Relationships & Divorce
The Art of Letting Go: How I Gave Up On the Guy, the Gown and the Games
I made peace and let go, realizing that though he was a large part of my past, he no longer fit in my future
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go.” – Herman Hesse
Last summer, I sipped rosé on a romantic rooftop deck of a Sedona, Arizona, hotel, watching a salmon sun set over rust mountains with my boyfriend. He placed my hand into his and told me how much he loved me, and that we would be getting engaged very soon. We had been together for five years — albeit long distance — but things were finally on solid footing. The struggles of both of our careers, families, and sundry items had finally ceased and desisted.
Last fall, that boyfriend abruptly broke up with me for what I still believe are inexplicable reasons — something to do with the need to focus more on his (grown) children. As I was looking at gowns, he was looking at a new life. One that did not include me.
I remember waking up the day after it happened — an indelible memory still etched deep in my mind. No. This wasn’t a dream. This really happened.
This is your life.
As we all know, breakups in general, and breakups in midlife, in particular, can be devastating, even paralyzing. I really felt that this was my last chance at love. And honestly, even though four months have since gone by, I still cannot imagine myself going on a date again. But I can say I have finally learned to let go.
What does it mean to “let go” of someone? Well, it doesn’t mean you will never check your phone for a text or Facebook for a post. It doesn’t mean you won’t miss that person at times. And it doesn’t mean you’ve given up on love forever.
What it does mean is that you have reached acceptance and made peace with letting go of someone or something that no longer serves you. And you come to the realization that although they were a large part of your past, they are not a part of your future.
I know — easier said than done. So how do you get there?
I won’t lie. Therapy, especially for roller coaster relationships with a lot of ups and downs like mine, helps a lot. I know it helped me immensely. But I think the real way I let go was by taking a hard, honest, and detached look at my relationship. How much I gave to it with much less returned. No longer did I have to be thoughtful all the time and constantly put someone else’s needs before mine. No longer did I have to make plans, only to have them broken last minute by a natural disaster or terrorist threat or an exciting overseas journalistic assignment. And perhaps most importantly, no longer did I experience the anxiety of checking my phone for texts or updates and wondering if I should call. All the head games were over. Despite the profound sadness that accompanied the breakup, in some ways, I just felt relief. More peace. More time to think and rest. More energy to put into other more deserving places.
Nature abhors a vacuum. So after finally letting go, what do you do to fill the time? This may sound trite, but I would say: invest in yourself. After my breakup at age 51, I decided I was going to find a way to be happy in midlife and content being alone. Did I really need to give away so much of my time, energy and love to a man who didn’t make me a priority? I mean, didn’t I deserve to be someone’s priority? I decided to make myself a priority.
First, I became incredibly focused at work. I offered to do things that scared me, like presenting at a large conference and writing an op-ed on a complex issue. If work isn’t your jam, I get it. I’ve been there too. Just find something that nurtures your soul and indulge in it. For me, besides work, it is and always has been creative writing — something that this magazine has afforded me the opportunity to pursue.
I also signed up for a class in nonprofit management as I transitioned out of the private sector into a mission-based organization. I started setting my alarm for 5:15 am and going to Pilates classes (something new) down the street. During breaks, I listened to authors speak about their lives on NPR, and I bought a book about finding happiness in the second half of life. I allowed myself to eat carbs, and I started going out to lunch again with girlfriends that I had lost touch with during the pandemic. I even wrote a letter to my ex, further articulating all my thoughts and my concomitant disappointment — although I never did mail it. I started planning a future trip to Hawaii because I realized I really needed something to look forward to. And I started putting a value on “rest,” allowing myself to binge Netflix and take a restorative yoga class on Sundays. In sum, I just started doing all of the things that I enjoy, and I started making a lot more time for myself. And in that process, I realized that my life, just as it was right now, was pretty damn good, once I let go of him and the vast amount of space he occupied in my life.
I am not going to say never to falling in love again. I am a hopeless romantic. I am the person who fell in love with a chef in Italy on the precipice of turning 40 and wrote a book about it. I have always believed that with love, despite significant obstacles, anything is possible. But I can honestly say that searching for it doesn’t really interest me right now. When I learned to “let go” of that someone who was no longer taking care of me, I found someone who would.
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