What's The Idea Behind “If You Love Something, Set it Free?”

Updated August 03, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC

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All your life, you may have heard common sayings and haven't given them any extra thought. One such phrase that is quite popular goes something like this. "If you love something, set it free." What is the origin of this quote? What is the meaning of it? In this post, we'll look at this quote and go into detail.

The Many Versions Of This Quote

It will be worded differently with any commonly used phrase or have an extra sentence that may or may not be left out. Some versions of this phrase include, "If you love someone, let them go," which has the same meaning.

The extra sentence that appears in some versions goes something like, "If it returns, it's yours. If it doesn't, it wasn't. Or, it may be written as, "If they come back, they're yours. If they don't, they never were." Again, same meaning, but it's always good to know the different ways to say a common saying.

The Origins

The origins of this phrase were unclear. Plenty of songwriters have used this phrase. In 1985, musician Sting released a song called "If You Love Somebody Set Them Free," but the phrase, as you may expect, is much older than 33 years. You can find the phrase in other writings as well.

This is because the phrase deals with a struggle that has been with humanity since the beginning: going out of your comfort zone. We are creatures of survival, and we hold on to what we find dear because it makes us feel safe. However, to have the best quality of life possible, we sometimes need to sacrifice that thing to be happier, and if it returns, then great. If not, then it wasn't meant to be with us.

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The Meaning Behind This Phrase

You probably have some idea of what this phrase means, but there are a few ways you can interpret it when it comes to who it should apply to. As it turns out, there are many situations you can use this phrase for.

It Can Be A Metaphor For Clinginess

When in a relationship, one problem that many people have is clinginess. We don't like it when our partner must go away or talk to us all the time. We may feel like if they stop talking to us, there is a sign that something is wrong.

However, being too clingy is a turnoff for many people. No one likes to have to talk to someone 24/7 and fear being backlashed just because they wanted to spend time alone. Plus, everyone has moments where they don't want to talk to anyone.

Always getting upset at someone for not communicating that much is a toxic behavior, whether you intended it to be or not. One of the lessons you should learn in life is that it's okay to give people some alone time. As we grow older, we become more distant from the people around us, including our friends, and we need to learn how to accept that.

If you're clingy because you feel like you should lose them, lose the clinginess. If they still talk to you and are in a relationship with you, it's because they love you. If they disappear, then the relationship was meant to be, and prolonging it would make things worse.

It Can Talk About Breakups

When you break up with someone you love, you may feel like you should bargain for them to return. You may try talking to them and negotiate or beg for forgiveness. If the two of you love each other, then the fight won't be enough to end things. Odds are, the person will get back to you once some steam has cleared. However, if they didn't love you that much, they won't make any effort to try and fix things.

It's understandable why you wouldn't want a relationship to end, however. Sometimes, you may feel that the person is honestly the best person you've ever had, and you feel like if you let them go, you might not be able to find someone better. This is certainly a risk you take, but perhaps you should let it go if the relationship is falling apart, if maybe temporarily. Some couples need breaks, and those who are destined will get back together.

It Can Be About Friends

It doesn't necessarily have to be about love. It can be about your friends, too. Say you have a friend who has been distant, and no amount of talking seems to work. In a case like this, you should give them some space. There may be a reason why they are distant, and if they're really your friend, they will return once that reason goes away.

Not to mention, friends do drift apart with time. Work, family commitments, school, and life, in general, can make people stop talking. With that said, good friends continue to have a bond even if time has pulled them apart. Always be there for your friends, and they'll return the favor. When the two of you do talk again, it will be like time hasn't passed whatsoever.

It Can Be About Family

In this situation, this is usually the parents to their child, who has entered adulthood. The parents may feel like they'll lose the child and make all the effort they can for them to stay under their wing. However, being a helicopter parent is just going to make the child resent you. If the child is grown up, perhaps you should just let them go. If they love you, they will still talk to you and visit you.

It Can Be About A Job

Being too persistent over a job can cause much-unneeded stress. It's always good to apply and follow up, but if it's been a while and still no response, it may not be worth it to be able to pursue it for much longer. Instead, stop pursuing that position. If they want you, they'll return your call when they're ready. If not, they don't need you, anyway.

There must be a balance, however. Pursuing a job is good and sets you apart from other people, who will apply and then move on when there is no response. Find the balance, and you'll be much better at it.

It Can Be About Anything, Honestly

There are many things in life that you should let go of, and if you were destined to be with them, they'd come back. You can make this metaphor for your goals or for anything else that's hard to reach. If you're putting 110 percent into it and seeing no results, perhaps it's time to let it go.

Confused About What "If You Love Someone, Set Them Free" Means?
You're Not The Only One. Talk To a Love and Relationship Expert Online Now.

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How To Let Things Go

Of course, letting something go is easier said than done, and you may not know the best way to let someone go. Here are a few tips to help you out.

  • Realize that there are more people out there. For a relationship, there's always something else. Same with a friendship. For a job, there are more positions available that better fit.
  • Reduce the amount of communication. Don't text them as much. Don't talk to them as much. Sometimes, this can fix the situation, such as being too clingy. If they still want to talk to you, the problem may be fixed.
  • Cut them off entirely. No one likes to do this, but sometimes, it's the only way. Don't feel bad about not wanting to talk to someone you don't want to talk to.
  • Try replacing them with something else. Of course, healthily do this. If you just got out of a bad relationship, a rebound can make both parties miserable.

Seek Help!

Letting someone go can be difficult, but it's not impossible. If you have any concerns about letting someone go, or you want to know how to muster up the courage to do so, one thing you could do is talk to a relationship counselor.

A counselor can teach you valuable skills in other parts of your relationships, such as teaching you how to communicate better. Many relationships fail because of miscommunication, and a therapist can tell you what you're doing wrong and improve it.

Finally, a therapist can tell you what comes next after letting someone go. It's hard to let someone go and not feel at least some feelings about it. Thankfully, the therapist is there to tell you how to move on, learn how not to let it get in your way, and rejoice if that person returns to you.

If you're dealing with someone who doesn't like you, they don't have an obligation to like you, and you don't deserve the stress of trying to make them like you. By letting things go, you may be satisfying both parties.

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