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I have a friend who I’ve been close to since high school. When my long-term girlfriend and I had our breakup, this friend became the closest person to me. But we don’t speak now.
It’s not like we had a fight or anything. We simply don’t go out anymore. It’s difficult to give up on a relationship.
5 years ago, when I still believed in “fighting” to keep the people I cared about, I would’ve brought pizza and ice cream to her place and badgered her to open up.
But now, there’s a part in me that says, “Hollywood-like gestures might bring the relationship back. But there’s a deeper reason why you no longer see each other.”
We led different lives. Over the years, we also developed contrasting beliefs and values. We used to love the same things, but I don’t think that’s the case now. This isn’t rare.
Life simply happens, and we grow apart from the closest people we’ve known.
Question: Should you just let that be?
There’s a thin line between letting a relationship go at its “natural” course and neglecting to invest in it altogether. How do you tell the difference?
Don’t “fight ” for a relationship
I’ve received advice in the past that if you have to “fight” for a relationship, then it’s not worth saving in the first place. That if I had to change my core self or adjust my entire lifestyle to meet someone’s needs — then that person isn’t for me. So I should just cut that person off.
While I agree with the sentiment, my experience taught me it’s not as simple as that. Otherwise, we’d all be in happy relationships, successfully saying “NO!” to toxic friends, family, or lovers.
It’s easy to know what we should do. But we often don’t act on that knowledge. Action requires a significant level of acceptance. And acceptance is misunderstood when it’s used as an end answer.
I hear it too many times. (And I unwittingly gave it in the past too). “Just accept it and move on.” The advice is right and practical.
But acceptance is not an answer in itself. It’s a process. It’s something we learn and practice over time. That’s why it’s so difficult to move on from grief and heartbreaks.
True acceptance is not an answer
We think we’re close to someone because of the time we’ve spent with them. Maybe we even had some of those “deep” conversations.
But do you really know the other person? Are you self-aware whether you dominate a conversation or activity too much?
How often do you play the listener and talker roles in the relationship? I don’t think 50–50 is possible. One would always be more of a talker or listener. And that’s okay. As long as you’re not the talker or listener 90% of the time.
And even if you’re confident that you know who they are; Have you truly accepted them? Honestly. Or did you cherry-pick a few parts? Maybe you’re hoping their future self would turn up with upgrades?
We all tend to make the people close to us “better.”
Helping someone “become better” could range from forcing a daughter to take up law school to forwarding an article about self-care to a struggling friend.
Some of us are hands-on, while others are not. It’s all the same: We want the best for the people we care about. And this isn’t necessarily bad. But it’s difficult to accept someone when you’re too focused on “helping.”
Then, you evaluate:
Are you in the same phase in life?
This is one of the hardest things I had to learn when I finally let go of my 5-year relationship.
Our relationship was doing really well:
- We never had fights. We calmly talked things over.
- If one of us got our temper up (which is rare), the other would always relent and accommodate.
- We communicated openly and honestly.
- We made quality time for each other.
- We knew and accepted each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
- Sex was pretty good. And so was our cooking.
It wasn’t perfect. But we were doing so well that when we decided to break up, we both had a hard time looking for help online. All we could find were articles that talked about challenges and problems we’ve already overcome in the past.
How can a relationship like that end? The answer is simple but difficult to accept: We were in different phases in life. I was focused on my career and non-traditional relationship orientation. She was occupied with family and personal concerns.
As much as we wanted to, one could no longer help the other. We were on different paths. And those paths led to different places. Either we stay and stagnate. Or take our paths and break up.
Most of the time, we already know when we’re in the “wrong” relationship. Even if the relationship started “right”. (And it was right for us for half a decade!) There are always signs, and we can tell.
We always delay the separation. It’s only human.
In the end, I’ve learned that we don’t really “give up” on our most cherished relationships. Especially when we’re dealing with a parent, child, or sibling.
It’s a process of acceptance; Acceptance that we don’t have to control or know everything; acceptance of who the person really is; and acceptance that we may be in different places in life.
And if we need to take diverging paths? Then that’s okay.
Relationships aren’t obligations. They’re gifts; freely given and freely taken.