Lessons from La La Land: Letting people let you go is hard

I have packaged you up, as you were to me then, and wrapped you up in a parcel for me to take out when I please. It sounds obsessive, possessive – but it’s nothing to do with you at all, really. It isn’t really you whom I cling to and always have to hand; all I have is an idea of you, perceived in perfection through my adoring eyes however long ago. This is a sad thing for me to realise, but I treasure what I can.

I can imagine that you have a happy parcel of a me, too, that you pull out every now and again to smile at. It is hard for me to think that you don’t think of me in the same way. Not that I believe you are stuck in the past; I can just about accept that we aren’t friends anymore. But to think that you don’t hold an idea of me in suspension, as happy as we were and as special as it felt, that offends me. I know I have no right to demand that you remember me in a certain way, and that there is all likelihood that I was a toxic person who needed cutting away for your own self-preservation, and that you can only think of me in bitterness now. Or that maybe I was just unremarkable, and memories of our friendship feel just as indifferent as your indifference towards me now.

A strange thought that I don’t like.

I don’t connect with people very easily – I’m not an instant best friend and I can’t bother myself with niceties if it doesn’t feel genuine. If I spend time on someone, I want depth; making friends to have fun for one day is just not something I understand. This is something I’m working on, as part of generally trying to enjoy the present without thinking too much about where it’s leading. I want to be able to appreciate the value of a person and a moment in that moment, instead of always wondering how it will develop and what it might mean to me in ten years’ time.

Anyway, the point of all that is to say that once I have befriended someone and feel accepted by them, then I’m all in. I think this is something that I really like about myself – that if I call you my friend then I properly like you and will hold at least a bit of you in my heart forever. This means (and I hope my friends agree, but I worry they won’t and I will sound so full of myself for saying this) loyalty, trustworthiness, consideration and appreciation. But I think it can also be a bit much.

Some can see a friend as for right now, give themselves to others straight away and not fret too much when someone moves away or moves on, and I don’t think that this kind of friendship is any less valuable or cherished as the kinds that I need. It just means that I struggle when people I call friends move on from me, and I can’t quite understand it.

To think that you don’t hold an idea of me in suspension, as happy as we were and as special as it felt, that offends me.

I spent a long time telling my therapist about friends who didn’t speak to me anymore, who I could hear cackling with other people or see hugging new friends on Instagram. And he would just say,

            ‘You know, it’s okay not to be friends with someone.’

His statement is so blisteringly obvious that on the surface I shrug and frown, waiting for him to tell me something I don’t already know.

But on second thoughts – no!

            ‘That’s not what I’m talking about,’

I protest.

            ‘This is not just a random someone I didn’t make friends with; this person called me their best friend, we did everything together, they were in my profile picture.’

Rational brain (and therapist) says that people change and grow apart, and I know that. I know that relationships can be situational and even if they’re not, you can always find people whom you connect with more. Or maybe people just lose interest. That’s life, I get it.

But there is always a part of me that cannot accept this. It’s like I know this is the way of the world and I can watch it in play, but a little stone inside me shakes its head and refuses to agree that it is an acceptable turn of events. I am a petulant, stubborn child, bitter and betrayed at playground snubs.

I will hold at least a bit of you in my heart forever.

You can imagine how this all translated into my first break up – not pretty. Even once I’d got my head round the idea that we were not getting back together, I couldn’t completely let them go.

A month or two after the break up, La La Land came out (yes, I do know this is going to sound fucking pathetic but in my defence, I was in a very *delicate* place at the time, and I just fucking love musicals and take them a little bit too seriously, okay?). Spoilers, there’s a scene near the end where Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling aren’t really together anymore, and Emma Stone turns to Ryan Gosling and says,

            ‘I’m always going to love you,’

And he says,   

            ‘me too.’

Cut to however many years later, when Emma Stone is an A-list Hollywood actress with a glamorous husband, with whom she spontaneously stumbles into an LA jazz bar, and she makes eye contact with Ryan Gosling across the crowded room and they nod at each other, content.

My aunt lived in Paris…’

I know what you’re thinking – ah, a gorgeously indulgent, glitzy Hollywood not-quite romance – what a hauntingly relatable parallel for this snivelling, heartbroken law student in cold, rainy England!

