The Freedom of Letting Go

Sometimes the only thing keeping us in a bad relationship is our unwillingness to let it go.

Illustration by Karin Söderquist

My mind was feverish with revenge. He had me. He owned me. My every waking moment was consumed by thoughts of our ugly little entanglement. The situation was driving me mad, but I was calm, CALM I tell you!

This is a story about what happens when other people have the gall to not follow through on the plans we make for them—and how to see that no one takes our power from us unless we give it away.

Like so many others, our relationship started on the internet. I answered an ad…for cheap software. I needed it. He had it—or so he said. All I had to do was give him $48.75 up front. So I gave him the money. Plus tax. At first I felt that endorphin rush you get when you see your plans for another person taking shape. I smugly surmised that together we had beaten the system, and I was feeling pretty, pretty good. Sure, today it was just software, but maybe later he could give me so much more.

Then he went radio silent. A few days passed, so I called. He didn’t answer. I texted, and he didn’t answer. I tweeted and Facebooked and even considered resorting to a singing telegram, but it was all for naught. No contact, no software, no nada. My expectations—dashed. Wanting to get what I wanted from the relationship had made me willing to ignore all the warning signs. Even still, I clung to the idea that if I could only catch his attention he’d see I’m a great gal. We were gonna be good, we were gonna make it, “C’mon baby, bring mama some of that software.” But nothing.

Wanting to get what I wanted from the relationship had made me willing to ignore all the warning signs.

That’s when I started to get desperate. I tried every ruse I could think of to get his attention, and I know plenty. I devised a convoluted scheme where a friend of mine pretended to be a potential “customer”—no go. I can still imagine his scathing laughter at my amateurish efforts. Fortunately, I have a 20-year mindfulness practice. So I just kept returning to the breath, over and over. And each time, the same message rang clear and deep in my heart: Give. Me. My. Software!!! I want software! Over and over, building to a brain-whirling crescendo until, in a flash, enlightenment!

I suddenly realized that I had put myself in a chokehold. I thought about this man and his broken promises morning, noon, and night. And as I chased him in the name of justice, focusing every drop of consciousness on my indignation, I essentially duct-taped myself to him. I sat with this awareness for a while. I scanned my body, noticing places here and there that seemed to tighten or clench or respond any way at all when I thought about the situation. I let myself notice thoughts like, “I’ve been wronged and it isn’t fair!” I noticed that I felt hurt, outraged, and embarrassed. Grrrr! I kept breathing and feeling it all, as best I could, without trying to solve anything.

I started to reflect on my past, on times when I’d experienced similar sticky situations—usually involving romantic partners. In those scenarios I adopted a willful blindness so I could hold on. I ignored how much pain came along with refusing to let go of what was already gone. In this case what was gone was my money, and a man who offered me things that were too good to be true. I ran the cost–benefit analysis: I could hold on and suffer, or I could let go.

I took a decisive breath, felt my feet on the ground, and dialed his number. Amazingly, after what felt like a thousand years of silence, this time he answered. I told him he owed me nothing, we were now completely square. I thanked him for all he had done for me. I wished him well, and actually meant it. I thanked him again and hung up. And I was free! And it felt great!

Letting go doesn’t mean getting what you want, or even what you feel you deserve. Letting go simply offers sweet, sweet freedom.

This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of Mindful magazine.