In 2024, I’m Adopting The “Let Them” Theory To Change My Life

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Five years ago, at a friend’s house party, I ended up in conversation with a woman I had never met before. It was surface-level small talk: work, dating, who we knew there. After minutes of mutually tepid chat, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and when I came out, I was distracted by someone I knew waving me into the kitchen. I never returned to the woman. 
I didn’t think about her again until earlier this year when a friend let a tidbit of information slip: Oh, you know she hates you. I was in disbelief. Apparently the woman despised me with such an intense fervour, she still brought me up around people to disparage me, and had done so as recently as the week before. “But why?” I wailed. “She just hates you,” my friend shrugged. Our one and only interaction, to me, had been so short, so innocuous, that I found myself genuinely flummoxed. At the same time I was alarmed to find out how much space I occupied in the mind of someone I had met for five minutes, five years ago, and had never thought about once again. 
I suggested to another friend that maybe I should ask her to meet up with me to smooth things over. “What things?” she said. “You’re not friends. She didn’t exist to you again until this week.” She was right, of course, but still I carried on like a maudlin child for weeks, until one evening, scrolling on social media, I discovered something that changed everything.

What is the “Let Them” theory?

“The fastest way to take control of your life is to stop controlling everyone around you.” It was the opening line of a viral TikTok video with 29.1 million views which sees New York Times bestselling author Mel Robbins talk about something that she believes will improve anyone's life exponentially: the “Let Them” theory. 
At its crux, the theory asserts that by worrying or stressing about situations, people or their actions — which we ultimately have little to no control over — it causes us unnecessary emotional and mental distress. In fact, by allowing people to do what they will do anyway, you can see their true colours more quickly and then you can act accordingly. People writing mean things about you on the internet? Let them. A date isn’t texting you back or ghosts you? Let them. Friends purposely excluding you? Just let them. Someone hates you and you don’t know why? You get my drift. 
“The ‘Let Them’ theory is extremely valuable, because it allows us to let go of the burden of responsibility of things outside of our control,” says CCPA-registered psychotherapist and host of the The Inner Child Podcast, Gloria Zhang. “The truth is that we cannot force people to behave in ways that they don't want to. Therefore, trying to control or coerce will always lead to more fear, resentment, and unhappiness. By letting go of attachment to things we can’t control, we become free to focus our attention on things within our control. For example, trying to control someone else’s texting patterns or political beliefs will likely drive you nuts. But focusing on your own decisions, your thoughts, what you choose to eat, wear, or say, will lead to a greater sense of inner peace.”
I realised it did no good lamenting about the opinions of a stranger who I had long forgotten about (the saying “what people think of you is no one’s business” also springs to mind). She had no bearing on me or my life, and if she wanted to expend five years of her energy hating on me, that was up to her. It felt oddly freeing to not care. I began applying the theory to other areas of my life too. 

Applying the “Let Them” theory to dating

I had been dating someone new. He was smart, fun and sexy, things were going well… Except for the fact I harboured some reservations around whether he had the level of warmth, generosity or kindness I knew I valued in a partner. Then I had a health scare. As friends clamoured around me — as people that love you tend to do — relentlessly pestering me to find out when my doctors appointments, hospital scans and test results were, I noticed he appeared not to care. I told him I felt anxious about it all, at which point he apologised saying it had slipped his mind because he had been so busy with work. But as time went on and a biopsy at the hospital loomed, he failed to check in about it at all. He did however remember to nudge me on a glitzy industry event I had mentioned in passing weeks before that he wanted to attend as my plus one. 
It troubled me. I thought about bringing it up again, but stopped myself. I already knew he wasn’t right for me. He was who he was and I didn’t want to try and make him care about something he clearly didn’t care about. It did however reaffirm that I had wonderful people in my life and they were the blueprint of the level of consideration and kindness that I expected from a future partner. 
A friend had also been dating someone new. Three dates in and it had been going really well. One afternoon, she tentatively told me that she was afraid to sleep with him for fear he would withdraw, or in her words “go off” her. I was genuinely shocked that my wise, beautiful friend could ever think that something as archaic as withholding sex for any amount of time could allow her to have a different outcome with a man. I told her about the “Let Them” theory and said that if she wanted to have sex with him and she was ready to, she should. And that if he revealed himself to be the kind of person to care about those things, she should let him. In fact, the sooner she finds that out, the better.
In a video with 877.7K views, TikTok user Courtney Shields says: “You don’t want someone who isn’t what you’re looking for and you won’t know he isn’t what you’re looking for if you force him to be what you’re looking for. Someone will always show you who they are if you just let them. The key here is when they do, believe them.” Let them — there it was again. 
The theory works in diminishing a lot of stress or anxieties many of us might have in early dating stages around whether the person we’re seeing is right for us. Worrying about what they might or might not do, trying to control the narrative, or even shoe-horning them into the mould we want them to fit for us can be tempting, especially if we like them. But arguably, the quicker you let people reveal themselves to you, the quicker you can discern whether they are right for you. 
“When you are in the stages of early relationship development there can be a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunication,” says Dr Tara, tenured professor of sexual and relational communication at CSUF. “People bring their past experiences, perceptions, and baggage into new relationships, making it difficult to predict their actions accurately. The ‘let them’ mindset works because it allows individuals to ease up on the control factor, navigate these uncertainties more gracefully and focus on what is flourishing in their own life. When it’s not a compatible match, there is no need to waste time. If they treat you poorly, there is no need to try to justify their behaviours.” 
To be clear, the “Let Them” theory isn’t about sitting back and not communicating your needs and boundaries first, or not holding people accountable when they hurt you, or not putting effort into understanding others. And this isn’t to say it’s a one size fits all. “I don’t think this mindset works well in long-term relationships because, in long-term relationships you are already past the relational development stage,” says Dr Tara. “You will want to try to make sense of their behaviours and find a solution together through conflict.”
It is also important to remember that it is not a rigid framework or necessarily suitable for every individual. “The less support we’ve had growing up, the more likely we are to be triggered by seemingly small events in the present,” says UKCP-registered childhood trauma therapist Sarah Lee. “So I think whether or not you can simply “let them” might depend on your history, your personality, your support network or your current circumstances. Some people might need more support to manage the feelings that arise or the meaning they read into, for example, being left out of brunch than someone who feels more secure and isn't triggered by feeling left out.” 
“Any kind of grounding can be useful in this approach; things like breathing or meditation can help to accept our emotions or express them and let them go. If you journal, you can write down what you're feeling which can help to let it out. On a longer term basis, I would say that if you know you have triggers from your past that you can’t manage, to seek therapy or support if that's an option for you.”
At the end of the day, it is human nature to worry and we’re all guilty at one point or another of trying to spin PR for our lives or engineer better outcomes for ourselves. But by detaching and relinquishing control it can actually give you profound insights on whether a situation or person is for you. If the situation requires, express your needs and boundaries, but then after that? Let. It. Go. 
“The only negatives of “Let them” theory is that it means one-sided relationships will naturally disappear,” adds Zhang. “If you have always been the one trying to control and make a relationship work, then naturally the connection will go away once you stop trying so hard. However, it’s really not a negative because it frees up space for new relationships that are more aligned for you.”  
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