Just let it go.
Create your own closure.
Accept that it’s over.
Let it go.
Create your own happiness!
I’m sure you’ve encountered this before. Well-meaning and sugary sweet missives penned by people who want to help others navigate through various degrees and labyrinths of loss. There are thousands of them, choking on their sincerity, handing out rose-colored glasses, all scripted in a way to assure that you—yes, you!—will someday join their joyful/superior ranks and let go of the thing or person that haunts you.
Well, that’s all fine and dandy, and I’m sure that their intentions only come from a desire to help, but sometimes, all of those sadly hopeful essays can have the same effect as telling someone with a tumor that if they just wish it away, it will disappear. I’m not suggesting that getting over someone is akin to recovering from cancer, I’m simply tired of hearing “just let it go.”
Oh, sure, now that it’s there in black and white, I’ll certainly do that! Just reading those words pressed some tiny button hidden in the maw of my subconscious, and POOF! I’m cured. The metaphorical fist that once held a tyranny over my heart has vanished! One (thousand) self-help article(s) later, and Smeagol is free!
Telling someone to let go of whatever is bothering them is like telling someone with anxiety to just relax or telling someone who’s angry to calm down. It’s frustrating, pointless, cliched. Don’t you really think that, if given a choice, we wouldn’t let ourselves hurt this way? Do you really think that if it were that easy, we would have done it already? Granted, some people do like to cling to their pain. But the rules for those people and the other half, the half that would do ANYTHING to just move on if they could, are the same, and here it is: You won’t move on until you’re ready to move on.
Sure, you can put in safeguards. You can delete their number, their saved text conversations, their pictures. You can be angry at them, absolutely loathe them even, but trust me, you wouldn’t hate them as much as you do without loving them just a little, and there’s the kicker. Until your heart is good and ready, it’s going to let go when it wants to. It may take time. It may take the influence and care of someone else. It certainly takes self-forgiveness and the strength to call yourself out on your own bullshit. I’ll tell you something else that you may not want to hear: You may never eradicate every last bit of them. Some people are a lesson and not a lifetime, and that sucks. You have to come to some sort of compromise on how to handle it, to let them go as much as you’re able. But in no shape or form will it happen just because someone advises it. They don’t know what your story is, so how can they tell you to let it go so easily?
Trying to rush yourself into letting go because it’s inconvenient for others or even for the person in question is a surefire way to keep that wound gaping open. You feel what you feel. You hurt. It sucks. It’s not going to go away tomorrow, or even the next day; maybe not for weeks or months. If you’re one of those who like to chew on their pain like a buffalo wing because the pain is the only piece of them that they left behind, you could probably use some help, but not the kind that advises and bullies you into an impossible frame of mind in the blink of an eye. And much like a cooking recipe, this is where I drag you into reading about my bullshit. Hopefully, you discover a point.
In 2007, I was in a long-term relationship with a guy I’ll call R. It wasn’t the grand affair of a lifetime, but I had a minimum wage job at Quiznos and a piece of shit Neon, and I sure as hell didn’t want to move back in with my parents, so I tried to stick it out. One day, a mutual friend introduced me to a guy in a Yahoo! chatroom. I’ll call him Y, and for some reason, he and I just clicked. Instant attraction, like a mallet to the head. The geographical fuckery was at DEFCON 2—he lived in the mitten, and I lived in the boot, but somehow we managed to fall into a piping hot mess of what my erotica writing, romantically inclined, 20-year-old idiot self could only call love. And Jesus, was it predictable. Secret phone calls, clandestine webcam chats when R was at work, singing along to stupid love songs. Seeing his name pop up on my shitty little flip phone made my heart spasm like a butterfly on acid. He had a very common name, and it showed up everywhere I went, in every book I read. The car he drove would pull out in front of me on the Interstate. All of a sudden, references to his home state were on the news, in movies, on the license plates of cars on the highway. I thought this was awesome at first. All signs that it was, OMG, truly meant to be! Little did I know, those signs would soon become instruments of absolute torture.
It had been a long time coming, but with the infusion of Y, my relationship with R didn’t stand a chance. I moved back in with my parents and lost myself in a whirlwind LDR with Y. He was making plans to move down to the boot, but the plans were slow going. However, our little make-do paradise didn’t last long.
