“If you love something, set it free.” We’ve all heard some version of this quote. But here’s the thing….I’ve spoken with enough folx to know that this little mantra is used as a manipulation technique more often than not. And one that’s likely to wind up prolonging your hurt. We use it to manipulate a situation into providing the piece we want from the rest of the quote--the part about it coming back to us. Because we think it's ours. We neglect to pay attention to the surrender piece that comes from letting something go because it might not be ours.
We rarely want to believe that something we want so badly might not actually be good for us. We have numerous examples to show us that this could be true. We might crave ice cream or booze or watching netflix all day. And those things do make us feel comfortable and good...but not in the long run. Why wouldn’t we believe that some people might also be like that? That we might feel good right now, but that might not be for always. Some people, no matter how amazing you are or how amazing they are, are simply not meant to be in your life forever. And if the point of this person being good in our life has passed, but we refuse to let go, all we get is burned. Think of it like a tug-of-war that has tipped in the other direction. We can't admit defeat, so we certainly aren't going to let go! We hold on and hold on until our hands are ripped up and we crash and fall, bruising our butts. If we had simply let go of the rope when the tipping point happened, we would have walked away sad about losing, but otherwise unscathed.
But surely love matters more than a game of tug-of-war, right? Remember in The Little Mermaid when Ariel says, “but daddy, I love him!!” How many of us have found ourselves crying out to the Universe in the same way--”but I love them!!” We’ve been taught to believe that love is enough. That we can love someone into changing. That we can love someone enough to choose us. Which...um...when you think about it, is actually kind of manipulative. Yes, absolutely, we should make choices in our life from a place of love. One hundred percent. But when we get into the mindset of loving someone into changing or into choosing us, we can find ourselves easily in a place of codependence where we are bending over backwards in an attempt to be and do what we think the other person wants instead of who we are. That isn’t love. That isn’t love for self and isn’t love for the other person either. It's also not going to work for a long-term healthy outcome.
Maybe we decide to try showing them what they'd be missing if we were gone. I mean, after all, our friends have told us how much we're being taken for granted and surely they would just wake up and miss us if they missed all the things we do for them. Or maybe we go along with a a separation or a breakup with the idea that they surely will see how much we love them and return. We have friends it’s worked for and we’ve seen a zillion rom-coms where the storylines trick us into thinking this is reality. I mean, why couldn’t this be our story, too?
Maybe it will.
But letting go with that expectation isn’t actually letting go.
Someone choosing to be with us is never going to be about how much we love them. Sometimes, it’s not even about how much they love us. And it really isn’t going to change an outcome to make yourself the martyr by going out of your way to show them how amazing you are or how much you will always love them…that’s actually just a distraction technique to avoid the healing work necessary to move forward with our own lives. And maybe we need that distraction for a little while. It’s okay to live in the fantasy for a little bit. But hanging out there forever stunts our growth. And it keeps us from truly letting go. Because if your story really is meant for both of you, the return won’t have anything to do with how tightly you held that rope.
I fell into this pattern HARD after my second divorce. Even though I knew that our marriage could not go on as it had, I had a terrible time letting go. I absolutely fell into the trap of thinking that he didn’t really mean it when he wanted me to leave and that he would see how much better I had made his life and how good we really were together (we weren’t…at all!) and that he would remember the early days when he told me I was the girl of his dreams and and and. I continued to think this even as he started a new relationship. I thought that surely I was better for him than she was. Heck, he even told me as we sat in the divorce courtroom that maybe we could get married again someday. That fed my fantasy for a good long time….even when he married the new woman a few weeks later. I thought for sure that I would never love anyone again, that this had been it for me, and that, obviously, he would see that, too, and we could magically and happily live happily ever after. I went about trying to be the best ex-wife ever, just as I had put effort into being the best wife ever. And I lived in that world of denial for far too long. It wasn’t until I truly let go of that faulty thinking that I was able to set MYSELF free.
Loving someone enough to support their choices, even when you wish their choice was you, is hard! Letting go of a fantasy that you see as being the “right” path forward is a trick at times. I think the key to letting go of that fantasy--no matter how perfect for them you think it is--is realizing that what you see as the one and only perfect path is actually just one possibility. It’s easy to get caught in the swirly thoughts of make-believe and what if.
Truly letting go requires radical acceptance of what is real. It requires choosing a new thought to think on purpose to stop the swirling thoughts of what-ifs and possible future scenarios. It requires practicing that thought instead of pleading with the Universe to make your version come true. For me, I practice saying the words out loud--"this isn't mine" and "I am letting them go." I make a conscious choice to interrupt my own thought swirl with other affirmations like "The Universe knows my heart," "I have asked for what I want and I trust that what's for me won't pass me by," “I am setting this free,” “I am surrendering this path,” “I am trusting my story to unfold for my highest good.” I think about how loving the other person means I not just accept, but I want the unfolding of our stories for their highest good, too, even if it no longer includes the version I thought I wanted.
Way easier said than done, right? It takes practice. A lot of practice. And it doesn’t just happen. You’re not magically better after breaking one thought spiral. It’s much like any other healthy habit that you might work on. Conscious choices that support our desired result--letting go so that we are no longer controlled by the desire for a specific outcome that isn’t currently happening. Self-discovery is going to be key here--finding what you are actually trying to hold onto is a journey. And, spoiler, it’s probably not actually the person like you think it is. Journaling is your best friend to get to the root of why you are still hanging on. Working with a coach can help you ask and examine the questions you may not be willing or able to ask yourself (hint, there’s a link at the top of the page…..). Another key is doing the actions to rewire the brain as you stop the habit of the what-if swirl. Go for a walk with an interesting podcast so you have something to focus on besides your own thoughts, call a friend and catch up on their life, get out of bed, read a book, get out in nature, paint, read, dance. Essentially, in addition to the healing work that will keep you from staying stuck, getting on with the business of living and creating the life you want for yourself is going to help you pass the time so that you don’t wake up in a year and find you numbed yourself into becoming twenty pounds heavier from ice cream and netflix! Instead, you can wake up in a year and think, “wow, time really does heal all wounds.”
It’s not the time. It’s what you did with the time. Added bonus of getting on with creating the life you love? It will make it so much easier to attract in exactly the people who are meant for you!
And understand that not all of them are meant to stay forever. No matter how freaking amazing you are.