Forgiving What You Can’t Forget

Written by The Single on . Posted in Advice Columns

It’s that time of year in the Jewish community when forgiveness is on everyone’s lips. I don’t know if you remember “The Single” from the first issues of Kol HaBirah, but for a forgiveness-themed entry in the Dating section I thought it was time to sub in for my colleague as *dramatic reveal music*:


The Divorced Single.

Seriously though, an advantage of having a divorced person write about forgiveness is that I have miles on these relationship tires: I was on the dating scene, albeit briefly, in my 20s; I was in a committed relationship followed by marriage for several years; and now I am back on the dating scene, albeit in fits and starts, as a divorceé in my 30s.

The common discussion of forgiveness in the context of a relationship, especially a new one, comes when your significant other has done you wrong in some way. It can be a trivial slight or a serious breach of trust, but the questions remain the same: What does this mean about the person you are with? Are they genuinely aware of how you’ve been hurt and sorry for their actions? Can you move forward together as a couple?

A deeper exploration of forgiveness comes when a relationship is already in the rearview mirror. With distance, it is possible to see the foibles of both parties in a relationship more clearly, and you can find yourself in a knot of agitation over something that happened years ago but you didn’t even know to be upset about it at the time, or agonizing over something you did that you only now realize was incredibly insensitive. How do you forgive someone who is no longer around to hear your grievances, or how do you get the catharsis of expressing your newly-realized remorse? Can you move on in the absence of that closure?

If you are still in contact with the individual, you can have the conversation you are itching for, but don’t be surprised if the outcome disappoints you: you aren’t in a relationship with each other anymore, and the Ghost of Christmas Past you are engaging in conversation with in your mind is likely no longer the same person as the man now on the other end of the phone call or the woman across the table from you at the coffee shop.

Finally, there is possibly the most profound forgiveness you have to grant in life. You might think you’ve already checked it off your list, but this isn’t a one-and-done, linear experience.

Even though I am well aware of its importance, I still think I will spend the rest of my life discovering anew the need to forgive myself.

To forgive myself for paths not taken, and for paths taken in error.

To forgive myself for the times I should have opened my heart, and for the times I should have guarded it more carefully.

To forgive myself for not forgiving myself years ago, and for not actively forgiving myself every day.

Forgiveness is an act of love. G-d loves us; that’s why He gives us the opportunity and means to seek forgiveness every year. You don’t have to forget the things that have happened in your life, but you should probably forgive the people who’ve hurt you, intentionally or unintentionally, along the way, and you should definitely forgive yourself. I hope you do.

By The Single