Why is it hard to ‘let go’ without losing hope?
It does not matter if it is the end of a relationship, a friendship or a love-dream. It does not make a difference if it is saying good-bye to a friend, a lover or a husband. In every case, it is always hard to let go. And it is hard to let go, because it is hard to let go of everything. When we are left without the person, the relationship, whatever, we are still left with a lot of baggage, mostly, with a lot of questions. That is what we have to let go of. That is what closure means. To turn an ending into a closure is to get rid of the questions and doubts that remain. [Of course, this is not the only reason why endings are difficult. There is, first of all, loss and mourning, not to mention disbelief (This is not happening! This is not the end. We can still make it, etc.) Also, nostalgia, in the sense of a feeling of wishing that things went back to an idealized past when things were either working or still full of promise. There is even a feeling of relief mixed up with all these other feelings. In this text, however, I am only going to focus on doubt (and hope). I may write about the rest later.]
Why is it hard to ‘let go’ without losing hope?
Because after a break-up, we are always full of doubt – through the unavoidable question of ‘what went wrong?’–, and doubt is the antithesis of hope. To have hope is not to have doubts, but to be sure, to be sure that things can and will be better next time.
Now, there is always a double dimension to this doubt. A doubt of ourselves and our doubt of ‘the Other’ (meaning both the other person involved and the whole set of circumstances that are beyond ourselves). We know that for a relationship to work out, one, the other and the world have to do their part. So, when things do not work out, we are faced with the question of who did not do his or her part.
- Doubt of Self: Was it my fault?
- Guilt (Was it something I did? Was it something I did not? Did I do everything I could to make this work? Was there something I should/should not have done? Did I lack moral character? Was I bad to this person? etc.)
- Pride (Was there something I should have noticed before getting into this, before doing this or that? Did I not see this person as she/he actually is? Did I misjudge my own self? Was I wrong in trusting this person or myself? Did I not see things as they actually were? Did I read the signs incorrectly? Did I not notice other signs? Should I have known better? Was I fooling myself? Was I too naïve? Was I just plain dumb? etc.)
- Insecurity (Was it something about the way I am? Something about my personality, physical appearance, etc.? Was it just not right for me? etc.)
- ‘Victimization’ or Doubt of ‘the Other’: It is not fair what happened to me!
- Frustration (Why does not the world cooperate? Why were/are/have been things so hard? Why was/am I not given the chance? Why am I in love with someone who is not in love with me (or not in love enough)? Why doesn’t the other person feel the way I do? etc.)
- Blaming Anger: (Why did he/she failed me/us? Why didn’t she/he pulled through? Why did he/she do the things he/she did? Why didn’t he/she did the things she/he should have? etc.)
- Disappointment: (Why didn’t she/he see things the right way? Why didn’t she/he notice? Why didn’t he/she knew better (not to do the things he/she did or to do the things she/he should have? etc.)
[note: sorry if I chose the wrong words to name each different kind of doubt in this schema. I know these words have very subjective meanings, but I could not find more precise ones. I do not want to get in a pointless discussion of semantics. The important thing is not how to call them, but to realize that they are different sort of questions that have to be dealt in different ways, as I say ahead. It is different, for example, to doubt whether or not we did something wrong (1.a) or it was just that we did not know better (1.b).]
So, to find the necessary closure to regain hope after a break-up, one needs to turn all these doubts into reassurances. To find a satisfactory answer to all these questions, that is, one that will restore hope.
In a perfect closure, we would find positive answers to every one of these questions. We would find reasons to believe that (1.a) we did not do anything bad (to remove the guilt), (1.b) nor did we do anything wrong, given the information available to us (to restore our pride). Also, we would come to believe that (1.c) we could be loved as we are (to regain our self esteem), and that (2.a) there will be other chances, other times when it will be just right for things to happen, for things to work or to last (to ease the frustration). Finally, we would be assured that what the other person was wrong (2.b) and/or stupid (2.c). Ideally, we would have an apology for either of these last two things: a recognition of the blame and disappointment the person has brought to us (Amendments would also just make things perfect). Then, finally, it is time for forgiveness and to move on. We can trust again, without doubt.
In general, however, we can reach these reassurances, not necessarily through the other person, but also through others. That is why it is important to re-tell our stories and hear from others that, yes, it was not our fault, we did nothing wrong, we did nothing foolish, we will be seen clearly by the right person some day, etc. Nevertheless, many times we are left alone to deal with these doubts ourselves. It is in those cases when it is hardest not to give in to the doubt, instead of finding closure. Still, it is possible.
Furthermore, the right lesson may not come through positive answers. We may find out that, yes, we got it wrong (1.b), or did something bad to the other person (1.a). We may find it was our fault. In these cases, the best outcome would be to learn from those mistakes and try not to repeat them again. We would turn our weaknesses into strengths and come better prepared for next time. In ideal circumstances, we would apologize and, if possible, make amendments. Try to set things right with the other, and ourselves. For it is also important, not to let the blame take over, but to also forgive ourselves for those mistakes and sins.
Similarly, we may come to realize that it was not his or her fault. She did nothing bad to us (2.b), nor anything stupid (2.c). So there is no need for forgiveness.
However, the really difficult part – or at least this is the part where I have the most problem looking for a rational solution –, is to find reassurance for (1.c) our insecurities and (2.a) frustration. For if (1.c) someone does not love us (or not enough) the way we are, or if (2.a) the circumstances were not right for the relationship to work, there is nothing, or very little we can do about it. It was beyond out control. There is none to blame (god? Providence? Nature?) and nothing to learn except for patience, perhaps. It all seems to come down to simply wishing for luck for the next time: to wish that there will be a right time and the right person. After all, what kind of evidence could we count on in order to be sure that this will be so? What reasons does one have to believe?
Some people may find the distinction between 1.c and 2.a to be spurious. In the end, both are things of the world, in so far as they are beyond our control, or not in our hands to change. We can change a lot, but we cannot change who and how we fundamentally are, just as we cannot change the world at our will. So both are different faces of the same coin. Call it ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’. Both are the stuff of romantic tales. Most romantic comedies focus on 1.c, while romantic tragedies tend to favor 2.a. Romantic comedies like to tell stories about couples whose personalities, physical appearance, social status, etc. are apparently mismatched – people who come from different worlds -, but in the end come together because of the vagaries of love. On the other hand, the archetypical romantic tragedy still remains ‘Romeo and Juliet’, “star-crossed lovers” who have to fight the circumstances of the world in order for their love to flourish. Sometimes the world wins, like in the aforementioned play. Other times, however, there is a ‘Hollywood Ending”, when loves conquers all. In both cases, the moral is the same: Love needs the hand of destiny. It is foolish and vain of us to believe we can understand or do enough. We are helpless in the face of fate.
So this is what hope comes down to. Hope is not knowledge. We hope for the best, not because we believe, with good reasons, that there will be a right time, a right person who will love us the way we are, who will do right to us, who will know; that we will also be there for that person, that we will fall in love, be ready to do good and to see things the right way. We hope precisely because we do not know. We hope, not because we have all the answers, but because we decide to face the unknown with faith and trust. We may do our best to be better prepared for next time, but in the end, the most important thing is to try again, to trust ourselves, one another, and the world. To give us and the world another chance. That is what it means to ‘be ready’.