As I said, I was in a strange state of mind, alright, so that scene in the film was like a revelationary message from the universe – me and my ex were going to be okay! We were not going to get married but we were going to be friends and we would always be special to each other in a beautiful and platonic way. There was a way for me to accept not being together anymore, without having to see this person become a stranger.

Needless to say, despite my best and most resolute intentions, 2 months was not quite enough for me to embark on this new blossoming friendship after my first serious relationship. More than a little tumult ensued, but now our friendship is pretty stable and brings me mostly happiness and only the slightest lingering stab of bitterness. Thumbs up.

This is progress in acceptance, and I am allowing myself to watch this relationship evolve and change. But I guess I’m still stuck in my ways because I still call this person a friend, still do consider them special because of who they were to me before, and part of me still balks at the thought that maybe I’m not special in quite the same way to them. Is this proof that I’m incapable of letting people go? Or is it a sign of growth, just a simple good thing to have a friend, something I can be happy about? Or maybe it is yet another indication that relationships and life are complex and should not be distilled into binary distinctions and thought and overthought and overthought? (This is also something I am working on at the moment).

I think that as well as holding onto the past for myself, sometimes I impose it on people. Everyone loves a reminisce, right? A trip down memory lane is a guaranteed good time, because you have the security of knowing that the good time has already happened and that you are safe in the realm of nostalgia. But at times I use this on the offensive – when I’m uncertain about our current interaction, I will pull out that memory of an unquestionably happy moment we shared, grasp it in desperation and throw it in your face as proof that I mattered to you once.

I have a really weird memory which stores minute details, so the memories I rely on as that proof can turn out to be pretty random. I am that person you met once in freshers’ week and bump into three years later in the supermarket, saying hi with unnerving familiarity as your brain frantically searches for any trace of a memory of me. And strangely, instead of accepting your wispy ‘oh, hi!’ and leaving at that, I have decided instead to take you through a second by second live re-enactment of the one and only time we met.

Either that, or we are old friends turned acquaintances trying to catch up, and I’m still banging on about some insignificant non-event we experienced together some time ago because I can’t seem to have a normal chat without it circling back to this every time.

I think it’s because I feel insecure with where we stand at the moment and I don’t want to believe that maybe we can’t rebuild from this and grow close again. It is easier and safer for me to remind you of the good times we had before and wish that we could slip right back into them. It usually feels quite hollow and I find that sad. I know that it’s desperate but I can’t help but try one more time, every time.

I will pull out that memory of an unquestionably happy moment we shared, grasp it in desperation and throw it in your face as proof that I mattered to you once.

I sometimes feel I am always the one giving too many chances, that I’ll wait for someone to give up before I give up on them (and usually I give them a few more chances before that). I worry that this makes me weak, and that I should admit where my odds are slim and allow them to slip away without resistance, instead of rolling the ball back into their court and being willing to take the hit if they don’t want to play. I feel a pressure on myself to BE EMPOWERED and not even let it get to that stage – that I should be the one to walk away before they get the opportunity to, because I am better than them and this will somehow mean that I’m the one in control. But what if that’s just not what I want to do?

I am clearly very connected to the past, and while this can be fun, I have recently been finding that it can cause a lot of pain and I don’t know what to do about it. There is so much reluctance to let go of such precious memories, and I can’t just brush off past experiences because I know that’s not how I feel, honestly. I hold the feeling of who someone was and what they meant to me tightly, treasuring the light from the good times they gave me and reserving a gushing gratitude for whatever lessons they forced me to learn in the bad times. And actually, I think that’s alright. Sometimes moving on requires a clean break and discarding every thought of a person. But sometimes moving on entails holding on, at least to some parts. If those parts bring me some happiness, then that’s not a bad thing, right?

What do you think? Do you, like me, hold little pieces of people in your heart forever, and look back in soft, nostalgic affection? Or do you think I’m still in denial, exposing myself to feeling let down again and again and again? Please let me know your thoughts because I am endlessly insecure and confused about this, and thank you as always for reading 🙂

This is the second of three essays I’ve written about moving on and letting go. The first is about the sensation of realising a moment has become the past (you can read it here), this one has been about moving on from people, and the last will be about trying to find peace with moving on from past pain.

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