The Confusing, Painful Way I Finally Let Go of a "Non-Relationship"

Updated 04/19/18

What does it really mean to let go? When we turned this question over to our editors and readers, their responses proved that grief, catharsis, and rebirth come in all forms—whether it's finally moving on from a failed relationship, rebuilding oneself after a painful trauma, or quietly saying goodbye to the person you once were. Our series Letting Go highlights these compelling and complicated stories.

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Our meeting was like any other—a friend-of-a-friend introduction and a series of across-the-room eye-catches and can't-help-but smiles later, I was hooked. He was handsome, quietly hilarious, and seemed distinctly unaware of his charms. He was an artist. He was a nerd. He had a beard. He knew my friends. It was like someone had made a list of everything I'd ever thought I wanted and created him. At least that's what the shiny holographic halo I'd painted on him that night made me believe. 

"I'd like to see you again," he told me, sheepishly, as the morning sunlight poured into my living room. He didn't leave until 5 p.m. that evening. He was fun. It felt easy. From the second he walked through my front door, we were in constant contact. We texted every moment our hands were free. The thing is, though, I'm not easily fooled. I find it hard to fall for someone and have maintained a relatively perma-single existence for the last decade. I spent the majority of my 20s without a significant relationship, learning to live happily on my own while my friends coupled up. This must be what people are talking about, I thought at some point during our courtship, the way, when it's right, everything falls so easily into place.

He wasn't falling for me, though, I realized after we began seeing each other less and less. Or, I maintained, maybe it was just bad timing. He'd recently gotten out of a relationship, and after he'd all but ghosted me, I still believed we had the possibility of finding each other again. Later I realized he "mosted" me (a phrase coined by journalist Tracy Moore, wherein the object of your desire creates false intimacy as a byproduct of an avoidant attachment style). Then he "breadcrumbed" me. This went on for months, now years.

His people-pleasing fear of hurting my feelings or telling the truth made it so I never had a clean break. That, and I don't think I was ready to take no for answer. As we hadn't made any official declarations about the nature of our relationship, I wasn't able to vent the way I wanted to or wallow in my sadness the way I needed to. I forced myself to be self-aware and unaffected when all I felt was a dull heartache, like nausea, during every moment of the day. I was stagnant.

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"There is no start or end," Amy Chan, a relationship columnist and founder of Renew Breakup Bootcamp, told me of a non-relationship over email. "You're constantly in-between." When it's explicit and concrete, at least in understanding, there's finality to that. When the lines are blurred, there are no clear boundaries. "There is no container, and there are no rules," notes Chan.

Byrdie wellness editor Victoria wrote earlier this week, "There is beauty in succumbing to our feelings," and though my knee-jerk reaction is exactly the opposite—to brush things off, be cool, and keep moving—there's nothing more decisive (and ultimately, constructive) than making eye contact with heartbreak. I finally allowed myself to feel the pain of it, to grieve this loss (because it still is a loss, even if it didn't fall into the confines of a traditional committed relationship arc). It's an antiquated notion that time or exclusivity form the only path to real feelings.

Some people get under your skin and stay there until you learn how to dig them out, regardless of all the other stuff. I was sad and dumbfounded in equal measure, searching endlessly for control over my pain (and, admittedly, my ego).

"A lot of people say they want to move on, but they don't," admits Chan. "They hang on to the pain, the hope, anything they can to stay connected to that person." This phenomenon is no joke: Studies show this phase of a breakup activates the same part of the brain as addiction—which means what I was feeling was similar to withdrawal.

I had to give in to let go. Inevitably, I had to relinquish control or else continue to spiral. I was never going to understand why I felt he was different or how it all came crashing down, stranding me under an avalanche of inadequacy and confusion. I unfollowed him on social media and stopped searching for the incriminating evidence I always knew I could find. I finally let myself cry. My dad's a yoga teacher and has taught me a lot about setting an intention—a purpose for your day based on how you're feeling or what you'd like to accomplish.

It can be anything, even as simple as I'd like to feel better today. So that's what I did. And after several hundred of those intentions, I watched him float away.

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