Letting Go Is Not Forgiveness

“You have thrown it all away,
Stand back, watch it burn –
Just watch it all burn.”

(“First Burn” – Lin Manuel Miranda)

A sky full of balloons in different colours. For a post about forgiveness and letting go.

Close to a decade ago, two people I trusted hurt me very badly. The finer points of the story are unimportant; the Spark Notes version is that my partner and metamour (who was, I thought, a dear friend) deliberately lied to me and deliberately betrayed my trust in a deep and profound way that had lasting implications for my life.

First I was sad. Then I felt stupid, because how could I have let them take me in like that? Then I got angry. And then… well, then I kinda stayed angry. I raged to my other partner and my friends, and I was still angry. Then I yelled on the internet and I was still angry. I burned everything he gave me that I could put a match to, and I was still fucking angry.

Occasionally I still see them; once a year or so when I go to an event that I love and refuse to be pushed out of just because they’re going to be there. And every time I’ve seen them for so many years, I get this visceral sense of fuck you both.

Honestly, it felt kind of powerful for a while. Because if I was angry, if I was actively hating them, then I couldn’t feel like an idiot. I couldn’t question whether it was my fault – whether by letting my partner sleep with someone else (to whatever extent the notion of “allowing” another adult to do something is meaningful) I had tempted fate that eventually he’d like her more. Whether I’d trusted too easily and so allowed this to go on right under my nose, suspecting nothing. Or whether I’d just not been giving enough, pretty enough, sexy enough to keep him interested in me. Being angry gave me the illusion of having the upper hand. Of “you two might have ripped the rug of my life out from under me, but at least I still have the moral high ground.”

Sometimes I barely think about them for weeks or months. And then something will spark it all over again – a dream, a post on social media that has somehow bypassed my “block them and their partners on absolutely everything” measures, something I see on TV that reminds me of the situation – and there’s that flash of white-hot anger, powerful as ever.

But my therapist recently helped me to realise that being angry really isn’t serving me any more – and probably hasn’t been for a long time. At this point, all it serves to do is to take up space in my brain that those two really haven’t been entitled to for a very long time. All it does is cause me to mistrust everyone who gets close to me – to start from a point of assuming betrayal and harm is inevitable and making them work their way up from there, rather than the fairer position of starting from a place of neutral trust equity.

“I need to let it go, don’t I?” I said, close to the end of one session.

In that way characteristic of good therapists, she answered my plea that she tell me what to do with another question. “What have you got to gain if you do?”

I thought about it. “Space in my head, mainly,” was my answer. There were other things, too, of course. Things which would improve my relationships with others, my relationship with myself, and my ability to trust other people again.

“I can’t forgive them, though,” I told my therapist. “I draw the line there.”

“No-one is asking you to forgive them.”

That’s when I realised that it might be possible to let go of something in a way that doesn’t imply forgiveness. In a way that doesn’t, directly or indirectly, tell the person who hurt you that what they did was okay or doesn’t matter any more. Because it does fucking matter!

Forgiveness, despite what well-meaning people often tell me, is fundamentally about the person who did the hurting in my opinion. Forgiveness, in the context of an ongoing and loving relationship where someone has fucked up (even very badly) is a great virtue and can be what enables the relationship to continue. However, I believe that in order to be meaningful, the person who is being forgiven has to understand what they did wrong and take steps to never do it again. I don’t have that. They still don’t think I did anything wrong – I was just an obstacle they had to clear to get

Letting go, though? That’s for me. That’s all mine. My therapist taught me that letting something go is a gift to myself, not to them. It doesn’t involve them at all! Letting go says that they don’t deserve the space in my head it takes to think about them any more. Space which could be better used for writing, learning, making my current relationships awesome, or honestly even just watching hours of back-to-back cat videos on the internet.

Letting go says “your loss, I’m gonna go live my life now.”

I’m taking a deep breath, and I’m letting all this long-held anger go.

