We are born hoarders. We accumulate things, experiences, feelings, beliefs, habits. And, of course, relationships. Raised in the culture of “have it all”, we conceive of life as an incessant addition. Subtracting is not good for us. As a result, it is not difficult for us to end up carrying an heavy emotional baggage or dragging out expired relationships.
Many times it takes more courage to let go of a person with whom we have shared dreams and despair than to retain it. It is usually easier to hold on than to let go, because often putting an end to these relationships is like letting go of a part of yourself, of a shared sensation that we may never experience again. However, sometimes to move forward you have to accept that certain relationships have lost their reason for being.
Relationships that are not updated end up languishing
Nothing is permanent, much less relationships. However, as goodbyes cost us, often realizing that a relationship has expired becomes a source of suffering.
However, relationships can cool down for an infinite number of reasons, from stopping sharing values, interests, aspirations and projects, to the appearance of conflicts or simply because each person takes a different course in life.
The truth is that, if we look back, we will see that very few people maintain the same position of trust and complicity. Although it is painful, it is a normal phenomenon. Life changes and we change with life. Different experiences and different ways of dealing with them can lead us down paths that diverge.
We change with the years and the damages. We are not the same person as a decade ago – and neither of the last year. If we don’t update our expectations and ways of relating, it is likely that the relationship will end up falling under its own weight, like a withered leaf in autumn.
When that happens, when the connection that brought us together is lost, holding on to the relationship can end up causing more harm than good. To prevent something that was beautiful from degenerating, we must learn to close the circles of life.
Letting go of relationships that are not working is also a show of love and respect
Even the passing of the years does not make us immune to goodbyes, especially when we sense that there is no turning back or that person has played an important role in our lives.
In fact, sometimes we do not cling to the person, but to the feeling of connection that we had experienced, that special bond that we had created and all the meanings that it holds in our minds. The philosopher Matthew Ratcliffe refers to this phenomenon as the “shared relational space.”
In practice, every relationship carries emotional baggage made up of shared experiences and gratifying feelings, from the security and trust we experience with someone to joy or spontaneity. We often find it difficult to separate ourselves from that relational space, so we begin to experience “An ongoing tension between two worlds, a past that one continues to inhabit, and a present that is devoid of meaning and seems curiously distant,” as Ratcliffe explained.
However, letting go in time will prevent conflicts from escalating and differences from poisoning the relationship. When that happens, when we cling to an expired relationship for too long, the good memories turn into reproaches. Shared joy transmutes into bitter disappointment.
For this reason, letting go of expired relationships is not only a show of love for oneself, but also respect for the other and what we have experienced. We change and our relationships are transformed – like it or not. It is nobody’s fault. You just have to accept that, even if it hurts, you have to put an end to something that no longer has a future.
Memories can be precious, as long as they stay in the past and we don’t live on them. As long as they don’t force us to maintain customs with which we no longer identify or as long as they don’t condemn us to live in an unwanted reciprocity that generates more dissatisfaction than joy.
The ideal is to let go of relationships at the right time. That moment in which we realize that we cannot continue to provide each other with anything better. We cannot continue to grow side by side. We are not better people together, but worse. That moment in which we realize that the relationship has lost its meaning and has no prospect of improvement, no matter how hard we fight. Letting it go at that moment will save us many troubles and will preserve a precious memory, preventing that valuable “shared relational space” from being completely contaminated.
Ratcliffe, M. (2021) Sensed presence without sensory qualities: a phenomenological study of bereavement hallucinations. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences; 20: 601–616.