How do I actually let go?
How can I make these feelings actually get buried? It's been months now, which seems like plenty long enough given the brevity of the relationship itself.
Here’s The Thing is an advice column/newsletter where I mostly beg people to either stop dating someone or to ask their crush out. Or I talk about weird things that came to my mind that no one is paying me to write about. I can never decide if I should capitalize the “the” in Here’s The Thing or not; apologies on lack of consistency.
A BIG SWEETIE, WHOM WE LOVE:
How do I do the "letting go" part? Like the actual putting away of the feelings, so that they're *poof,* gone, which I so desperately need and want to do?
I spent exactly 6 months of the pandemic dating this guy on and off. I knew when it started that he was all wrong for me, but I was kind of bored, a little lonely in a new city, and hadn't had anyone be so interested in me for a long time. It was a cuffing season tragedy anyone could have seen coming, and I got too attached too late.
But again, he was all wrong for me and I let so much slide - his alcoholism, fatphobia, lack of pandemic caution, a little misogyny here and there, what might by some be considered an almost-sexual-assault, and just a general personality mismatch, plus he ended things for a really shitty reason in a really shitty way.
It's been a few months now since he ended things, and I'm at the point where I have accepted all of those things above (really!) But I still.....fucking miss him? He made me feel like a real piece of trash at the end, and I have no desire to actually start things again or even see him, but here he is still living in my head rent free every day. A quick social media check very kindly let me know that he is seeing someone new, and I just want to also be moved on too.
How can I make these feelings actually get buried? It's been months now, which seems like plenty long enough given the brevity of the relationship itself. I've been journaling, spending time with friends, reminding myself that I am worthy and a badass, leaning into my hobbies, applying to new jobs, talking to some new guys on the apps, etc., but they're not succeeding in kicking him out, at least for very long. So I'd really, really love to "let go," it's just....how does one actually do that with something as abstract as feelings?
The idea of “letting go” in one easy step is certainly alluring; unfortunately, however, it’s also unrealistic. Unlike holding onto something physically, you can’t just decide to let go of emotions and then unfurl your grasp and go on your merry little way. It doesn’t work like that. Letting go is actually a long, arduous series of choices and moments that build up over time. I also think “letting go” as a concept gets a little overblown in terms of importance. You don’t have to completely be “over” something to move forward with your life, and what does over even look like? Some things from the past will always sting a little when you press on the wound and that’s ok!
The task at hand, in my opinion, is not to move on as quickly as possible from any unwanted feelings. The task is not to Forget At Any Cost, to Be Okay At Warp Speed, or to Prove To Others That You Aren’t Still Thinking About Him. To me, the focus right now should be on slowing down and listening to yourself. I’m sure that does not sound as fun or pain-free as the imagined version of yourself who is magically over this ex and onto f*cking and s*cking a new sexy partner. I’m sure the second version, the easy, breezy, dating-a-new-person-by-now version would be your preference. I suspect, however, you would experience worse outcomes in the longterm than if you actually took a beat and tried to grapple with what you’re going through.
See, you aren’t just grieving the end of a relationship. You actually have a much bigger and harder job, unfortunately. You’re grieving the end of a relationship with someone who was, at least from what I read in this letter, abusive. You can choose to apply that word or not—it was your relationship; not mine—but his behavior remains unchanged regardless of what the label is. The relationship was at the bare minimum harmful. And that’s something very different to move on from than a relationship with a foundation of kindness and respect. It’s different because the question for yourself becomes, at least as I see it: Why did I stay with this person?
I also to make it EXTREMELY, UNMISTAKABLY CLEAR that I don’t think that you dating him or staying with him is a poor reflection of you. Nor does it mean you were at fault. Nor does it suggest that you deserved any of his cruelty. He alone chose to be a cruel fuck. He alone is responsible for how you were treated. You are not even 0.01% to blame. This examination is not a blame-finding mission. We all know who the blame lies with already: him! We know. We have no questions that he was at fault for all of this.
The point of the question is not to blame yourself or to beat yourself up. The point is self-discovery and prevention. The point is to ask yourself a hard question in the hopes of not ever being with someone like him again. I think it’s going to take a lot of excruciating honesty to get to the bottom of why it seemed worth it to stay with a person who was cruel. Cruelty is a pretty clear dealbreaker most of the time, so why wasn’t it for you this time? What made it seem better to stay than to leave? Please do not think that I’m trying to brush this off as an easy task. It’s a complex, thorny, excruciating examination of self.
