When relationships end, it can be difficult to rebuild a life when so many of the places and things that we’ve enjoyed are now sullied with reminders of someone who is gone, whether it ended by our choice or theirs.
It seems like so many of the landmarks of our relationship become verboten, and we learn to form our new lives around them. I’m in my mid-thirties now, and I’ve experienced many goodbyes over the years—friendships come and gone, a marriage broken beyond all repair, an unrequited love, and a number of failed, albeit brief, relationships.
Despite the length of the relationship, it can be difficult to return to some of those landmarks that remind us of what’s gone. But more than that, I’ve found that even some of our interests, habits, and hobbies can be damaged when we pack up the baggage of that relationship and try to move on.
Why do we decide to avoid certain places or routines? If we always had fro-yo at a favorite local place and then headed to yoga class, why do we feel we have to stop? Or if our “thing” with that person was to binge-watch Netflix while eating cereal, why would we avoid an activity we enjoyed once we find ourselves alone? Why do we choose to sacrifice the places and things we love for the sake of someone who didn’t love us?
Sure, I get it. It can be painful. There’s a coffee shop that I haven’t revisited, and I realize that I’m afraid of the ghosts I might find there, the shadowy forms of people who don’t see all the hurt that’s coming. I see my hopeful self with hands wrapped around a coffee cup, leaning forward, not seeing the cliff ahead. So, yes, I avoid the spot. And I know I have to stop. Of course, my spot has been easy to avoid. It’s not close or convenient, but I’ve still created an invisible barrier built from the pain.
When relationships end, there are so many small things that can hurt us. We can be reminded by a certain song or phrase, a movie we once watched with a loved one, or even something as simple as a shared activity.
Yes, it hurts, but there’s also healing that can be found in moving through experiences rather than building our lives around them. While avoidance can help for a little while, we ultimately need to reclaim every little bit of our lives for ourselves.
After my marriage fell to pieces and I started over, I realized that I had abandoned little things that I liked to do simply because they reminded me of that relationship. But as I looked back over my life, I was reminded that these were activities I enjoyed before the relationship ever was, things I would enjoy even if the relationship had never existed. So why would I deny myself the joy of doing something I loved for the sake of someone who didn’t care anymore?
We can’t heal as long as we’re living in denial or avoidance. If we walk 10 blocks out of our way or drive five streets over to avoid a relationship landmark, we’re still not in a place where we can move on. If we abandon an activity that we enjoyed inside of the relationship because the relationship is done, we still can’t heal.
We’re creating invisible barriers to living whatever life we want to live, and if we really want to heal and move on, we have to be strong enough to bear the pain and move through it. We have to acknowledge our ghosts and let them be.
Revisiting emotional landmarks can be a powerful tool in moving on. We can go to all of the significant places that we’ve been avoiding in order to let go of them. We can remember the relationship and what we shared with that person, and then we can start the work of truly letting go.
Of course, we have to want to actually let go. That’s sometimes the hard part. It can be easier to avoid the pain and the places to draw out, just a little longer, the pleasure of remembering. We can allow ourselves that little bit of hope inside the memory, and maybe revisiting those landmarks will extinguish it.
But if we’re shaping our lives around an absence, it’s time to extinguish the memories, to loosen the grip on the past so that we’re able to reach out to embrace the moment we’re living now.
Sometimes those emotional landmarks are less about places and more about activities, and a big part of moving on with our lives is finding a way to reclaim everything that we loved about ourselves in those relationships. We can let go of the person but keep whatever else we loved.
Maybe it’s eating Junior Mints and staying up late watching classic films. Maybe it’s going on long hikes or camping in the woods. Whatever things we loved before the relationship or learned to love during it, we need to take that back. We need to stop living as if the people who are gone have stolen something from us because the truth is that we’re stealing from ourselves every time we throw up invisible barriers to avoid feeling pain.
We have beautiful lives right now that require our time and attention, and we need to stop fearing that the emotional landmarks of the past are land mines. They aren’t. We’ve stoked the fears, and it’s time to put them out. We can let them be.
When we begin to slowly reclaim our lives, we find that the past hasn’t stolen anything from us. Do we have hurting places or scars from where we’ve been? Sure. Of course we do. But we are wholly ourselves. Broken places heal. Scars fade. And we may be transformed into people that our old selves might not recognize.
But we are who we are without anything being taken from us. We have the right to enjoy all of our lives without trying to avoid the ghosts of what-might-have-been or the echo of what-will-never-be.
We have the right to reclaim all that we loved before and only when we reclaim it will we truly heal ourselves.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Simon Law/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson