Letting go is one of the hardest things to do in life - and one of the most important.
'If you love someone, set them free' - sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it? After all, If you love someone, you want them to be with you.
The idea is that true love is not possessive, and that letting go of someone you love can actually be an act of love in itself. This is because it allows the other person to be free to be themselves, to grow and change, and to pursue their own dreams and desires.
Readers who are music fans, or who were around in 1985, will recognize the title of a song by British musician and singer Gordon Sumner, otherwise known as Sting. 'If you love someone, set them free' was Sting's first solo release, taken from his album entitled 'The dream of the blue turtles.' The song's title was apt, as he was taking time out from his band The Police to pursue other musical interests. The band had set him free!
"You can't control an independent heart
Can't tear the one you love apart."
So what did Sting have to say about it? "This song was as much a hymn to my newfound freedom as it was an antidote to the brooding issues of control and surveillance that haunted 'Every Breath You Take.' Perhaps the highest compliment you can pay to a partner is 'I don't own you - you're free.' If you were to try to possess them in the obvious way, you could never appreciate them in the way that really counts. There are too many prisons in the world already."
I couldn't agree more. The greatest love of all might be to 'lay down your life for your friends', as the Bible says, but surely the next is to let your friends - or any loved ones - be exactly who they are. Without any pressure to conform to whom society, or anyone, thinks they should be.
What a gift it is to be in the company of someone who sets you free! You don't have to pretend, or wear a mask. You can be your authentic self - and know that the other person will still love you.
Have you seen the Bridget Jones movies? There's a hilarious scene in the first one, when Bridget is telling her crazy friends that the new love of her life, Mark Darcy, has told her that he loves her - exactly as she is. Her friends are aghast. "What - just as you are? Not thinner? Not cleverer? Not with slightly bigger breasts or slightly smaller nose?" says the incredulous Jude. Cruel!
My late mother passed some wisdom on to me, when I was in my late teens and starting to go on dates. "Whatever you do, never think you can change a man", she warned. This was great advice, although she didn't necessarily mean that 'a leopard can't change his spots.' People can, and do, change - maybe even as a result of your influence. The key point was that no-one should expect to be able to change someone into the person they'd prefer them to be. Mark Darcy was a wise man.
Letting go can be painful - at first
Parents often struggle with letting their children go, whether it's to go off to university or to go backpacking around the world. Or just to leave home and start adult life. The 'empty nest' can seem so quiet without them. Then there's the fear of who they might become, in this free world of theirs. Will they come home covered in tatoos, with piercings and an 'unsuitable' boyfriend or girlfriend?!
When we do set someone free, in whatever circumstance, what can happen - ironically - is that they are more likely to come back to us. They trust us and feel comfortable with us, because we are accepting them as they are and not burdening them with our expectations.
Worth the sacrifice
The ultimate 'letting go' is, of course, bereavement - surely the hardest of all. As Queen Elizabeth II once famously said, "grief is the price we pay for love." So true.
Which brings us back to our point of departure - if you love someone, set them free. You could say that this is the contract we sign when we bring someone into our lives and love them. We know that one day, we will have to let them go. And they will have to let us go too. But is that grief worth the price of our love? Absolutely. Freedom is one of the most precious gifts of love we can offer to those we care about.