This post was written as part of Smutathon 2019. We’re writing intensively for 12 hours to raise money for the National Network of Abortion Funds. Please sponsor us if you can – we’d like to raise $5,000 to help ensure access to safe, legal abortion is available for anyone who needs it.

The Smutathon 2019 graphic

Sexting is a Real Sexual Relationship

A computer surrounded by mobile phones and with a red bra discarded over it. For a post on sexting.

When I was seventeen and we had not long moved in together, I caught my then-boyfriend sexting online with a random woman he’d met on the internet. We were, at the time, in a monogamous arrangement – and to say I was livid doesn’t cover it. I absolutely considered it to be cheating. (This is to say nothing of the fact that they’d been planning to meet and have sex, and only didn’t because I found out before that happened.) But the point is that I considered the online sexual relationship – in and of itself – to be a sexual relationship, and therefore a violation of the boundaries of a monogamous relationship. Of course, every relationship is different and if both parties agree a little digital flirtation is okay, more power to them. But there are certain things that are assumed to be off-limits in a monogamous commitment, unless very explicitly negotiated otherwise.

I stand by my assessment (of those activities as cheating) to this day, some decade and change later. This is because I completely believe that sexting, cyber-sexing and other forms of exchanging sexually explicit content online is a form of sexual relationship. It might not involve physically being in the same room or rubbing genitals together, but it is sex nonetheless.

My relationship with Mr CK began primarily online, as we lived 100 miles from each other. As we tried to work out what we felt for each other and what it meant, we texted day after day and sexted, cyber-sexed and exchanged filthy pictures and videos by night, until we reached the point that we simply had to see each other in person. But by the time we took it “real life,” not only were we already in love but we already had a pretty decent understanding of each others’ likes, dislikes, kinks and curiosities. Such is the power of digital sexuality.

“It’s only online!” I hear this all the time. I hear it from people in ostensibly monogamous relationships who have been caught having illicit cyber-sex behind their partner’s back. I’ve heard it from people who are trying to convince themselves they’re not really into that person they have been swapping naughty messages with every day for weeks. I even said it myself, when I was trying to deny the fact that I was fast falling in both love and lust with the man who blew up my phone with sexy texts multiple times a day.

We live in a digital world. There’s no getting away from it. Whether you’re keeping in touch with your long-distance sweetie via naughty Skype chats, booking private shows with your favourite cam models on Chaturbate, or using sites such as freesextingsites.com to find sexy chat partners, the vast majority of us have engaged with our sexuality online in some form or another. I would venture to suggest that the vast majority of adults around my age have nude pictures – their own or someone else’s – lurking on their phones.

Personally, I think sexting and cyber-sex are brilliant. Many of us have partners who live a good distance away from us – a different city or a different country – which makes regular in-person sex impossible. Online sexting is an amazing way to keep the spark alive in those relationships.

But it has benefits for those of us with more local partners too – even partners we live with. Have you ever received a steamy sext from your partner in the middle of the day, and then just wanted to go home and rip their clothes off their body for the rest of the day? Exactly. And if you’re very busy, or one of you has an illness or injury that is making a physical sexual relationship difficult or impossible, a virtual one can be just as satisfying.

Crucially, I think we need to move away from viewing sexting or cyber-sexing as less “real” sex. There are infinite ways to have sex, and as sex positive people we’re trying desperately to move away from the narrative that sex only “counts” if a penis goes into a vagina. I propose that we also move away from the idea that virtual expressions of sexuality are less valid, less real, or count less than in-person encounters. Let’s stop devaluing sexting and embrace it as one of the infinite possible ways to express delicious, hot, consensual human sexuality.

FYI: this post was sponsored. All views are, and will always be, my own.