Y wasn’t too hot at communication, and given that we lived 17 hours away from each other, we slowly started to flounder. I was confused, paranoid, and hurt. I started to suspect him of talking to other people, and by the time he finally made his way down here, we weren’t talking in any sort of language that shared any hope for the future. I met him exactly once—he called me one Friday night to meet him in Baton Rouge at his host’s sister’s apartment. Heart in my toes, I drove up there in the dark. I wasn’t the type to sleep around on the first date, so I pretended I was on my period. It went well, without any glaring red flags, but looking back now, I’m glad I lied. It was one of those very rare times when a girl’s brain, heart, and vagina all come to an agreement.
His plans for living here fell through very quickly, and before we knew it, he was on a bus back North. Without a future in sight, we agreed that we needed to end it, but it never really ended. He’d have sudden flare-ups of wanting me badly, and then turn around and not talk to me for days. He’d put me in storage until he felt lonely and pulled me out, and I should have ended it once and for all, but my love was all tangled up in the relief I felt for getting out of the situation with R, and I didn’t care—I thought I loved him. Ridiculous. I had no idea who he was, and he just loved the idea of me.
Whether I wanted to let Y go or not, it happened anyway. Drama ensued. I was accused of lying about said drama and Y wrote me this bullshit email at 5 a.m. saying how devastated he was, followed by a few months where we didn’t talk at all. He did hit up my blog every day, where I pounded out these cringe-worthy rage pieces in which I accused him of being a coward and then in the next paragraph would weep for his forgiveness. He probably thought (thinks) I was crazy, but I’m sure the ego boost didn’t hurt. Eventually, he messaged me, but only to rub in the fact that he was talking to other girls. Enraged and heartbroken, I told him I was done with a capital D. He didn’t put up much of a fuss.
It took me the better part of a year and a half to force myself to move on, which involved a lot of unhealthy, unhappy liaisons with other people. He never strayed far from my thoughts, but the one and only time I looked him up on social media, he was married. That, in my opinion, settled that. Eventually, I got over him. I entered into a relationship with a generous and kind man (S) and stayed with him for 10 years. We had our share of troubles, but it blew my young and silly liaison with Y right out of the water. I finally accepted the fact that Y was the only way I would have left R, and being young, I had confused an exit strategy for love, but it was a realization that took a lot of time and perspective and knowing what REAL love was. S had shown me that.
My issues with S were serious, but they were things I was determined to work on. He was no R, and I was not the same girl I was in 2007. We survived a shooting, a few hurricanes, a forest fire, moving six times, unemployment, money troubles. After you carry such a load together, no one else seems to have strong enough shoulders. I wanted to marry him, but due to his own complicated history, that wasn’t in the cards. I could deal with that, I thought, if I could just keep him. He made me feel safe. I had eyes for no one else. See me compromise, compromise, compromise.
One November night in 2017, around 11 p.m., I was lying in bed in the dark, S snoring beside me. I can’t recall what I was doing—probably idly scrolling through Facebook, watching fainting goats on Youtube, who fucking knows—when I got that message. Y’all know what message I’m talking about. The big one. The double whammy. The prelude to all hell breaking loose.
Ah, the one word atom bomb that every ex keeps nice and polished in their back pocket, saved for rainy days and damaged egos. Why the hell does that word always look so ominous in lowercase? To that point, why is it always in lowercase? And why, tell me, Lord, does it always come at the worst time? I couldn’t believe my eyes. I time-travel to this moment constantly, and I wish I could tell myself to put the iPhone down, turn out the light, turn over, hug S. Don’t even go there, man. But you and me and the man in the moon knows damn well that I didn’t ignore him. After a decade, who could ignore it?
Y was in the process of a divorce. Y wanted to know how I was. Y had thought of me these past 10 years. Y made some cryptic comment about how he wished it would have worked out, and then Y said goodnight. Y left me lying in bed next to my boyfriend with my heart in my throat. And then, Y didn’t speak to me for another 3-5 months. You’d think that old familiar tactic would have been enough warning for me. Newsflash: It wasn’t. The conversation barely lasted five minutes, but it deposited a rock in my stomach, which I still play host too.
