Breaking up is hard to do. Change sucks. Often even when changes are positive, the transition is bumpy and stressful. This is especially difficult when the change involves a relationship (and I’m not talking about just romantic relationships; any close family or friendship can be just as powerful.) Heck, relationships often take time and effort to form, so when you feel it’s best to let go, or step back from the relationship, this ends up being a huge loss.
I’m going to try to tell you what I’ve learned about this, from my personal experience, and I’m going to try really, really hard to steer clear of cliché pat advice. My personal tendency over the years has been to pretend that I don’t really need people as much as I do. So those very first losses, of friendships in grade school, I remember giving myself internal pep talks, along the lines of, “Her loss – I didn’t really care about her anyway,” and throwing myself into solitary pursuits. This wasn’t such an awful strategy, however, it wasn’t entirely true and also set me up for self-criticism in later years.
I taught myself not to show my needs or my longings. This resulted in a couple years’ long very intense teenage crushes that of course went unrequited because my love objects had absolutely NO clue that I even knew they existed, much less fantasied about driving off into the sunset with them! I kept myself “safe” by keeping my feelings to myself. Safe in some ways; lonely in others.
So I decided to stick my neck out a little more, later in life. Had some relationships, created strong friendships. Benefited immensely from the intimacy and closeness that these folks offered me. Went through a long phase of allowing myself to enjoy these relationships maybe, let’s say 60%, not 100%, because I was still afraid of becoming “too attached” and then feeling devastated when these relationships inevitably end. So, okay, I’m giving myself credit here – I’m evolving!
Then I decided to get into a relationship 100% and let myself attach. It was lovely! It was fun! It was amazing! And then…. We broke up. I knew this was possible, but looking back it was interesting to watch how incredibly hard I was on myself. Having prided myself on my independence and emotional strength for so long, to really let myself feel the loss felt like a weakness. It felt like I was a sniveling, quivering pile of sap(piness). I was mad at myself for being so vulnerable! I punished myself by dwelling in this depression and this feeling that I must be unlovable – not so much because the relationship was over but because I was such a wreck about it. Eventually, I started having a little self-compassion. And I’ll offer that to you, when you experience losses too – they ARE hard. They ARE sad. It’s okay if you cry and mourn. In fact, that’s healthy. Go for it, and let it happen.
And then at some point, it starts to feel better. Life moves forward, and if you hang on, even in small ways, it will pull you forward to. This is a huge insight in Buddhist meditation – relax and accept impermanence. Change is inevitable, and that’s okay.
I created more close relationships. These evolved. People moved in and out of my life. I like this now. I like to meet new people and invest, and I like to have fun with people. My most recent insight, however, is how much I want these important others to be as happy and healthy as I imagine they can be. I have strong opinions about this (I’m in the right profession), and I have a lot of compassion. The thing is…. I can’t save people. I can’t force upon them my prescription for a good life. And this realization inevitably means letting go over and over and over again within relationships, and sometimes of the relationship itself. I have a tendency to persevere and try to come to some resolution or common understanding or re-connection. It’s annoying. I need to continue to practice just letting go. Allowing people to be who they are, to grow on their own time and in their own ways, to make their own mistakes.
One of my points in last month’s blog was that when someone is behaving in a way that hurts you, it is okay for you to protect yourself. Most often this means taking some distance from the person, whether in the moment itself, or on a longer-term scale. I’m not particularly good at this in the long term, because I don’t want to lose the relationship! But I can tell you, it does feel good to stop pushing, stop trying and relax into the new form of the relationship. That does feel sad much of the time. That’s okay.
The other big lesson that I’ve learned over the years is that I will survive these losses. You will too. Gentleness, acceptance, compassion. They are the same qualities that soften all the blows and heighten all the joys.