[Guest Post] “RESPECT: Find Out What It Means to Me” by LittleWelshMinx

I recently decided to run a pitch call for newer voices in sex writing – specifically, the criteria was anyone who has never been paid to write about sex/relationships before. I got a huge number of pitches and many of them were outstanding in quality. In the end, picking just one from the 70+ I got was too hard, so I picked a small number of my favourites and will be publishing them one at a time between now and Christmas. Today’s is from LittleWelshMinx. This one stood out to me because of its unique take on the role of song in self-care around dating. I also wanted to share this one first because it’s so timely given Aretha Franklin’s sad death last week. 

Without further ado, over to LWM…

RESPECT: Find Out What It Means to Me

A shelf of records in a store, for a guest blog on Aretha Franklin and RESPECTToday I’m talking about relationship rituals.

I have been dating now for 18 years. During that time, I have developed certain rituals for getting me through the tough times and for getting me through the really tough times. As my regular readers will know, I’m a big music fan. I often use music as a way of feeling, thinking, soothing myself, and finding the strength to face the pain, love, rejection, betrayal, and the unknown that is the world of relationships and dating.

My parents have handed down to me a very eclectic taste in music, and one of their favourite genres – and mine – is soul. In turn, soul music became one of the key elements of my own personal relationship soundtrack.

The deep, powerful voices would resonate through my room, vibrating through my heart, connecting me to singers from over 50 years ago, making me feel slightly less alone as their voices raised in celebration, desperation, and elation.

Of all of them, I loved Aretha Franklin’s Respect the best.

Here was a woman, not bowed in defeat, not crying in a corner but standing up for herself. Rather than giving up and walking away, the woman within the narrative of the song seems to be drawing a line, telling her partner the way it is, and demanding better treatment. You get the sense that she has taken some crap and just isn’t prepared to take any more.

Every time I was in a bad place, and had been neglected, ignored, abandoned, patronised, cheated on or dumped, I would turn to music, and inevitably, turn to Aretha.

Respect acted like a much-needed shake from a collective sisterhood, putting fire in my heart and stiffening my backbone. When I was looking for the strength to keep going, stand up for myself, or screw up enough resolve to look inside for the truth, for the reality of my situation, to face my unhappiness and find the strength to leave, her voice and words would give me courage, hope, and determination. She sang about not taking any shit back in the 1960s. I’d be damned if I’d take any shit 50 years later.

And so this women, with her words and raw power, would get me through.

She was there for me during the pain and shame when “D” made me go shopping with him for his girlfriend’s Christmas present, knowing I loved him, and the day after he slept with me for the first time.

She was there for me when “S” was playing mind games, gaslighting me before I knew gaslighting was a thing, when in my bewildered state I questioned my own sanity and morals.

She was there for me when “J” trailed off into oblivion.

She was there when “R” left me for another woman, three days after introducing me to his extended family, and three months after insisting I meet his son.

This song, among many others, has been a touchstone for me. An audio reminder of who I am, what I want, and what I will and will not tolerate in my own life and relationships.

The thing to remember is that we all go through tough times and we all get our hearts broken at some point or another. To survive it, you need to have things you can fall back on, and songs like Respect, that help to snap you out of the pain, make you laugh at yourself, and keep moving forward.

Whenever I find myself hurting, I find bittersweet comfort knowing I can turn to music for solace. More than just reminding me to be strong, Aretha has been a thread throughout my dating life. Whenever I listen to Respect in a moment of pain, I am forced to remember the previous moments, but also forced to remember the fact that I got through them, and survived, a little wiser, a little tougher, and a little stronger.

When I heard the news of her death, I stopped in my tracks. Later that night I wept. I wept for a woman I never met, because her song helped me to become the woman I am.

Thank you, Aretha.

xxx

Little Welsh Minx in a masquerade mask.About LittleWelshMinx

Hello! I’m a 30-something girl from Wales, who likes classic literature, rugby, salsa, old Hollywood cinema, 40s/50s/60s fashion, and drinking gin and tonics. I blog about sex, from as many different view points, subjects, and angles as possible… academic, historical, geographical, scientific, technological, moral, personal, socioeconomic, political, emotional….

Sex – it’s not just a noun or a verb.