I’ve always known that I can survive alone. For a little while there, I just didn’t want to. I gave my heart away like a child putting the last of their coins in a bubblegum ball machine — hands outstretched, waiting for a prize. Never knowing I’d be left waiting. Never knowing that what I wanted most of all would never arrive.
I’m perfecting the art of letting people leave who don’t love me. Not just lovers. Even friends. There’s the door. My love has no strings, no pre-existing conditions beyond mutual appreciation. I’m not blocking the exit or bolting the gates.
I write the words like it’s easy when it’s been anything but. Yet, I’ve come to understand that life is richer when we stop begging other people to love and appreciate us. When we let those people go, we can invest in the relationships that see our value. We can devote our energy to something other than trying desperately to figure out why someone we love couldn’t love us.
It’s been a paradigm shift. I’ve stopped chasing people who put in minimal effort. I’m no longer the one overworking in every relationship to keep them together. I’ve learned to sit back and observe what’s happening so that I can make an informed decision about what I want to do. I stopped asking myself why they don’t want me and started to genuinely evaluate why the hell I want them.
I’ve learned to distinguish between the loneliness of being alone and the loneliness that comes when we stay in relationships that make us feel unloved, unwanted, and unappreciated. Being alone and lonely is normal. To some extent, it’s even normal to have times of loneliness in relationships. But I look back at my relationship history and see that the kind of loneliness I was experiencing wasn’t just a passing moment. It defined my relationships.
I chose people who chose me only when it was easy. When I was in a good mood, when they were. They chose me as long as they didn’t have to expend any effort. They chose me as long as I was willing to do all the work and to ask nothing more of them than their presence in the relationship — however absent that present often was.
But somewhere in the ache of the loneliness, I found my truth. I can be alone. I enjoy solitude. It doesn’t hurt me. It’s far worse to be in an isolating relationship than to actually be single with its occasional moments of loneliness.
Letting people leave doesn’t mean we don’t care. It just means that we’ve learned to care more about our own experience in relationships and to recognize when a much-desired relationship no longer meets our needs and is no longer compatible with what we want. Eventually, we won’t just let other people leave us when they want to go. We’ll begin to do the leaving when it just isn’t working. We won’t hold on so tight in the hope that love shows back up.
What I’m really doing is perfecting the art of loving myself well. I show up so well for other people, but I never really showed up for me. I’m doing that now. I’m considering my own wants and needs before anyone else’s when it comes to romantic relationships.
I’m not waiting to be chosen. In fact, I don’t know if I’ll ever again choose someone who isn’t choosing me back. I’m more likely to walk away — to admit that the low-effort relationship just doesn’t work for me anymore and to realize that I deserve to feel secure in my relationships, to feel loved and appreciated.
There are so many reasons we stay in relationships that make us feel alone and lonely. We can cite childhood trauma, low self-esteem, abandonment issues, or even relationship addiction for why we hold on so tight to someone who’s trying their best to either walk away, push us away, or let the relationship fall to ruin with no effort on their part to save it. But there are also reasons we’ll leave.
- We learn to love ourselves better.
- We begin to develop a keen understanding of what truly supportive relationships should look like and how they should feel.
- We begin to shift our focus to enriching our own lives rather than waiting around hoping someone else will do it for us.
- We work on our issues and unpack our baggage.
- We accept that sometimes we can love people better when we let them leave — that to love them from afar is preferable to letting them stay and keep hurting us.
I’ve stopped taking the leaving personally. My heart has been hurt too often by people so caught up in their own issues that they couldn’t see the damage they caused. I can breathe easier knowing that it’s rare for people to hurt us intentionally. So much of the time, they’re simply too mired in their own pain to hold compassion for anyone else’s. I can understand that and even love them in spite of the way that hurt people keep hurting people — but I don’t have to stick around to be the punching bag or emotional scapegoat for people who can’t meet me where I am.
I’ve spent a lifetime holding on to the people I love so tightly. I’m learning to relax my grip. I can give a hell of a bear hug, but I’m not trying to hold someone close who is doing their best to get away. I’m sitting comfortably in the knowledge that the people who see my worth aren’t going anywhere.
I’ve always known that I can survive alone. Now, I know I can thrive that way, too. I once thought there was a relationship I couldn’t live without… or, more accurately, that I didn’t want to live without. But I survived that loss as I’ve survived everything else. I made my life beautiful once more.
In the wake of the wreckage of that relationship, I began to see all the ways I’d loved others well but neglected to love myself. It forced me to either accept the pattern of loving without being loved in return or to do something entirely new — to focus on healing and to love myself as well as I’ve ever loved anyone else.
I began to let people leave who didn’t want to stay and love me. Sometimes, I’ve been the one to go. My heart stays open, but I keep the garden gate closed. I honor my boundaries because I’m growing a different sort of life here — one where I can relax and enjoy all the seasons, secure in the love I have to give, secure in the knowledge that the right love won’t require locks or strings to stay.
Originally published on Medium