I can’t remember the next time he messaged me, but by that time his divorce was final and he was ready to lay it on thick. I knew he’d be back, and my problems with S had evolved from a drizzle to a thunderstorm. Without going into the particulars, I felt lonely, rejected, and down on myself, which was exactly the way Y had found me 10 years ago. It snowballed very quickly into an unsettling reenactment of the events 10 years ago.
Nowadays, we have fancy buzzwords and phrases for these kinds of situations. Ghosting. Emotional affairs. Almost relationships. Lack of emotional intelligence. Benching. Breadcrumbing. Cushioning. Left on read. Those words weren’t around in 2007, at least not the way they are now. All of those behaviors still fell neatly inside of the expression “playing games”. Generation Y and those thereafter, please refer to BSB, circa 1996, Quit Playing Games With My Heart.
Unfortunately, Y had not changed much in 10 years. He’d blow hot and cold, needing me desperately one minute and telling me things like “I visited your page during those 10 years” and “I’d finish up a lease and be your man” and all of the other lines of bullshit that my haphazard emotions could not filter from truth and lies. Twenty-four hours later, I would be nothing to him, and that period of time could stretch longer when he was entertaining someone else. The more rejected I felt by S, the more I’d lean on Y, and somewhere in my silly and disillusioned head, I didn’t count it as cheating. But no matter how goo-goo I was over him, I had a personal rule to never message him first. Every time I had the urge, I remembered those undignified, desperate blog posts and I’d put down my phone. I had my limits, though very few and far between.
Y started asking me advice about other girls, anxiously questioning their every move, wanting me to translate their every sentence into a language that clueless boys could understand. Like the dumbass I was, I dealt with it and translated his codependency into something it wasn’t. I had something he wanted: insight. I was so, so eager to be useful. When I was useful, he praised me, and I opened like a flower in the sun. But facts were facts—I was in a relationship 1,700 miles away. We were old friends who flirted. How could I get mad at him for surfing dating apps? I lived with someone, basically made up one half of a common-law marriage. I had a whole life here, and he there. Once, and only once, Y acknowledged the strain he was putting on me, and then went as far as to say, “How do you think I feel? I’m dating and talking to other girls and in love with you?” That sentence is verbatim.
Sirens should have blared. Airport workers should have run out in front of me, waving huge STOP STOP STOP signs. But what did I do? I melted when I should have been saying “dubba yoo tee eff?” And though a tiny voice in the back of my head told me that it was all bullshit, I was so lonely, so confused, that I just swatted it away like a fly. This push/pull behavior lasted almost a year, and when he started flirting with my best friend, I finally knew I had to take a giant step back. I knew perfectly well, in my heart of hearts, what he was doing to me, but I didn’t want to deal with the realization that my relationship with S was swirling down the drain and that neither of us knew what to do about it.
No matter my complicated feelings, I would have never left S for Y, but being torn apart over two separate men, both with their own complicated histories, was taking its toll on me. I started building walls, constructing defenses. Maybe they were made out of Popsicle sticks, but at least I wasn’t lying to myself anymore. I could no longer believe in the fantasy world he would paint for me. We had communication issues, cultural differences, maturity inequalities, and geographical roadblocks. I had S to worry about, but I carried Y everywhere I went, like a suitcase filled with bricks.
To make an already long story shorter, after many failed relationships on his part, Y finally found one that stuck. I don’t remember our last conversation. I remember that during my plans to separate from S, I followed the advice of my best guy friend, gathered my balls, and finally deleted Y from Facebook, my phone, and my Instagram once and for all. It felt like a roundhouse kick to the solar plexus, but I did it. That was two years ago, and we haven’t spoken since. I’d be lying if I said that a part of me isn’t always waiting for that “hey” to pop up again. Maybe it won’t. Maybe it’ll be another 10 years. Maybe waiting for that is why it’s so hard to let it all go. I’m afraid that if I do stop waiting for it, it’ll happen. They can be hopelessly oblivious about everything else, but some guys have a sixth sense to know when a past flame is forgetting about them, and they unearth that disastrous “hey” and hit you with it like a sack of bricks. That being said, if that “hey” appears again, I won’t be answering it. Fool me once, and all that. It’s an emotion—I may have to endure it, but I’m sure as hell not going to sing and dance for it.
