I’m a sentimental person—how do I let go of past relationships?
Just read your article on letting objects go, as I am a sentimental person myself. But how do you let people go? Like a freshly ended relationship that has good and bad memories clinging to it. I’m finding it very difficult and painful.
I know this feeling, and I know it well. A few years ago, when I was still in my twenties, I was married for about 16 months. While the final days were admittedly amicable, the ones leading up to it were devastatingly not. During that time, I remember telling friends how strange it all felt. While I was certain about our decision to break-up, I didn’t know how to comfortably settle into the fact that a human I was once so closely bonded to would revert back to being a stranger, simultaneously roaming the planet, utter silence between us. He’d always be somewhere, doing something; I would just never know what again. I remember thinking that the loss felt different than a death because, at least, in that instance, there is a form of finite closure. In this, there were ghosts of a different variety.
Still, no matter how eerie it may have first felt, I did achieve peace of mind eventually, through choices both natural and intentional. I don’t know if you and your former lover (or friend) are still communicating, but might I suggest putting a stop to that for now? Your chances of letting go increase exponentially when you are not met with repeated opportunities to romanticize what once was. And as your letter stated that the relationship is indeed over, I think it’s best that you try to actively recall why.
There were reasons, or at least one, that the relationship ended, and those reasons are still relevant. Set time aside to reflect on what didn’t work. Write it down if you need to. In fact, write a letter (that you’ll never send) that expresses what you’re still clinging to and/or the things you never got the chance to say. Give it to a friend or family member—or, if you’re open to ritual, considering burning it (safely) while thanking the relationship for both its lessons and the pathway it granted you towards a new life.
To welcome this clean-slate season, lean into the activities that you’ve always easily gotten lost in. The ones that make time fly by. And if you think you’d benefit from keeping busy, do so! Join a club or take a class to meet like-minded people. Volunteer to turn the focus away from you and onto others.
Also, regarding reminders, remove the remnants of your relationship from your daily life, if you haven’t already. You don’t need to throw away every framed photo and birthday card, but you can (again) ask a friend or family member to hold them until you feel less emotionally attached. My mother still has my wedding dress somewhere—she made it herself, so it’s too precious to throw away! But these remnants also include social media. Unfollow and block until the wounds heal.
Please remember to release regret and forgive yourself. To do so, consider the dissolution less of a failure and more of two elements dodging one another so as not to combust. My ex is six years older than me, so I am the age now that he was when we started to fall apart. And there are realizations that I’ve come to as I’ve gotten older that have allowed me to release my perception of him. Turns out, he wasn’t a villain; he was simply at a different stage of life. Our timing was off. Do you know how freeing it was to realize that neither of us was The Offender? The same might be true for you and your past companion.
Finally, don’t rush this. Time heals everything. And you won’t even need to ask it to do so. I promise.
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Danielle Cheesman was born and raised in New Jersey, where she lived until moving to Philadelphia to study journalism at Temple University. She has spent her years writing and developing editorial visions for music, art, and lifestyle brands. Now residing in Los Angeles, you can usually find her taking pictures, making playlists, or cuddling her pup. Say hi on Instagram!