Let Go, Move On, and Love Yourself Better
Often in reflecting on our lives, we attempt to rewrite certain experiences. This is especially true of our relationships. In reflection, we can spin a tale of epic romance, star-crossed love, or even perpetuate the myth of “The One Who Got Away”. We can equally disparage all our past relationships, seeing only the toxicity without being able any longer to taste the sweetness.
However we spin our pasts, though, there’s one inescapable truth that we must not try to rewrite: Exes are exes for a reason.
As we approach yet another holiday in a year that will be filled with them, there’s often a temptation to look backwards if we’re not involved in a healthy relationship. There could even be a temptation to reach out, to do anything to stave off the loneliness of a solitary celebration. Relationship relapses are strong when we put on our rose-colored glasses.
Letting go has become a spiritual catchphrase. We proudly drink our lattes and talk about how we’ve effectively implemented non-attachment in our relationships. We gather up our reusable bottles of water and yoga mats and head over to our newly redesigned gym for a session of hot yoga, while intensely discussing how we let go of this or that relationship and moved forward to lead better lives.
We’re all nodding our identically pony-tailed heads (a man-bun bobbing in the middle) as we take our seats in a class of pastel workout outfits and piped-in pop music. We’ll sweat our way to fitness and spiritual nirvana in pride, knowing that we’ve let go of our attachments without a qualm.
It’s an exaggeration, but it’s not far off the mark. Still, when we’re vulnerable we can get drawn back into our pasts without considering the ramifications or even recognizing what it is we’re truly missing.
Let me just drop a little truth on you:
You don’t want them back. You want you back. There’s a difference.
All those big feelings we can get when we think about past relationships are rarely about the other person. Clearly, if it was going to work out, it would have already. On closer inspections, those relationships were toxic or simply incompatible. Yet, we try to make the pieces fit together when nothing else seems to be working out. This is when we roll out the narrative that best suits us.
But when we do this, we do ourselves a great disservice. The other person likely made us feel amazing, but maybe we aren’t really missing them. Maybe what we’re missing is how we felt in that relationship. We don’t want them back, with all their likely still-unresolved issues. We want ourselves back — who we were and the way we felt.
We often say that someone made us feel this way. But if I learned anything from my time as a therapist, it’s that we’re all responsible for our own feelings. Someone else’s behavior can impact how we feel, but it’s still all about our emotional experience.
If someone made us feel loved, then we need to learn how to give that feeling to ourselves. If someone made us feel desired, we need to learn how to tap into that sense of sexiness we felt under their gaze. The emotional experience of a relationship doesn’t have to end when the relationship falls apart.
I think one of the most undervalued aspects of being single is the opportunity to take all our love and give it to ourselves. We have no distractions. There’s no one else demanding our time and attention in that way. We can build strong self-esteem and a powerful sense of self-worth, and then when we enter into future relationships, we’re doing so from a place of strength rather than loneliness.
This is the voice of experience here. For a period of time, I sat around and bemoaned a lost relationship. I grieved all the things I briefly had and all the future possibilities that would never unfold. I gave all my energy into a relationship that was already gone. When I felt ready to “move on”, I then transferred that energy into other people.
None of that worked. I hadn’t invested enough time in my healing, and I had simply distracted myself by trying to find someone else to love. It took another relationship falling out for me to remember that the relationship that most needed my attention was the one with myself.
I didn’t miss a single ex who had left my life. I missed who I was when I felt loved and cared for. Why, then, wasn’t I caring for myself? I began to focus my energy on self-care and building the kind of life I could love. I didn’t have the distraction of a relationship or even the potential of one. I took myself out of the game and gave myself all the energy I had always given everyone else.
I fell in love with myself and my life. I stopped missing those exes. I stopped putting on rose-colored glasses to look back. I stopped looking back unless it was to find the lessons I needed going forward. I stopped feeling like love was a thing they took with them when they left, and I remembered that it was always in me.
I didn’t want them back, and that’s not just a thing I tell myself to feel better. I wanted me back, so I stopped trying to source those feelings from anyone and everyone but myself. I got good and happy in my life, and when I ended up in a relationship, it was from a place of strength. I loved myself better, so I knew how to love someone else without giving up my entire sense of self to the relationship.
I don’t know that I could have truly let go and moved on without figuring out how to love myself and enjoy my life. I had to realize that I didn’t miss those exes who had exited my life with great or little fanfare. I missed that sparkling version of me that came out when I was loved. So, I loved myself.
I provide my own damn sparkle, and it’s not dependent on relationship status anymore. It never really was. It was just the thing I told myself when I got lonely, back when it was easier to look back than to try to figure out how to heal and move forward.
Maybe you don’t believe it yet, or your sparkle has faded so much that you don’t know if you’ll ever get it back. I get it. Love is bliss, but heartache hurts.
So, maybe just keep repeating “exes are exes for a reason” until you believe it, and the next time you feel like waltzing down memory lane, tango your way over to a reality check. You don’t miss them. You miss you. It’s time to stop giving all our energy away to the past or to an unknown future. We’re needed here in the present, loving ourselves so much that we remember we are worthy of it. Loving ourselves so much that we never, ever forget it.