On a solo backpacking trip around Central America I met a guy. It was an instant connection. He is from Europe and I am from Canada and not to mention he is 13 years older than I am. We ended up spending a lot of time together and I fell in love. He has his flight back and I had three more weeks of traveling left. We talked and called each other every day. He would tell me he missed me and how much he wished I could be there. When I arrived back home, the messages slowly decreased and when I confronted him about it, he told me that he still liked me but that vacation for him was over now and it was back to reality and he hoped we can still keep in touch. At first, I didn’t understand but that was because I didn’t want to. He had talked about me possibly visiting or vice versa and how much he wished he could be with me. We still keep in touch from time to time as friends. I haven’t been able to let him go. It still hurts when I think about him. He was the first man I ever loved. Watching your TEDx talk inspired me. I think about the five things to let go of but I found myself getting more and more attached to him. I don’t want to cut him out completely because I value our friendship. I just don’t know how to let go of the love I still have for him and move on.
Forever Solo on the Trail
I know how painful it can be when you want to be with someone and they don’t want to be with you in quite the same way.
When I was in my twenties, I met this guy named Buck (yes, his real name). He was visiting friends in Chicago from Oregon when we met at a bar and instantly hit it off. After spending a few very intense days and nights together, he went home. And we talked on the phone every night for hours. My friends would ask me what in the world we had to talk about. But I couldn’t describe it. Our connection was powerful, sometimes we even slept while on the phone. We didn’t want to hang up! It was weird and wonderful and like nothing I’d ever experienced. It certainly felt like love, although who knows? Back then, I was just starting to figure out what love looked like. All I knew was that I had this happy little secret. And that no matter what happened during the day—with friends, work, or the daily stress of life—Buck would be my great escape.
Until he wasn’t. I kept asking when we’d see each other again, and he’d deflect. Our calls got shorter and shorter until, one day about a month in, he ended it. His reason? Because he needed to get back to “reality”. I had no idea what that meant, other than to suspect that maybe he’d met somebody else or worse (he was already involved or even…gasp…married!).
Who knows? I surely didn’t. But that didn’t stop me from feeling utterly crest fallen. Gone was my secret love. The idea that I had this person there to catch me when I fell. The thought that I would not have to go through this life alone. The fantasy of us winding up together and getting married—things I hadn’t fully decided I even wanted for my life.
Still, I mourned them.
Because I was afraid, Solo, that I would never find love. I was willing to settle for the idea of love—even if it came from the other end of a telephone. Now don’t get me wrong: I felt something for this person and I know he felt it, too. Like you, I wondered what happened? What was “reality” anyway? And why couldn’t I be a part of it.
And yet, they were the wrong questions for both me, then—and you, now. Because you will likely never really know the answers. (I never did.) Instead of torturing yourself trying to figure him out, use the experience to learn more about yourself. What did being with him have to teach you about who you are and what you want from love? After all, you brought him into your life for a reason. What was it? What’s the lesson? Dig deep, knowing that it’s not always fun or easy to look at the deepest parts of ourselves, and keeping in mind that the universe is always presenting us with opportunities to have what we either want or think we deserve. Doing this inner examination, which includes looking at the role you played in both the experience and its outcome, will allow you to course correct and bring you closer to finding the healthy love you want.
Now, another hard part: Letting go of someone you care for. Where should you even begin? By acknowledging, first, that you must, because not all relationships are meant to be forever. Sometimes life offers us moments in time that aren’t meant to be anything more. (Pretty sure Buck and I would never have made it — we were really different. I can see that so clearly now and, with time and distance, you will too.) Your experience with this man sounds like one of them. It’s not to diminish your feelings while on the trail – I’m sure it got lonely and scary backpacking alone; kudos to you for even doing it, wow! And there was probably a lot of relief and joy in finding someone to share the journey with. I don’t doubt, Solo, that the bond you both shared was authentic. But the fact that he says he needs to get back to “reality” infers that he views your time together as fantasy. If you were really honest with yourself, could it be the same for you, too?
With that said, how do you move ahead? By putting your best interests ahead of all else. Starting with the question of whether you should be friends. Friendship is based on an unspoken contract between two people who not only want the same things from one another, but agree to the terms. When one has feelings the other doesn’t return, you’re not coming from a level playing field. Which can make even friendship very unsatisfying and complex.
Hector and I remained “friends” for 12 more years, after our romance ended. And while we loved each other dearly, that love had changed form for me, but not for him. As a result, he never acknowledged my having a husband. It was the elephant in our room. It most definitely put a frustrating strain on our conversations. In some ways, it also made the pain of our not winding up to together even sadder.
Ultimately, of course, whether to be friends is a choice you’ll have to make. My recommendation is to mourn the loss, wish him well, and keep moving. I know it will be hard, but it will save you from additional pain and heartache.
Instead, let this guy be the instructive fling he was. Take your lessons. And let one of them be the fact that now you know what love can feel like. And that it’s out there, waiting for you, when the time is right and you’re ready for the real deal.
How do you let go? You don’t have to let go of the parts of that love that were positive. Instead, honor them. But let go of the parts that no longer serve–like the parts that make you feel bad about yourself or reinforce limiting beliefs. Grieve their loss and, yes, prepare to feel lousy for a while. That’s perfectly normal. Do whatever you need to do to get through it (eat, cry, shop, journal, yoga, meditate, see a therapist, lean on supportive non-judgmental friends, etc.), as long as it’s not hurting you or anybody else. The day WILL come when the desire to get back in the dating game will tug away at you like I suspect the desire to backpack solo across Central America once did.
When that happens, take these five, new letting go for love tips into the experience, tailored just for you, Solo (although I suspect they apply to a lot of folks). Let go of:
- Partners who don’t want what you want and are telling you so.
- Fantasy: instead, evaluate love based on what’s truly possible.
- Other people’s opinions of your worth, and settling for less than you deserve.
- Wondering why you can’t be a part of anybody’s “reality”. Instead, look for someone who can’t wait to make you an integral part of their life.
- Worrying that this may be your best, last shot at love. No friggin’ way. It is NOT.
There will be others, including someone who wants to build a new reality together—if you’re willing to do the inner work to get there. Let go for it, Solo. You won’t be sorry!
Rooting for you!
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Jill Sherer Murray is the founder of Let Go For It, a brand dedicated to helping individuals let go for a better life. Jill’s TEDx talk as well as her advice column, Big Wild Love: Let Go For It℠ were created in service to her loyal and growing fan base, who seek support in the act and the art of letting go for the love they desire and deserve. Follow Jill on on Twitter @letgoforit, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.