Rosie Green: To move on, you have to let go

Actor Damian Lewis has found love with rock chick Alison Mosshart 14 months after his wife Helen McCrory died. Given the couple’s celebrity status, we can safely assume their relationship reveal (public displays of affection at a summer party) was stage-managed.

Ergo they got together a few months ago. And this – stay with me at the back! – would mean it was within a year of his loss.

Celeb relationships are not like ours, whereby going public just involves sharing a packet of cheese and onion and a snog at your local. Lewis’s reveal divided opinion.

Many were joyous, but some were indignant. ‘What would Helen say?’ the naysayers tsk-ed.

Well, we know what she would say because she wrote about it in a letter to her kids. She said, ‘I want Daddy to have girlfriends, lots of them.’ Which shows serious emotional generosity.

It also got me thinking about moving on.

There’s something about the subject that’s deeply emotional, both for those in the throes of loss/heartbreak and those observing it. I know it’s different when someone’s partner dies, as opposed to them leaving – as happened to me – but it still triggers intense emotions.

Image: David Venni

I know this because I get asked all the time: how do you feel about your ex being with someone else? Well, in those raw early days of my separation, the idea of my ex with someone else was agony. A gut-wrenching, sick-making, all-consuming thought that reached into my very soul and took a stranglehold on my sense of self.

I’m not alone in experiencing such feelings.

There’s a reason it’s the stuff of songs, films and books. In my new role as advisor to the heartbroken, I recently got a letter from a guy whose partner had left him for another. ‘Every time I imagine her with a new man the pain is as real as if someone had stabbed me in the stomach,’ he wrote.

So why does it hurt so badly to see your ex with someone else? Obviously, it offers finality: another person has become your ex’s focus. And, chances are, you have become an obstacle in the way of them fully enjoying their new love.

While researching my book on heartbreak, I learned that your romantic relationship is intrinsically wrapped up in your sense of self, so when someone leaves you it bruises your soul. You lose rationality. Your partner may leave for myriad reasons that have nothing to do with you, but you still default to thinking it must be something you are lacking.

And it’s Darwinian – as humans we are hardwired to want to keep our mate. So we pour all our efforts into trying to figure out why it happened, so it doesn’t happen again.

But, as I wrote back to this man, there are different, more rational ways of thinking about the situation that are a lot more helpful to recovery.

A new love doesn’t have to devalue the old one. And while it’s healthy to reflect on your own part in a relationship breakdown, it’s not helpful to castigate yourself for your failings  for  ever more. Instead, see the situation as your best friend might – more a reflection on the leaver, or as part of life’s unpredictability. People evolve, want different things – your worth is not necessarily linked to that.

Recovery is about detaching. You do not want to be stalking your ex on social media for the foreseeable (a friend was still monitoring hers daily ten years on from their separation; we unfollowed his account together).

Books, films, adverts – they all sell us the idea that for love to be valid, it has to be the only one you’ve ever felt. Which is unrealistic.

I’m sure Alison and Damian are battling with some of these feelings. Just because they’re talented, beautiful and rich doesn’t mean they don’t experience the same basic emotions.

As for me and how I now feel about my ex moving on? I’m genuinely not bothered. Which seems like closure to me.


Read more of Rosie Green’s columns here