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If You Love Someone, Set Them Free. And Other Lies

Welcome to the inaugural column of "Separating, Together" where Serge and Monica Bielanko will be writing about parenting, separation and navigating their relationship in an entirely new way.

That old saying, "If you love someone, set them free"?

That’s bullshit.

That’s a Sting solo album song title, people, so how can there be any truth or wisdom in that?

Besides, why would you set someone free if you love them? What would you be freeing them from? Your love? And if so, then what are you supposed to be admitting to yourself about the way that you do, in fact, love someone? Or, better yet, what would you be admitting to the person you’ve been loving?



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What exactly are you trying to get at, really? What are you supposed to be confessing there in the eleventh hour of a marriage or a pretty long run of monogamy or whatever when you get all regal and conscious about stuff and you "set them free" from your arms/your heart/your life? Are we supposed to think that the people sitting on the sidelines watching the two of you do your little lukewarm dance of death—all your family and friends and co-workers and neighbors all sitting there chowing down on popcorn and nachos and plastic cups of Lite beer, each of them checking out the final seconds of the game, watching the two of you try and figure out how to break up gracefully or your love is like some kind of prison or POW camp or something—are we supposed to imagine that all of those people are going to stand up and burst out cheering when the buzzer cuts across the arena because you were so impressive in your ability to just "free" the damn idiot that you’ve spent a huge chunk of your life loving and now you just want them to go ahead and dance happily away from you and your heaps of emotional/mental baggage?

C’mon, people. That is some serious bullshit.

Maybe it’s because love, true love, the kind you wanted to fight for to the death, it dies hard down in my creaky bones

Because check it out: the real cold, hard meaning behind that overworked phrase isn’t some sort of liberating Zen poppycock of strength and pure forgiveness or anything like that. Oh, hell no. No, what you’re really saying and admitting when you say, "If you love someone, set them free," is this: if you love someone but everything is all kinds of fucked up six ways to Sunday, then you ought to just bite the fattest, hottest bullet you will ever pop into the roof of your mouth and just agree to let them go out into the world and date other people, which by the way, in case you are still living across the street from a cotton gin or the saloon, means you want to willingly send your lover off into the gleaming twilight with an affectionate pat on the ass so that they can get on with the exciting business at hand, which is having sex with people who aren’t you.

You see what I'm saying? I know you don't WANT to see what I'm saying, but you see it anyway now, don't you? You always have to, I reckon. And I don’t know why, maybe it’s just because I’m a little bit more romantic than your average 200 lb sack of porn-fueled clay down at the TGIF bar on Friday night, or maybe it’s because love, true love, the kind you wanted to fight for to the death, it dies hard down in my creaky bones. But try as I might, I seem to be having a hard time of simply saying to the woman that I spent the better part of the last ten years/had three kids with/watched all of Breaking Bad AND The Sopranos with:

Hey, you! You know what? You’re right! We need to set each other free, baby doll! It’s time to bust this whole thing up! You deserve the chance to make out with some other awesome sensitive handsome guy until your freaking lips are chaffed and your eyes turn from the dead, wet flints I turned ‘em into back to the electric blue diamonds you had the night I met ya!


You think Frank Sinatra was going around setting lovers free?

You think the Chairman of the Board, the most suave guy to ever stroll a casino floor at 3 a.m. on a Saturday rolled that way? You honestly think Sinatra set lovers free? Seriously. Think about it. Do you believe in your guts that the guy who could probably make wildly passionate love to a woman from across a penthouse suite using just his baby blues ever let a dame just walk away from his heart (if he loved her) just because it seemed like that was the right thing to do when things got heated or ugly or someone threw a Rob Roy in someone’s face?

I doubt it.

And let me ask you this. If you were going to follow one guy down into the legendary annals of love and romance, who would you choose?


Or Sting?

I know that a lot of people will say that that’s an immature attitude I’m carting around and it probably is, I guess, but I don’t really give a crap. There’s too much at stake when it comes to breaking up. People take it too lightly, I think. And it’s not just because maybe you have kids together or any of that. I’m talking about something more primal but just as real. Even if you’re kid-less and trying to make a go of something real and forever, I’m pretty certain that way too many men and women think it’s actually par for the course to hurl yourself through the fragile front glass of as many relationships as you damn well please, because perfection is just around the bend and total and complete happiness is the thing your mama told you you deserve. Listen, I know that so many good loves disintegrate out in the rain; I know there are a lot of valid reasons that people go their separate ways, but still. I think we’ve let it become the norm because we’re changing as a species. We have forgotten how to love, perhaps. We have forgotten how to change, no doubt.

I want to hold her back, to keep her for a thousand reasons, right and wrong.

It seems to me that too many people nowadays are all dressing themselves up in big flowing gowns of personal wellness and yoga talk, trying really hard to find some sort of fresh way to pretend the same old thing—that the hurt and the pain are releasable. People lie to themselves about love and sex, man. And so they will damn sure lie about it to you too, believe that.

I like having sex. I dig it more than I care to admit. And even though there was a lot of rough sailing down the years, I liked having it with the only woman I ever had it with for a long, long time, ya’ll. So, all of this "letting go" jive, it breaks my heart in ways I think are just as glowing neon real as all the other reasons people talk about when their heart is breaking, when they realize that something once good is gone. And when something is gone is, well, it’s goddamn gone.

I will set her free anyways, I guess.

She’s probably already getting Facebook messages from all kinds of spineless creepers who imagine themselves kissing her pretty face. Grrrr. I spit in their face. I just do, deal with it. Truth is, somebody will be the one to get to kiss her first after I’m out of the picture. Facebook friend, old friend, new friend, who the hell cares. End of story. But I don’t have to pretend to like the idea of that. Not now. And probably not in a year from now or maybe even in 10 years or maybe even forever.

And no, wiseass, it isn’t jealousy. And it isn’t unhealthy. And it isn’t even uncommon, this feeling that I’m feeling, this freedom that I want to hold her back, to keep her for a thousand reasons, right and wrong. Because I loved a girl really really hard for a long time and I’m in on all of this and yet I don’t know what to do or feel or think anymore and that’s confusing, if nothing else.

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Whatever. We all move on from things in life if we are strong enough and want to feast upon the future way more than we want to dine upon the past. We have to. Otherwise we end up damaged goods. And there’s nothing un-sexier than damaged goods, huh?

Some night before long I’m going to hear those inevitable winds rattling outside my window and I’m going sit up in my bed in the dark and I just know for sure that I’m gonna understand somehow that someone else is kissing her now, in that exact moment in the history of the world, and that she’s probably touching his cheek, their warm red wine breaths colliding like midnight clouds as the hipster music plays in the background.

And, I’m sorry if you disagree, but I don’t care who he is or what he’s made of because it’s all total bullshit. At least, you know, until it’s me sitting there, my eyes all aglow, until it’s me, making my moves, moving so slow: until it’s me in the night, until it’s me closing in on a brand new kiss.

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