Everybody seems to have a different rule about how long it should take you to get over something. If it’s a relationship, they tell you half the length of it. If it’s a loss they tell you approximately a year – long enough to go through each special occasion when you’re used to having them by your side. We use language like ‘moving on’ and ‘letting go’ as though they’re actions as simple as shutting a door and physically walking away. We uncurl our fingers and drop whatever we are holding – that’s letting go, right? That’s all it takes?
I don’t think I’ve experienced a single loss in my life that I’ve gotten over in the time frame that seems to have been allotted by society as ‘acceptable.’ And I suspect that I’m not alone there. It is not human nature to let go. We are, at our core, territorial creatures. We fight to hold onto what we love. Giving up isn’t in any way instinctual.
If there’s anything I wish we could talk more about it’s the in-between stages of letting someone go. Because nobody lets go in an instant. You let go once. And then you let go again. And then again and again and again. You let someone go at the grocery store when their favorite type of soup is on sale and you don’t buy it. You let them go again when you’re cleaning your bathroom and have to throw out the bottle of the body wash that smells like them. You let them go that night at the bar when you go home with somebody else or you let them go every year on the anniversary of the day you lost them. Sometimes you’re going to have to let one person go a thousand different times, a thousand different ways, and there’s nothing pathetic or abnormal about that. You are human. And it isn’t always as simple as making one decision and never looking back.
Moving on isn’t always about speeding enthusiastically forward so much as it’s about having one foot on the gas and the other on the brakes – releasing and accelerating in turn. You’re not a failure for getting to someplace amazing and still feeling like a part of yourself is missing once you get there. You’re not pathetic for mourning while you grow. The bad things don’t disappear in the blink of an eye and the good things don’t spring up into existence without reigning at least a tiny bit of collateral damage. It takes time for everything to even out. And it should.
The truth is, none of us want to think of ourselves as works in progress. We want everything to happen instantaneously: Falling in love, falling out of it, letting go of what we know we ought to leave in the past and moving on to whatever comes next. We hate the in-between spaces – the times when we’re okay but not quite there yet. The periods where we suspect that growth is happening but have nothing to show for it. The days when everything feels like it’s falling into place and yet we still go home and cry into our pillow because there’s nobody to share our good fortune with. If success is a staircase, we are eternally taking two steps forward and one step back and that’s okay. That’s how we keep ourselves in check. It’s how we keep ourselves from blowing the whole she-bang.
We have to be patient with ourselves as we move through the parts in between the where we’ve been and where we’re going. We have to let the chasm motivate rather than dishearten us. It’s okay to not be there yet. It’s okay to be unsure of every step that you take forward. We don’t talk about how moving on sometimes feels like we’re fighting every part of our most basic instincts, but we should. We should talk about how growth is often every bit as painful as it is beautiful.
Because growth and letting go are so complexly intertwined that we often only see one or the other. We forget that they can exist side by side – releasing the old while letting in the new. We forget that we have the ability to do the exact same thing. And that if we’d only stop beating ourselves up over it, we might realize just how far we’ve already come.