| 8.1°C Dublin

Suzanne Power: If the pain is too strong it must be time to move on

January 8 is the anniversary of the M1 plane crash at Kegworth in England, when a British Midland jet bound for Belfast made an emergency landing on the motorway.

My ex-father-in-law was in that crash. He is 83 and has just published his first book. More than two decades since, he is still living every moment. He is the most purposeful person I have ever met.

Everyone, at some stage, needs that purpose. Especially at this time of year, when we've taken stock of where our lives have gone and where we want them to go, sometimes the gap between life and dream is a yawning chasm that can fill you with despair.

I've spent a good portion of my life not feeling confident enough. The thirties are designed to make you wonder what the hell you did and what the hell you're going to do. I got an email before Christmas from a reader who asked: "How do you know it's ever going to come right?"

He was talking about his girlfriend, who gives him the run around. But she says she loves him. So he stays with her. He feels like all his determination has been sapped from him and getting through another day seems hard enough without facing another year. By the end of his correspondence, he was answering his own question: "It wouldn't feel like this if it was right."

Letting go of someone you no longer love is hard, letting go of someone you still love is harder. I think most people will do anything not to split with someone they've spent years loving.

It gives me hope that another man has cared enough and been sincere enough to give his relationship everything and write to someone about it. He is dealing with the fact he feels like a loser: "No matter how much I tried, I couldn't make it work." When we love we try too hard we amend ourselves, giving last chances like tickets to watch two snails climb a wall.

He asked me: "How do you know when the chance is the last one you'll give?" I think it's when you realise the pain of staying is greater than the pain of going. Then you put some of the determination you've channelled into fixing your relationship into getting through the horror of separation. A friend who went through separation recently said it was more draining than anyone can imagine. I found that too.

I loved and I left and when it's done well you can have a healthy and loving relationship with the person you used to be in love with. You just need my ex-father-in-law's determination to follow your gut instinct through to conclusion. No matter how hard it gets, if it feels right to let go of someone then you have to fight the compulsion to open the parachute. You have to freefall and find out what's at the other side of the pain. The old cliche of finding someone else is about as helpful as jumping from frying pan into the fire.

You need to have the courage of a broken heart to face the loneliness and not cling to the first solution that comes along. Then, as my separated friends tell me, and I know myself, the air starts to feel fresher and your heart starts to wake up to a day and enjoy the sensation of one being ahead of you. And you realise you don't need another head on the pillow; though it would be nice, you don't need it.

And that's always when someone else comes along.