The first time I let go, it was on the last leg of a disastrous road trip with a boyfriend. We shared everything— he was the first to explore the darkest parts of me in soul-searching, mind-blowing, late-night conversations— with an intensity that convinced me this was true love and he was “the One” (and by convinced, I mean I might have started a Pinterest wedding board). Lately, though, it had been a roller coaster. Hoping this trip would help, I excitedly prepared games and a carefully-curated playlist.
In reality, we ended up passing time in a much more enjoyable way: arguing about breaking up. Well, I always was an over-preparer.
At some point, we started talking about which movie character would be our ideal partner (a great about-to-break-up time-passer). Here’s how that went:
Me: “I dunno, I mean, Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network is cute, smart, loyal, genuinely nice. But, Team Be Real, it’s all about Andrew Garfield’s hair. You?”
Soon-to-be-ex-BF: “Rose in Titanic, definitely.”
Me: “What— Rose? She left her family to forever freak out over whether she was dead or alive and she tossed one of the most expensive necklaces in the world into the ocean like it was from the dollar store so she could have herself a little Hallmark moment with a dead man. That is definitely not me.”
STBEBF: “Well, I’m no Eduardo! He’s boring and a wimp!”
And just like that, it hit me. It would have been funny that, after all our intellectual sparring, it was Eduardo vs. Rose that did us in if I hadn’t been dealing with the sudden sinking realization that we were completely wrong for each other. Something told me it was time to get off this ride, to let go, so I did: I told him that I was sorry, but it was over. For the first time, he didn’t know what to say.
It wasn’t until I had come home, crawled under the covers, and cried myself to sleep that I understood what exactly I had let go of: my entire concept of love. The blueprint I’d carried around my entire life (we should complete each other; we shouldn’t be able to live without each other) had only built me a shaky, lonely tower. And now— now what? For weeks, I felt empty.
The second time was not long after. I was looking at old pictures. When I saw one of little me and my dad smiling together, I felt more lost than ever. Over the years, the physical and emotional abuse he’d put me through had paralyzed me with fear and anger and self-blame until I didn’t know what it was like to laugh with him anymore. I realized that I’d never left that childhood— I was still tiptoeing around, watching for danger, scared that people would hurt me and that I would deserve it.
Then I saw one of my dad at 20. People laugh at how big his head seems for his body but the reality is that he was thin and frail from being starved. He’d grown up in a poor farming village in China, scrambling to get enough food for him and his siblings to eat, desperate to get out of there. But even when he finally got to America, there was no rest. He worked three jobs on top of getting his PhD in order to put me in a private elementary school and, still, he found time to dance around at my birthday party until my friends cried from laughter; still, he taught me to ride a bike and took me to Disneyland. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how hard his life was, how desperately he wanted to keep me from ever experiencing the same pain and humiliation of poverty he did. Sometimes, I guess, all the pressure and fear just broke him.
Though it didn’t excuse his behavior, that night I saw the simple truth: he just didn’t know any better. Maybe he would learn; maybe he wouldn’t. But while I was sitting here waiting for him to change and approve of me, I was dying. I was wasting my time, this precious little time that we all have, hinging my life on his.
So, I let go. I let go of blaming him for the things I was still scared of; I let go of demanding an apology; I let go of the childhood I never had; I let go of the father I wished he’d been; I let go of needing him to respect me before I respected myself; and I let go of waiting for someone to tell me I was worth loving.
And you know what? Something I never expected happened. When I released of all those old ideas about who I was and what love was, suddenly, I had all this space. And in that space grew a love of myself, true and deep, growing wild and free until it ran through every vein in my body and every part of my life— a love that I’d always wanted but had never made the room for before.
I guess in that way I was a little like Rose: I had to let go to save myself.
So when the day comes for you and you’re at the crossroads of old and new, the place where the river meets the sea, I hope you will know deep in your heart that there’s something better out there, right around the bend, and that the current of life is going somewhere good and beautiful and real, but if you’re ever going to get there, you’re going to have to let go of that rock you’re clinging to. I know it’s scary as hell but I promise, it’s worth it.