In all of our lives, there are times when we just have to let go of someone. It comes when your long-term relationship comes to a close, or your casual non-boyfriend doesn’t want to take things more seriously; or when you have a great first date with someone and you never hear back and it hurts waaay more than you thought appropriate.
How good are you at handling it? I only recently realized that I’m terrifically bad at it: In each of my two previous long term relationships, I suffered the post-breakup so badly that I asked my ex to take me back. Neither did. (In one, I was the one who initiated the breakup, and in the other, I got broken up with. I don’t know which is more embarrassing/humiliating–both equally?!)
After the trauma of not-getting-taken-back second time, I resolved to avoid being hurt at all costs. I even tricked myself into believing that I got really great at emotional detachment, turning “caring feelings” on and off. That felt like the greatest superpower ever! But now I look back and see someone who was still suffering miserably, only this time with less visible neediness.
The thing is, letting go of someone you love/like is not supposed to be a piece of cake. It doesn’t matter how long or fleeting or official your relationship was–if you cared for someone, and shared a piece of you with him/her, it’s gonna hurt like hell. Here are my tips on how to let go and move forward with grace.
1. Don’t judge yourself.
So you were supposed to be this calm, self-possessed, self-radiant woman who wouldn’t turn into putty just because some guy didn’t return your text or broke up with you or whatever. But if you do feel weak, anxious, and frankly, distressed, don’t add to it by piling on guilt. You’re not here in this life to be “someone you’re supposed to be.” You’re here to be you–in all your beautiful imperfections. Don’t try to scold yourself into being “rational.” As Blaise Pascal said: “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” You simply feel the way you do, that is all.
2. Choose the no-regret option.
If you’re having difficulty letting go, your mind is flooded with thoughts like, “should I call him? Should I ask him to take me back? Did he really not see my last text?” Whatever choice you’re struggling with, take the one that you can live with in the long run. Think about the possible consequences of your actions and what you’d gain or lose by each.
For instance, if you do text someone and he doesn’t reply, it will make you feel unwanted–but perhaps you’ll feel less regret, knowing he didn’t want you, after all. Do a cost-benefits analysis and stick to the one that feels less ultimately burdensome, and less riddled with what-if’s.
3. Be honest with yourself.
We come up with all sorts of (not 100% honest) ways to explain our emotions. Ask yourself why exactly you feel that way. Is it because you really know deep inside your heart that you love this person and you must not lose him/her at any cost? Or is it because you’re feeling lonely right now and you need company; or because you miss dating in general; or maybe because you’re bored and need excitement? The important distinction is: is this feeling of loss really about that specific person, or something else? Once you answer this question honestly, you can fully commit to closure.
4. Talk to someone you trust.
The best thing to do, when letting go of someone, is to talk about it with someone you trust. Sometimes what you really need for closure is to talk it through, even if it’s not your ex, but your best friends. Their perspectives will help you see things more clearly, whatever choices you do make.
5. Be gentle with yourself.
You may be tempted to channel this excess of emotions into a flurry of self-improvement projects, new workout regimen, hobbies, and social engagements. If that helps you brighten up, by all means go for it–but if all that busyness is just there to hide your sadness from yourself (or make your ex jealous of how well you’re coping, thank youverymuch), take a step back. The most generous thing you can do is to give yourself some time to relax emotionally and physically. Because ultimately, emotions will demand to be acknowledged for what they are.
6. Appreciate the relationship for what it was.
By all means, acknowledge all good that the relationship did for you, at that time in your life. Had an unbelievable short-term connection with someone you met during your year abroad? (That you’re still struggling to forget, six months later?) Appreciate that you met someone and grew in ways you didn’t expect, shared experiences you otherwise couldn’t have. Had a few months’ casual dating that faded away? You got your feet wet (and hopefully both of you had a reasonable amount of fun). Not everyone you like or even love has to come along with you all the way in life.
Are you good at letting go and moving forward? Or do you have to nurse your soul back to health for a while? (Haha, no debate which camp I’m on…)
More relationship advice: 3 Ways to Recommit to Your Relationship
Photo: Joe St.Pierre via Flickr; Hedda Selder via Flickr