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Letting Go of Love: The Bravery of Saying Goodbye

A woman who's letting go of love, walking in a field and reflecting on her time alone.

I’ve never been good at letting go. In fact, I’m so terrible at it that, almost ten years ago, I had it tattooed in Sanskrit on my right forearm as a reminder to myself that, yes, it’s okay to “let go.”

I don’t like to let go of a number of things: arguments, long-held plans, the remote control. But, the hardest thing for me to let go of is relationships. I will squeeze every last ounce of my soul into those things. I will hold onto them white-knuckled and screaming (on the inside because I don’t like to make a scene) even after they’ve dropped me like yesterday’s news. I’ll grab onto any last thread of a text, a hope, a maybe. Relationships are the expired box of crackers in my pantry, the high school uniform still hanging in my closet. I know I should throw them out, but what’s the harm if they stay awhile? Maybe they’ll come back in fashion, or make a nice crumb topping on a new dessert. They could still be useful. They could still mean something to me.

Because that’s the thing. Relationships, no matter how short or long-term, always mean something to me. I’m always sad when one doesn’t work out. Of course some relationships are easier to say goodbye to than others, especially if no real feelings of depth were exchanged. I easily said adios to the guy who had more of a connection to his Bullet Coffee than me (I could never be “butter” than that).

Because when I do love, I love hard. Romantic connections are like spiritual contracts to me; I am 100 percent in. Challenge accepted. Let’s do this. I will accept this connection, even if the person doesn’t feel like a good fit. Even if if the loving moments are fleeting. Even if the person will not offer me his heart as openly as I offer mine. Because I am in love, and that’s what I do when I’m in love.

Letting go of love feels like giving up and giving in. It feels less like surrender and more like rendering the whole situation as meaningless. It feels like the feelings shared, the time spent together, the hopes and the dreams of building a life together, were never really real. It feels like there’s something wrong with me. It feels like I didn’t do enough. That I wasn’t enough. It feels like failure. And I hate losing.

But how did holding on make things better? This is a question I asked myself not too long ago, tear-stained, depressed, and lonely. Why was I holding onto something that was making me miserable? Why was I holding onto someone who didn’t love me the way I loved him? What did that say about myself? Was this really what I wanted?

Holding on didn’t make me stronger. It made me weaker. It weakened my spirit, and robbed me of my sense of worth. It put loving this person above loving myself. And, ultimately, it made me feel like crap. I didn’t want to feel like crap anymore. And it was in that moment I decided to let go.

I chose to let go because I knew it was finally time to choose myself. I didn’t want to be chained to a love that only weighed me down and left me confused because guess what? That’s not how love is supposed to feel. Love is supposed to feel free. It feels expansive and open; it feels safe and secure. It feels comfortable and easy. It feels like home.

And I was definitely not in Kansas anymore.

Letting go of love starts with a willingness to do so. It’s not easy, but as author Elizabeth Gilbert one said, “I’ve never seen any life transformation that didn’t begin with the person in question finally getting sick of their own bullshit.”

Letting go means open palms replace clenched fists. It means accepting what is instead of what you thought things ought to be. It means change, and for me, that meant changing my concept of letting go.

Instead of thinking a defunct relationship was a waste of time, I chose to see our time together as a gift. Instead of thinking I wasted my love on someone who didn’t appreciate me, I gave gratitude for my big heart and my capacity to love. I was, am, thankful to love as deeply as I do. Instead of seeing as someone who didn’t love me the way I needed to be loved, I chose to see him as someone who expressed the best way he could. I chose to see the heartache and disappointment as lessons and blessings that will help prepare me for my next relationship. The truth is, we might always love the person we let go—and that’s okay. We can still love someone who doesn’t belong in our lives. (Just don’t text them!)

Because here’s the thing about love: it never goes away. We are love. There is never a lack of love. There is an abundance of love around us that is waiting for us. We just need to believe that it is. Letting go involves a great deal of trust: in ourselves, in other people, and that life is, inherently, good. Trusting in life is difficult, especially after disappointment, but when we see that everyday is a gift, a moment to push us towards us something bigger and better than we could ever imagine, than letting go becomes easier. By choosing to trust, we choose to accept a love that doesn’t ask us to hold on but instead asks us to “just be.”

No wonder I have ‘trust’ tattooed on my other forearm.

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