I am the first to admit, I have a hard time letting go. To be clear, I don’t mean I have a hard time ending something that isn’t working; I have no problem analyzing a situation and deciding it isn’t going to work, and I don’t have an issue communicating that. What I’m talking about is emotionally letting go once something is over. Whether it’s a romantic partner that didn’t work out or a friendship that became distant, I have a lot of difficulty allowing people to move out of my life on an emotional level. I continue to worry about them, wonder what they are up to, think of things I would like to say to them, and generally just keep them in my mind longer than I feel is healthy. And when I’m the one to make that decision, to make the call that something is over, it’s even harder, because then there is the guilt that comes from hurting them along with the rest. Losing someone, even if its someone I haven’t really known that long, is an almost physical pain for me. I feel the space they used to fill like an empty seat beside me for some time afterwards.
My last long term romantic relationship could have ended long before it did. We were both holding on for the wrong reasons, and things went on longer than they should have. As a result the ending hurt more than it needed to, and I held onto the pain from that for a very long time. I couldn’t let go of thinking about how he was doing, what could have been, and all the little things that had happened that had hurt me. It was my way of continuing to hold onto the relationship. If I was still being hurt by it, and still thinking about him all the time, then it wasn’t really over. At least not in my mind.
I don’t only have this problem with romantic relationships. I’ve had friendships I have lost that have been just as important to me. I love my friends as much as I love my partners. They are the family that I choose. When friendships end it is harder on me in a lot of ways, because I can never understand why they need to end. Friendships don’t have the expectations on them that romantic relationships can have; friendships don’t need to meet perceived goals or timelines, they don’t require you to merge lives or to commit fully to each other in order to continue. Most of the pressures that end romantic relationships aren’t there in a friendship, and yet somehow they end anyway, either abruptly or by fading away. It is a type of rejection that I have a lot of trouble letting go of, because I have a hard time seeing as anything but a personal one. I continuously wonder what I did to push them away, or what I was lacking in keeping them interested.
So how do I deal with it? I’ve learned over the years that it is important to mourn the end of a relationship without obsessing over it, whatever type of relationship it was. Let the feelings of sadness, loss, and even guilt run their course; don’t tell yourself you shouldn’t feel that way. You are allowed to feel the way you do, wonder what they are doing, and replay any moments that you want to. Accept the feelings, acknowledge them, really feel them, and then let them go. Take as much time as you need. The important thing is that you don’t act on them, and that you don’t let them consume you. Don’t become angry or bitter, don’t obsessively stalk anyone in person or online, don’t blame yourself for everything that goes wrong in their lives, and don’t wallow in your memories. Don’t try to keep someone in your life that isn’t there anymore. Take the time to clean out that empty seat, so that someone else can sit there.