Letting Go

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. 

Closure

For most of us this is something we never get. When a relationship ends one partner is usually left wondering what changed, when it happened, where things went wrong, why now, and how they could have missed it. On top of all the emotions that come with losing someone, there is the not knowing. It eats at us, bringing out feelings of self doubt and mistrust, and often causes problems in our future relationships.

So given the opportunity for closure, would you take it? The easy answer is yes, of course, because if you know everything that went wrong then you can prevent it from happening again. Right?

Wrong. In most cases the things we call ‘closure’ wind up being more hurtful than helpful. Or they aren’t really closure at all, just excuses, or blame. They often lead to more hurt feelings, and further destruction of the relationship. And they can still affect your future relationships in negative ways, by adding to any lingering anger or lack of trust.

If you are given the opportunity to get closure from someone it is important to ask yourself some hard questions. First, is this person really capable of giving you closure? If they couldn’t tell you this information when things ended,why are they capable of telling you now? What has changed for them? Have they really been reviewing what happened and coming up with more thorough answers, or are you just going to get a regurgitated version of things you’ve already heard?

Second, are you capable of hearing what they have to say? If your former partner really does come to you with new or expanded reasons about why things ended, are you going to be able to really hear what they are telling you? This won’t be easy for them either. If you are going to ask for closure, and they are ready to truly provide it, you had best be ready to hear it. Otherwise it’s not fair to anyone.

Finally, is this closure really going to change anything? If you do get all the answers to every question you ever wanted to ask, what will that mean? It won’t bring back the relationship, and it probably won’t leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy about you or your former partner. What is you end game in asking for closure? Why is it important to you? If it’s so you can assign blame to someone else, don’t. That’s just a waste of time, it’s already over. If it’s so you know what you did wrong, be careful. Just because it was ‘wrong’ for your last partner doesn’t mean it will be wrong for your next one, or that it’s wrong for you. Changing yourself based on what someone else wanted is a slippery slope that can end up with you losing who you are. I’m not saying you shouldn’t listen to what the other person has to say, but remember to take it with several large grains of salt. Hold on to who you are and what you learned about yourself or each other while you were together, and let the blame and hurt fade away.