If there’s any cardinal rule we hear over and over about breaking up, it is this: Don’t try to stay friends with your ex.
There are a various reasons people use to back up this opinions: Staying friends means you still love them. It means you still want them back. It means you never loved them at all in the first place and your entire relationship was a sham.
All of these conditions are awfully assumptive. Yes, there are times when the strongest thing to do is to discard love – to let someone’s toxicity roll down the drain and wash out of our lives as seamlessly as it came in. But there are other times when love is a little more subjective – and it must be.
The truth is, we can never truly wipe our hands of our pasts – no matter how much distance we put between ourselves and our exes, we are always going to be the people who loved them, the people who compromised for them, the people who fell short at making it work with the person we really wanted to. We don’t get to delete someone off Instagram and instantly reclaim the hours we spent exploring their naked body. We don’t get to change our relationship status and seamlessly unlearn every minute detail of what makes someone tick. We don’t get to utter the words ‘It’s over,’ and instantly move on from everything they taught us, everything we learned through loving them. The people we’ve loved live on in us, in ways that we could not control even if we wanted to. And at times, refusing those people entry into our lives because that type of love changed is as arbitrary a practice as it is painful.
Love isn’t as black and white as we always want it to be. It isn’t simply present or absent. Love doesn’t need to be either thriving and passionate or lost and abandoned. There are an infinite number of in-between states that love could exist in, if we allowed it to. We simply fear the ambiguity of those states. We fear that we aren’t brave enough or big enough to fully take hold of them. We fear that we can’t handle the transformative process. What if it hurts too much to let love change its form?
And there’s no getting around it – it does hurt. There is nothing painless about falling out of romantic devotion. There is nothing simple about watching the person we once loved with our entire hearts move on and love somebody else. There is nothing easy about losing love in any form but that doesn’t mean that we have to lose it altogether. It takes willpower to cast someone we once loved out of our lives. It takes true, unadulterated strength to keep them in it.
When wiping our hands of a relationship is not an option, what if we could summon the biggest, hugest parts of ourselves and learn to love them in a way that doesn’t involve romance or expectation? What if we could want to watch someone soar without needing to fly alongside them? What if we learned to be versions of ourselves who could love without asking, without expecting and without making demands? At the end of the day, wouldn’t that be the most rewarding love we could possibly experience?
Abandoning love is the quickest and easiest way to wipe our hands of a relationship that’s gone sour. But allowing love to change, to shift form, to become something different than what it was, is perhaps one of the most incredible transformations we can ever undergo. Becoming friends with an ex is the truest form of letting go, of letting be, of letting love become something bigger and better than what we it offers us on an instrumental level.
We don’t all have the option of cutting off ties with our exes. We don’t all get to walk far away from love. But at the end of the day, we might not be worse off from it. We might find that instead of releasing love, we must let it alter – into something that no longer pays half our bills and rubs our backs after a long, hard day at work but that sits quietly besides us. That reminds us of the compassion we can have for each other even after we’ve seen one another at our worst. It’s the hardest kind of love to achieve but the simplest kind to express – because it’s love in the purest form possible.