Since then, S and I have amicably parted ways. I moved out on my own for the first time, and in the process of doing that, I was too worried about finances to waste a lot of time and energy worrying about Y. Now that I’m somewhat settled a year later, I spend a lot of time looking for answers as to why S and I were forced to end. The issues that split us apart predate Y and his reemergence back into my life, but he certainly didn’t make it any easier. I have a lot of rejection and self-worth issues, and that business with Y just amplified all of it.
Letting go of that relationship with S was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but the loss of Y hit me differently. They say that the aftermath of almost relationships will linger long after they’re over because the possibilities go unexplored and the questions unanswered. I know I’ll never get answers from him, and even if I did, I would never believe him anyway, so what’s the point? What I want is to let go of it. What I do not want or need, however, is a bunch of articles telling me that I’m not trying hard enough, or that I don’t want this boulder off of my back.
It is in my nature to never let things go, to always need answers, to be able to file things neatly in drawers and close them forever, but we all know that we cannot cherry-pick the emotions we do and do not want. The left side of my brain argues the case points constantly: I met the guy once 13 years ago. I’ve never slept with him, never lived with him, and I know for sure that whatever I felt for him paled drastically in comparison to the life I shared with S. So, Doctor, what the hell is wrong with me?
I don’t want him, don’t need him, don’t harbor any delusions that we’re supposed to be together. I don’t creep on his Facebook. I don’t wish for his voice in my ear, his arms around me. I deleted any and all pictures. I did, however, keep our conversations so I could remind myself how easy he is to see through, so when I start feeling that old confusion, I can go back and remind myself how much I’ve gained, not how much I’ve lost. Deleting those conversations will be a mark in how far I’ve come, but I haven’t gotten there yet. I struggled—I’m sorry, strike the d, struggle—with intense feelings of inadequacy until I realize(d) that it wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough for him, but that we weren’t good for each other. He wasn’t a bad person, he was just bad for me. I tell myself a lot of things, but that’s the whole trick of it—to train your brain that it’s not worth the energy to romanticize the struggle. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through constant introspection, it’s that I can’t keep punishing myself for feeling for him. That’s not as important as what I’m feeling for him, and as long as I keep my feet planted in reality, they’re not feelings that can kick my leg out from under me.
In my weaker moments, I still chastise myself for not being smart enough to see through his bullshit, still regret ever answering him that night, still am beyond frustrated that he got to move on with his life and I’m stuck here with this steaming pile of shit in my lap. It took me a while to realize, but what I miss most about him is not how I felt about him but how he could make me feel. But no matter how warm and fuzzies he gave me, they weren’t worth the anxiety, the confusion, and the jealousy that he put me through when he wasn’t shooting sparks up my ass. Forgiving myself for that is still an on-going process. I’m human, whether I’m 21 or 34. I have to constantly remember to give myself a break. Maybe we used each other and we’re both to blame. Maybe there’s no good guy or bad guy, just the one lucky enough to have dodged a bullet.
So, if any of you were lucky enough to actually let go of an almost relationship or a real relationship and want to share the How-To For Dummies Guide, just keep in mind one thing: You’re not telling us anything we don’t already know. We know we need to move on. We know it’s dead in the water. We can’t help it. Tell us to write a fuck you letter. Tell us to write down all the shitty things they made us feel. Tell us that it’s just our brains using them as a scapegoat to personify all the bad shit we feel about ourselves and that we can’t listen. There’s a difference between enabling someone to marinate in their sadness and encouraging a person to weed out the reality from the fantasy and create their own escape plan out of it.
Listen to our stories. Not all of them are textbook and fit neatly into your personal narrative. Give us room to explore the reality of what we’re really letting go. Don’t rush us into the future. Just discourage us from leaning onto the past. All of us have a Y. Some of us will fall for them over and over again. The only person who is going to stop that cycle of behavior is ourselves, and it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
But don’t tell me to let go when you’re still writing about how to.