rest, but they’re not disrupting my life either. It is too easy to sit back and ponder what could’ve been and what could be instead of finding out for yourself.

But you only live once. If you’re leaving, or they’re leaving, you may never get this opportunity again. You may never see this person again. You must weigh the pros and cons of reaching out and taking that closure before it slips away and make a decision. You are gifted with the ability to pacify your ghosts before they can haunt you forever. Graduation is coming fast, and if not now, when?

I’ve been here for four long years — four years of grueling coursework and self-consuming extracurriculars and meticulously budgeting my time. During this time, I’ve forged and relinquished relationships. I no longer talk to my first-year friends despite thinking about and missing them all the time. I got so close to someone that I called their family my own, and they set a place for me at Thanksgiving. I was excluded and forgotten by someone I thought I’d know for the rest of my life, and this is something that has kept me up at night for months.

I’ve been excommunicated from social circles. I’ve been the good guy and the bad guy. I’ve been ghosted and heartbroken and lifted up by the people around me. As I reflect on these relationships, I remind myself that they’ve made me a stronger person. I remind myself that it’s not too late to set things right. I remind myself that I have the power to create my own closure — first, I just need to work up the courage to do so. I have thus written this article, my final article, to find this courage — and to help you find it too.

To my intended audience, I hope you take my philosophy and run with it. I hope you find the people who hurt you and tell them how you feel. I hope you find the people who love you and tell them you love them back. I hope you have the balls to create your own closure and make peace with everyone around you.

And to the people who I’ve hurt and been hurt by, to the people I’ve forgotten and been forgotten by, to the people I have yet to make peace with — if you’re reading this, and I hope you are, expect a text from me soon.

Come June, I’ll be leaving Pittsburgh for good, metaphorically burning the bridges — and there are 446 of them, give or take — of the city that nurtured my growing soul, that’s led me toward and away from you. And I will repeat this to myself again and again, a mantra that throbs within every inch of my being and escapes my lips gingerly — I will forgive, but I will not forget. I hope you can do the same for me.

Sarah Liez writes primarily about gender issues and social phenomena. Write to her at [email protected].