Before last February, I had never broken up with someone I still loved and desired. It wasn’t hard to do, but it has been hard to get over. It’s a whole different beast, I tell you, falling out of love with someone you’ve never hated. Or maybe it’s more than that.

Maybe it’s not that falling out of love with someone you’ve never hated is more challenging, but rather having to fall out of love with someone you never hated yourself around. In past relationships, I always stayed too long and because of that devolved into someone unrecognizable.

Someone inconsolable. Meek and starved. A grisly version of myself. Resentful and enraged and yet always still grasping backwards or to the side, toward someone new.

I’m not sure how obvious this was to my exes. They always circled back. I tell you this because sometimes our devastation is entirely internalized. Sometimes someone mistakes the volume of our tears with the magnitude of our love. Sometimes someone looks at us and thinks we’re sad because we know we’re losing them when, in fact, we’re sad because we’ve lost ourselves.

I never thought I’d say this, but letting go before this happens to you really is a different beast. When you aren’t angry with someone, there’s nothing to project. When you haven’t lost yourself, there’s no one to go searching for. When you break up with someone you love, there you are, instead, completely intact and clearheaded, tasked with one thing only: to fall somehow, someway, out of love with a memory that was nothing but love.

Or is it to live with those memories with a certain kind of softness, maybe just because the person alongside you in those flashing, visceral moments had not only their hand in shaping you but, at one point, their entire heart? And how ungracious that would be to overlook that.

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