Have you ever experienced a moment of absolute clarity? When something that should have made sense much sooner suddenly comes sharply into focus.
Not long ago, one of these rare certainties popped into my mind: “It’s okay to avoid the people who hurt you.”
To be 1000% honest and transparent, I’m not sure if this thought originated inside my head. In fact, I was convinced that I first heard it in an interview with none other than the Princess of Pop herself, Taylor Swift. And it completely seems like the kind of thing that Taylor would say, right? Except that I’ve spent days dredging the depths of Google, searching every possible combination of words, plus Ms. Swift’s name, but have found no evidence to suggest that she’s to blame for planting the concept in my brain. Regardless, my subconscious proved a perfect incubator for this little phrase. It grew and grew, until one day it sprouted legs, walked directly up to my frontal lobe and knocked.
“Oh, hello,” I said, opening the door.
“Hullo!” said the revelation. “Just stopping by to say: ‘It’s okay to avoid the people who hurt you.’ Cheerio.” Because the revelation hailed from Great Britain, naturally.
And just like that, it all made sense.
See, as millennials, we expend an enormous amount of energy on connectivity. Beyond the demands of a full time job, university courses, a possible (let’s be honest: probable) side hustle, and pretending that we have it all nicely under control, there are now approximately 2,394 ways to stay eternally engaged with the world at large. Of course, we have the Holy Trinity: Facebook, Twitter, and the all-powerful, all-seeing Instagram. But then there’s Snapchat, YouTube, and even Tinder! And none of those should cause us to overlook the conundrum that is LinkedIn, where we display what serious, hard workers we are, via business casual status updates.
We’re so used to carrying everything with us all of the time, that we’ve forgotten we have the ability to leave things behind.
I’m not suggesting that you spontaneously go radio silent on everyone you know. But it is conceivable that the responsibility you feel to respond to a message from that person you sang a duet with in the 2nd grade talent show is at least partially self-inflicted.
Even worse, what about that internalized pressure to gracefully handle every period of transition within our lives? I mean, seriously. Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes we stumble. We might need to wallow, or act out of character, or get a trendy haricut that we instantly regret and which subsequently causes us to cancel all social engagements for at least two weeks while it settles down. We rarely do these things, because in this digital era of hyper-togetherness, we are expected to only display the highlight reel.
What does that mean? It means that we never really get the closure we need. Twenty years ago, someone might reminisce about a funny lab partner in college and wonder, “What ever happened to that guy?” Not anymore. Now we can pull up the profile of that random, mildly amusing dude and tell you his date of birth, hometown, and current employment information. We continue collecting people on our journeys and hoarding them up on the internet, never letting them slip away so that we can romanticize them, never letting their absence create a void that we then fill with someone new. And this doesn’t simply pertain to the barely-there acquaintances, but to people we found and loved and lost.
It used to be appropriate to maintain distance when a relationship ended. We were, as a society, in an arguably far healthier emotional state. Sometimes it is good and right to let go and move forward, without having to navigate the tenuous highway of new age etiquette. We’re supposed to respect the sanctity of the Facebook friendship for the remainder of eternity because it’s small and petty to opt for the delete button, no matter the circumstances. But why? Those circumstances could be pretty damn influential.
You do not owe a piece of yourself to anyone who left you in pieces. You get to decide who is worthy of your spirit. You don’t have to accept a vicious cycle of pain and disappointment. You don’t have to contribute to it, either. As I always say, the truth is that there aren’t any rules, we just convince ourselves there are.
So, if someone repeatedly hurts you, if they strip you of your zest for life, if they refuse to cheer you on when you enter the lion’s den to face a new challenge, and when they choose not to clap for your success, you can decide what happens next. You get to protect your own soul. And no one can tell you that you’re wrong in doing so.
Anyone who injures you is undeserving of your forgiveness. You should grant it, anyways. Be gracious. Not for others, but for yourself. Let go of your negativity. It’s heavy, it doesn’t serve you, and you don’t need it. Make no mistake: Your kindness is not meekness. By loving yourself first, you are more powerful than you can imagine.
Feel emboldened this week. Reply if you want to, but only if you want to. Hit ‘Unfollow,’ or even *gasp* ‘Unfriend.’ Write a long letter and send it. Or don’t. Try something new. Go for that weird haircut. You might be able to pull off the asymmetrical bob that confounds the rest of the world. You never know until you try.
PS, thanks for the inspiration, Taylor. Maybe.