Love Them But Let Them Go

Crystal Jackson

There are unavoidable truths that sit painfully with us, constricting our hearts and making it difficult to breathe. Loving someone who is no longer with us is one of those things.

When death is involved, it’s tragic and final. But there’s something about loving someone who is still out there living and breathing that feels particularly devastating. It feels open-ended, and sometimes no matter how much we look for closure, we don’t find it.

The simple fact that we love someone we can’t or won’t be with is an incredibly difficult experience. All that love feels so heavy in our hands, and yet there’s nothing for us to do but hold it.

But maybe holding on to love is the problem, although it feels impossible to let go of a feeling we didn’t ask for in the first place. I’ve fallen in love a few times over the years. The first time was like a lightning bolt. There’s actually a moment when it happened. It created a clear line in the sand, before I was in love with him and after. Of course, it ended, or there wouldn’t have been a next time for me.

The next time felt like a slow slide although it wasn’t. It was something I could not have predicted and wasn’t looking to find. I did not choose the first ending. It hit me as suddenly as the lightning strike of love had done. But the second ending? I chose that one. Chose it, all the while devastated that it was the only choice I could make and live with.

I wish I could say that one was easier than the other. I would have thought being the one to end a relationship would have been so much easier than being left. But it wasn’t.

The third time might be the one that has shaken me the most. I wasn't looking for it. I didn't expect it. But the moment I met him, I was so sure that I had met my forever person. I was filled with the glorious certainty of it. Loving him was inevitable.

The end, too, was inevitable--although I didn't see it at the time. The third time was filled with caring and kindness, but in the end, I am left loving someone who declined to return it.

Now I carry that love around. I can't say the words to him. They wouldn't be welcome. The only saving grace is that when I met him, the other loves evaporated as if they were nothing more than hope and illusion. Still, I am left feeling love for a person who won't love me back.

This is life. Sometimes, we love people, and we just don't get to keep them. It’s painful, but it’s also natural. People come and go, and even though it doesn’t feel like it at the time, it’s the best thing in the world to happen to us.

Why? Why would I say this horrible thing we’re feeling is best?

Because it wasn’t for us. It wasn’t what we’re meant to keep. It must mean that something else is coming.

It's cold comfort when our hearts are aching, and all we can feel is the excruciating sting of rejection and disappointment. I remind myself that someone isn't my soulmate who doesn't want to be. That's just not how it works. The right person will love us back. They won't leave. They won't leave us feeling like we just lost everything we ever wanted. The right person stays and makes sure we know we're loved. And the wrong person gets out of our way.

I’ve been thinking that it’s difficult for anything else to come in while I’m still holding so much space for lovers who have gone. It’s hard to open up our hearts when they’re constricted with grief. While it’s important that we experience the loss at our own pace, eventually we have to learn to let go of what’s not for us. Even though it hurts. Even though a part of us wants to hold on to the experience just a little longer.

But it’s not as simple as just deciding to let go and moving on. I wish it were. Realistically, we may only let go in stages. We’ll have the nights where we no longer think of the ones we love who are gone. We’ll have mornings where we wake up, and they aren’t the first, second, or even third thought on our minds.

Slowly, our lives will open up, and we’ll start to see hope where we once only saw fear. We’ll begin to feel a little lighter, as the burden of carrying that love begins to slide off our shoulders. We’ll realize that we can keep the love but not carry it. After all, it belongs to us, does it not? It’s our love, not theirs.

When we realize that the love that we feel doesn’t leave us, we’ll also see that it isn’t depleted by loving more. If anything, the experience of loving more only serves to make us stronger. And so we put those fragile hearts back out there. We open them up. We hope again.

Although we can’t guarantee that the next love will be the forever kind, we can trust that our love continues no matter what. Our hearts heal. Slowly, sometimes. Sometimes by inches. Sometimes in years.

But they heal, if we let them. If we open them up to the light and don’t let them fester in the darkness of our hearts, they will recover. They’ll keep on beating and keep on loving, and one day we’ll find the love that we need--in someone else, or maybe just in ourselves.

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails:

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