About ambiguity when ending a relationship, “Separating” by John Updike arguably says there should be a clear declaration even if it’s unclear why the partnership is over.
One way to think about ambiguity when ending a relationship is how Joan and Richard tell their kids. Updike writes, “Joan thought they should be told one by one. Richard was for making an announcement at the table.” The process possibly counters ambiguity. They want to tell their children in a formal, thought-out way so they know there is no ambiguity. They are separating, and they don’t want to equivocate about what’s occurring.
At the same time, there is quite a bit of ambiguity because it’s not clear why they’re separating instead of taking more concrete steps. As Judith puts it, “I think it’s silly. You should either live together or get divorced.” John then wants to know why his parents didn’t tell them that they “weren’t getting along.” Richard replies, “We do get along.” Their harmony indicates that relationships don’t always come undone because of obvious reasons. Think about how the end of the story, with the emphasis on the word why, highlights the doubt that can arise when ending a relationship.