How do you know when it’s time to say goodbye? To move on? To go separate ways? There comes a point for many people, whether it’s with the true love of your life, the gang at church, your oldest friend, or a group you used to hang with, when something is just not the way it was. So what to do? And when to do it?
Some times people leave early on. When it looks like it’s going to be some trouble, some work, to continue. When the honeymoon phase is over, and you begin to see all the warts and wrinkles, and they become irritating. There’s a problem with this method, though. It can end up in an unending cycle of hello-goodbye, because everyone, every group, has its imperfections. So the early leaver can end up playing the opening bars of the dance with a different set of partners every night, unable to make the connection of cause and effect. Yet they usually don’t really say goodbye, because they pick up the next dancer too quickly as a way to avoid dealing with the pain of the last. It is an attractive trap in some ways, because it leaves the dancer free to roam, free not to commit, free to be alone at the end of the evening.
So what’s the answer? Step out later in the dance – somewhere closer to the middle, leave when the passion fires are at a peak? When the action has hit the trumpet blast of creative intimacy, closeness, congruence, or however it may be defined? The last memory will be of a dynamo experience, certainly. But when are you sure that it was absolutely the top? What if this really wasn’t the peak of it, if there was just beyond view one even more substantial interaction which could have led to an even higher plateau? My God, what regrets that could bring. No, there’s real resistance to leaving when things are in full bloom.
So what if we can feel definitely that things have hit the pinnacle because events are certainly on the downside, the slide has begun toward the end of the dance? Isn’t there something in us that beckons “we can get it back, it can be that way again, like it once was?” Maybe it can, and the temptation is strong – it must be, for many try. But if we play the percentages, how realistic is it to expect successful rekindling? How many times has anyone seen it, or experienced it? Does it really work that often?
After all, what would cause it to wane? Something went wrong somewhere. It would be very unusual if whatever went wrong didn’t leave hurts, scars, wounds – to one side or the other – usually to both. So at least one side is going to be leery of moving close again. They might want to, even be compelled to, yet sometimes the hurts are so deep that you can’t forget, can’t go back, can’t recapture the spark as much as you might want to because you keep looking over your shoulder for the boom to lower, and you have to finally admit, when all attempts have failed, that there is nothing for it but to let go and cut the cord.
Yet sometimes we wait and resist even then – we continue to dance after the partner has left and the lights are out. Then when we happen to meet them, the other party has the slight cloud over their eyes – the distant look as if they are emotionally standing far across the room – when they give us the “Oh, hello,” that sounds like what you would say to a Sunday School teacher you had just met. The time when head, heart and gut begin to correlate that it is really, truly and definitely over – the energy that once passed between the two of you has closed off, shut down, and is gone.
At that point, hanging on is holding fantasies. If you are still in that relationship, you are the only one who is. The other has moved on, no forwarding address. The conclusive evidence comes if you tell them the most all consuming, deeply significant item of your life today, and they act politely but mildly interested, say “Oh, how nice,” and turn to other matters. Then it sinks in you really have hung on too long.
So we try different styles, methods, patterns of leaving – or not leaving – experimenting with different times of quitting the dance. We begin to learn that love hurts less the one who cares less. We grow cautious and learn – or we repeat patterns. We hold on or we let go. Yet if we grow there still comes that inevitable moment – it might happen – when we know, we just know, it’s over. And then we look once more at them, with that quiet calm of acceptance, mentally wish them well, and say –
“Couple holding hands while walking on the beach” Microsoft Office Clipart Collection
“Walk Away” by Rocpoc @ flickr.com Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.
Previously published in Thoughts Along the Road to Healing