When the smoke clears at a relationship’s end, few of us are left unmarked by the fire. Some emerge stronger- reeking of smoke, clothes singed, but somehow determined to take up a torch and move forward with the light. Others find themselves wholly changed, altered into a different form for having been so close to the flames. But none seem unaffected.
We walk out, dazed, struggling to create a new path while the old one is smoldering behind us. We grapple with what happened, trying to determine the role we played- victim or survivor, fire-starter or rescue worker, the match or the flame. We decide who we were then, who we are now, and who- by those decisions- we will be when we walk away.
And I walked away- not only once. Life is never quite that simple. I’ve come out of one too many relationships that felt like a house on fire. The abandoned house with the carefully struck match. The house of cards with its ungovernable flame. Those times when we blissfully ignited, unaware of the consequences of allowing a fire to burn without restraint.
Each time we leave a relationship, we come out changed. In those first few days, weeks, and even months after the end, we may find ourselves sifting through the wreckage. It’s so easy to write it all off and just move on, immediately finding refuge in another’s arms or at the bottom of a bottle. We find our ways of coping, of surviving what was and what is now.
While forging ahead may feel like the best thing we can do, I don’t find that it helps illuminate our path forward. When we just push ahead, moving on without reflection, we’re more likely to end up in similar situations in the future. We’ll continue to attract the same sort of partners that have let us down, and we don’t learn our own role in the lives we’re leading.
In the months following a relationship’s end, I began to sort out what was true for me. One thing that I figured out, quickly, is that he only ever wanted the idea of me. My truest self was always visible. I make an effort to be clear about who I am and what I want for my life. It became abundantly clear that he was attracted to my truest self but then slowly started to try to change all of those qualities he claimed to love in me, to make me into the Stepford wife he wanted.
When we recognize those signs from the Universe that guide us to our path, we have a responsibility to acknowledge and honor them. Every time that I tried to settle into this love affair, another sign would appear that it wasn’t for me. His true face, hidden at first from my eyes, began to be revealed. His character was illuminated as he cast doubt and darkness onto mine. It became abundantly clear to me and anyone else standing inside that light that it wasn’t right for me.
Some relationships are the hearth fires that keep us warm. Some ignite us and send us flying. Others will only ever burn us down and burn us out, incinerating everything we are on that path to destruction.
While my heart craved a hearth fire, it got caught up in watching the pretty flame, the kind of flame that caught quickly and raged. I stayed a while trying to warm myself up in a relationship that would only ever burn. And when I recognized that I could stay and burn or go and use the light to illuminate the path ahead, I chose, as I always will, myself.
And I have a responsibility to keep choosing myself. To change paths every time the Universe requires it. To decide, to learn, and to choose again. Never faltering. Never doubting. Silencing the naysayers along my path with my absolute certainty that this is what is for me. This path of devotion to my truest, highest self. This refusal to settle, to compromise, or to give myself up to appease someone else.
Some would say it’s a selfish path, and those who would say it are the kind who would use other people to get what they want, never caring what is sacrificed as long as they get what they want. It’s not selfish to choose ourselves, to care for ourselves so that we can do our part to care for the ones we love. It’s not selfish to embrace our deepest authenticity and refuse to stay in relationships that no longer serve us.
May we allow the light inside of ourselves to illuminate the way, trusting in that light more than the false fire of a relationship that would seek to make us something that we are not. May we spend more time at hearth fires than bonfires that start small and then rage their way through our lives. May we learn to stoke the fire we create inside our hearts- the one that knows and loves the deepest core of ourselves and can easily recognize those false flames.
He didn’t love me as I am, but as he wished I would be. And if I had stayed inside that relationship, I would have traded my love for his vision, my path for his wish. I would have died by inches, by degrees, burned up in the heat of a love that wasn’t love if it couldn’t take me as I am.
We learn to walk away, torch held aloft to light our steps, our steps lightening as we walk further away from that darkness, our paths growing clearer as we refuse to give in or give up or let our light be extinguished by their need to dim it.