“If You Love Something/Someone, Set it Free?”

6 Mins read

“If You Love Something, Set it Free” is a phrase that basically means if you love something or someone to the point of wanting what is good for that person, then you should be willing to set that person free so that they can be able to choose whether they truly care and love you enough to want to be with you. Its a phrase that goes so far to show that you can’t make someone love you. That is their decision. A decision that they should be set free in order for them to make.

However, if they are not set free, free from the constraint of constant expectations of unmet feelings, then they are bound to make that decision just because of those constraints being put on them rather than from their own accord and emotions. The phrase should be taken as a caution-ally tale to those who try to force others into loving them without even knowing it.

We all do it all the time. We get so upset when our loved ones don’t treat us in the same manner as we expect them to. We tell them, “If you loved me you wouldn’t do that.”, “If you were in my shoes you wouldn’t want that either”. We often fail to comprehend the fact that who we are and what we want is never necessarily what our loved ones often want.

We have these idealized romantic expectations that we believe have to be met, which is okay. However, they become very destructive when we end up disregarding the sovereignty of the individual and the individual’s character. This is to simply say, to set someone free means to understand that they are their own person, with their own wants, their own individuality and their own beliefs. After recognizing that, we should choose to love or not love them for that without wanting them to change.

NOTE: Making someone better and changing them are two different things that should never be confused for each other. Wanting your boyfriend to thrive in his own career by working hard and thus making more money is wanting him to be better. However, wanting him to work hard and make more money regardless of which career path he takes is changing that person because you are disregarding the person’s individual dreams, passions and wants.

The concepts and methods behind “If You Love Something, Set it Free?”

The creator of this general saying is not known. Jess Lair helped to popularize one version starting in 1969. He was given the statement by an anonymous student(The earliest known evidence for a version of this saying appeared in a book titled “I Ain’t Much Baby—But I’m All I’ve Got” by Jess Lair).

So where did this term come from. Why did people start conceptualizing it so much and making it a rule in their lives. At first you may think that this phrase is just meant of make people feel better for giving up on things right? I thought so when I first encountered it in some Hollywood movies.

“If You Love Something, Set it Free?” is among the many reasons why people choose to break up with partners who are not into them or who couldn’t live up to their standards and expectations. Therefore, it is not far fetched to think we started using this phrase to make break ups more bearable.

When you are not looking for someone to love, that is when people tend to appear. The simple fact of focusing on other pursuits gives off an air of confidence to others. Focusing on your own life growth not only makes you a better person, but also makes you a better potential life partner. That is something that exudes from one’s personality and gives off that attractive confidence.

The whole idea of this phrase is based on the fact that people can’t be forced to do something they do not feel like they want to do. You can subdue or trap people by force, which is wrong, but when you just want someone to love you you won’t be able to change their mind if they do not feel like they should be there.1

We know this to be a fact because we know when we like someone and when we don’t. Often, when you get into a relationship with someone you tend to instinct-fully know how its gonna work. Sometimes you know you want to marry that person, sometimes you know you don’t want to and most often you are confused. You may think that this is a sign of you not knowing but in fact it is.

You see, if you are uncertain about something then the fact is that you are certain of the uncertainty. The problem is, we rarely feel confident enough to tell our loved ones that. We believe that they will feel hurt and betrayed by that statement . However, the truth sets us free.

Therefore, working on the presumption that the truth does set people free, we should be honest enough to tell our loved once when we are uncertain so that they are free to choose if they want to be with us or not. If they want to take that risk or not. That’s what love is all about.

The other meaning of the phrase

You have heard this before:

If you love someoneset them freeIf they come back they‘re yours; if they don’t they never were.”

This other definition of the phrase is used to mean that setting someone free is literally letting them go. Which to me is a wrong interpretation of the phrase because the whole idea of freedom is not separation. Freedom in its very essence is all about having the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint, and the absence of coercion or emotional manipulation.

The sad truth is that most people use the phrase to mean separation, or literally letting someone go. If you love someone you do not just let them go with the hopes that they will just decide to come back. Relationships are hard work, they take time, effort and dedication. When a problem arises you are meant to tackle it together. If not together then one of you needs to be the bigger person and step up to fix it. The moment you decide to literally let someone go you do not love them.

If you love someone you will want what is best for them, right? Once I say this most of you are probably thinking – what if what she/he wants is not to be with you? Well, if that’s the case then she/he would break up with you. If they haven’t then it means they don’t know or they can’t make the decision by themselves, which in turn means they need your help. You love them by giving them the freedom to express themselves however they want without constraining them to your point of view.

After they express themselves and you do the same, you may eventually come to a reasonable loving conclusion. So no, the phrase doesn’t mean actual separation. The fact that some people go back to their loved ones after they were let go is just the mere fact that they loved each other and didn’t truly know it till they were apart – which led them to realize how much they need the other person. Its a consequence of untapped love, not a consequence of being ‘set free’.

If that were true, then anyone who has ever let someone they love go would have them come back if they loved them back, which is not the case, obviously. Life is truly complicated, the presence of love doesn’t mean the absence of life’s difficulties. You have heard of couples who loved each other so much but couldn’t get to be together because of poverty, health issues, infertility, careers, past transgressions, religion and all sorts of things. There is more to life than just love, and these outside influences are sometimes so strong that they can separate loved ones regardless of how strong their love for each other is.

Signs you need to set him/her free

  1. When your partner tells you how he/she is feeling suffocated or controlled by the relationship. Whenever a person feels like they are loosing their own individuality it means that they are prioritizing the group/couple over themselves. This is a terrible thing because the sovereignty of the individual must always be protected.
  2. When your partner doesn’t want to express certain feelings around you due to fear of judgement or embarrassment.

Bottom line

“If You Love Something/Someone, Set it Free” shouldn’t be used to tell people to break up or separate, that is not the freedom that people need. Freedom comes in when you need to protect the individuality of the person without altering who they are. Only in so doing can you truly get to love someone.

If you end up not being attracted to the person they are then you can break up with them, not with the hopes that they will change and come back (if they do that’s a bonus, not a consequence of your decision) but with the hopes that you are being your best self and whoever doesn’t fit into your life shouldn’t be allowed to contaminate it.


  1. You Can’t Change Someone Else. But You Can Do This. (2020). Retrieved 7 September 2020, from
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About author
I'm a psychology enthusiast and a fried chicken lover. I write bite sized articles unpacking the complexities of the human mind. The mission is to advocate for what's more important in life - the pursuit of the truth and the highest good one can do with that truth - for themselves, the people around them and the society as a whole.
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