I genuinely believe, with every fiber of my being, that you must get some answers to these questions before you can have an easy, loving, healthy relationship with another person. It’s not that I think anyone needs to have every single kink of their personality worked out and wrapped up neatly before they fall in love—that’s not even possible! But I do think you need to investigate what happened and why, otherwise there is a great chance you enter into another relationship with another person who is cruel to you and to others.
And I want you to hear, just in case no one is saying or has said this to you: fatphobia is cruelty. Misogyny is cruelty. Not taking the health of others seriously is cruelty. And I’m virtually certain that what you say “might by some be considered an almost-sexual-assault” was sexual assault full-stop. I would lay $1,000 down that it was sexual assault. I find it very difficult to imagine an “almost” sexual assault period, let alone one that isn’t damning. It’s kind of like trying to hit someone with your car. Even if you didn’t “succeed,” you still tried to hit someone with your car and there is no possible excuse for that. Ever. There’s no way you’re a good person after that. There just…isn’t.
So why him? What made it feel like staying was the better choice? That this was good enough love for you? A love I’m sure you wouldn’t accept for your sister or best friend or favorite coworker or mom? Why do you hold yourself in such low regard that you think it’s better to be with someone cruel than with no one? You are worth kindness! That’s in fact like the baseline level of what you’re worth. Kindness is the absolute basement.
It sounds like, from a couple things you say in this letter, you’re measuring your own worth based on whether or not you’re partnered up. Please don’t misunderstand me—I think it’s perfectly fine to want to be in a relationship; relationships are lovely. But if your self-worth is created entirely by something as binary and uncontrollable as being in a relationship, you have set yourself up to fail. A relationship is not something someone else bestows upon you as a measure of how great you are, it’s a thing you two build together. Think building a house with someone, not winning a first place medal.
The truth is that you do not have much say in whether you’re in a good relationship or not. That’s like basing your worth on whether you’re getting a piggy back ride—you kind of need another person to help you with that. There are aspects of being in a relationship that might make you feel accomplished. For example, you might be really proud of how good of a listener you are or how well you care for others or how you listen to your intuition and only pick partners who are kind to you. Those are ways that you behave, actions that you can take that might make you feel good about yourself. At the end of the day, that’s where self-worth must come from. Our actions and our behaviors, how we treat ourselves and others.
Right now, you’re being very harsh on yourself (relatable, common, not the end of the world). You’ve become convinced that you need to move on and prove to everyone (especially him, it seems) that you are Worth Someone’s Love. But you already are. You were before this guy, you were when you were with this guy, you are now. You have nothing to prove to anyone. Not to be crass, but no one is thinking about whether you’re partnered up or not. No one. Also, no one is handing out medals at the end of life for whoever dated someone the greatest percentage of their time on earth. The people who truly love you do not care one ounce if you’re in a relationship, if you moved on quickly enough, if you got over a shitty guy on a specific (but unwritten) timeline.
They care about you. You have to get there, too. That, frankly, is the job at hand—caring about yourself. Loving yourself. Being kind to and accepting of—to an almost sickly degree—yourself. Being so insistent on treating yourself well that you do not date someone cruel again. That, my friend, is the job.
The moving on will come—you are very very specifically doing all the right things! It’s usually harder to “get over” abusive people because you were trapped in a cycle of trying to please them, and when you’re in an abusive relationship trying desperately to please someone, you think about them all the time. You think about what they’d like, what they’d hate, what would make them happy, what would make them stay, what would make them leave. Often, the brain copes with abuse by becoming obsessed with earning the approval of the abuser; the brain becomes sure that if you just behave perfectly, you can win their Healthy Good Love. But that love does not exist. So when the relationship ends, it’s very very very difficult to all of a sudden convince your brain that she no longer needs to live with the constant background attention to (fear of) that person and what they want.
Please believe me, there is nothing wrong with being lonely. There is nothing wrong with missing and still thinking about a person who was shitty to you. (It happens to all of us on occasion). Please also believe me that it’s worth it to interrogate what just happened, to sit with it for a bit and to figure out what you actually need, not just want, from here on out. You’re a phenomenal person. That doesn’t change without a partner. One day, you’ll find someone who is great to you and for you. And that will be lovely, too. But you cannot artificially speed up that timeline.
Give yourself grace and time and patience. Acknowledge when you think about him, but don’t dwell on it or beat yourself up. If you can, you can examine why he comes up when he does—is it when you’re lonely? Horny? Insecure? Try to work backward and see if there’s a reason. If you find one, try to address that instead of your brain thinking about him. Brains think dumb things sometimes! You can very kindly explain to your brain that he is not your business, but thank you.
You got this!
Oh, also, please unfollow him or mute him on all social media. What that nasty, mean man does with his life is no longer your concern, thank god.
You can submit your own question—or yell at me about how I’m wrong—by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org