When I was in university, I became friends with someone. Let’s call them L.
L and I were close. Really, really close. There was a period of time where we would meet up almost daily. Occasionally I would stay at L’s house for so long, unwilling to go home and be away from them, that I would stay the night. Whenever we weren’t together, we would text each other stupid nothings until the early hours of the morning. But I hardly cared about mundane things like regular sleep schedules. My friendship with L was a giddy, all-encompassing thing that made me feel on top of the world, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Thinking back on those initial feelings now, it kind of makes me wish I had not had to let L go.
But letting people go is not an act of cruelty; it is an act of self-care.
What is Self Care?
You may have heard this term, ‘self-care’, being thrown around mental health care and social activism circles, without quite understanding what it means. To clarify, self-care is any action or actions we take to improve or maintain our own health and wellbeing. Self-care can refer to our physical health (exercising, eating regularly, getting plenty of bed-rest when we have a cold, etc.), but for this article, self-care refers to what we do to maintain good mental and emotional health.
Self-care is extremely important, because none of us can function to the best of our ability if our mental or emotional health is not being looked after. While it might seem selfish to take care of ourselves first and foremost, it actually enables us to help others with their mental health needs, as our own have already been met. It is like when first-aiders must make sure they are not in danger before treating others. We cannot look after anybody else unless we are in a position to do so, and self-care is what puts us in that position.
The best self-care activities vary, depending on who we are and how we are feeling at any one time. Some of us might need an outlet for relaxing, such as meditation or colouring. Others might need to get endorphins through their systems with exercise or fun games. Still others might need to zone out from the real world by getting absorbed in a good book or TV series. And sometimes we need to initiate self-care in our relationships with others. This is where the idea of letting people go comes in.
More Radical Reads: Nobody Is Entitled to Your Time, Space, or Energy: On Learning to Let Go
Self Care and Relationships
Our relationships play an important part in our lives, and different relationships have different functions. In a way, our relationships are a lot like the clothes in our wardrobes. Some relationships are like a versatile pair of jeans – they have been around for ages, we see them regularly, they add immense value to our lives, and we cannot imagine being without them. Other relationships are more like our favourite formal dress or suit – we don’t see them often, but we feel like a million bucks when we do, and although our times with them are few and far between, they bring us enough joy and love when we are together that a relationship with them is worthwhile.
But then there are the relationships that are more like the superfluous garments that only seem to take up space in our wardrobes. These are things like trousers that were last worn several dress sizes ago; shirts that were in fashion long enough ago to no longer be trendy, but not so long ago that they are retro; and hats that were bought in an attempt to spice up an everyday look, only to be abandoned a week later because they made heads itchy and hair messy. We should have binned or donated these clothes ages ago, but something – whether plain laziness or an unfounded belief that we will wear the clothes again someday – stops us from getting rid of them. So instead they clutter up our wardrobes and frustrate us with their existence.
More Radical Reads: 6 Warning Signs That Your Friendship is Abusive
When to Let Go
Superfluous relationships are exactly the same. The people in question could be girlfriends who never seem excited to see or spend time with us, partners who put no effort into the relationship and make it all about what they want to do, mates with whom we dread having to visit, or people who have just changed to the extent that we do not enjoy being around them anymore. Whoever they are, these are the people who add no value to our lives. Instead they drain us, cost us our precious energy, and clutter up our lives. That is not acceptable.
When it gets to that stage, we need to let these people go. And no, it is not easy to do. These are people with whom you may, once, have had an almost impenetrably strong relationship. It is difficult to let go of that history. But it has to be done. Sometimes we have to look inside our proverbial wardrobes of relationships and say “You know what? I do not want to see or spend time with this person anymore, and that’s OK. That doesn’t make me a bad person, or necessarily make them a bad person. It just means that it is time to say goodbye”.
I can tell you for a fact that your life will be better once you stop trying to hold onto tenuous, failing relationships, and instead focus on the relationships that are bringing value to your life now.
I’ll finish this article by telling you what happened with L. Even when we were good friends, I could see that they were a selfish, lazy git. They would often beg me to come over when they knew I was busy studying. They also had a tendency to make others do stuff for them, and they would get into a strop when things did not go their way. Friendship with L was tiring, and that was becoming more apparent as time went on. I had been drifting away from them for a while, but the final straw came when we got into an argument. I swore at L, and they responded by lecturing me on my manners like I was a petulant child, rather than an adult woman upset over something about which I had every right to be upset. I decided then that it was not worth my time to maintain a relationship with somebody who didn’t respect me and my feelings. I told L we were no longer friends, and deleted their number from my contacts.
And I have not regretted it for a minute since.