My good blog-bud Chaotic Kitten posted a handful of Big Questions this morning.
I know I’ve asked this before, but when do you know when it’s time to let something go? When is it okay to give up? I’m afraid that I will regret it if I did. Is that a sign that I’m not really done yet? Why are these things so hard to figure out?
These were big enough questions that I couldn’t answer in a hurry, and frankly given all the time in the world I still probably couldn’t give “THE” answer to them. But after doing a few hours of pondering, I’m gonna tackle them anyway. And I’m posting them publicly because, aside from giving advice to a friend, I think these are questions bigger than applicable to a single situation. As such, I like to see what other people think about these things, so please feel free to weigh in (at length, if need be), even if it’s to tell me how bass-ackwards I have things.
“When do you know when it’s time to let something go?”
In my humble opinion, you never really know for sure when it’s time. People err on both sides, all the time. Some stick around when they’ve known in their gut for years that they should be gone. And some haul freight at the drop of a hat for any number of reasons, usually centered around feeling unworthy and/or wanting to dump before getting dumped. Both, again in my humble opinion, suck richly, but I’ve only ever been in the former position. And I’ve been there quite a few times, especially given my limited dating experience.
But I think most of us that tend to stick around can look back in retrospect and see that there came a time that the dawning “this isn’t going to work out” feelings coalesced into something more definite. Maybe it wasn’t a single day or a single event, but a “by this time I knew things weren’t right.” Depending upon the severity of that moment, it might be time to scoot right then (i.e. if a cocked fist was involved, etc.).
Maybe it’s not – maybe you try to work it out, maybe you see if things will change. I don’t have any kind of formula that says “If you have been waiting for a change for 10% of the time you’ve been together – 20% if you have kids – then you should split.” But I think that if you’ve clearly pointed out, more than once, what you need and what is causing you pain and have not seen significant effort toward addressing your concerns, it’s time to let it go.
I use the term “significant effort” for a reason. Things probably won’t be perfect – ever – and even a “hey, cool” change isn’t going to happen overnight. But if you see they’re making a genuine, good-faith effort, then it’s probably worth giving them a chance to keep working at it. If all you hear is lip service – walk. If you don’t even hear lip service – fuckin’ run.
“When is it okay to give up?”
This is something of the same question as the above, but I’m separating them because to me there’s a difference between “when it’s time” and “when it’s okay.” I think that, in general, it’s “okay” even before “it’s time.” I couldn’t really blame someone for walking away from a relationship after the first definite thoughts of “this isn’t going to work out,” as long as they did so as respectfully as possible. And by that I mean by saying “look, this just isn’t going to work out” rather than, say, inventing a hurtful excuse, starting to irritate the living shit out of him/her until he/she dumps you and you can thereby paint him/her as the bad guy, and/or nailing the best friend. Maybe it wasn’t quite time, but it’s your life. When you decide to throw in the towel based on something besides a gnawing fear of the relationship being “too good,” then it’s okay to put it aside.
I may be completely wrong about this, but I think that if you do so both respectfully and early enough, then breaking up doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over forever. I think that the longer you wait, the harder the break will be and the less likely it will be that the breach can ever be repaired.
“I’m afraid that I will regret it if I did. Is that a sign that I’m not really done yet?”
No. It’s a sign that you’re unsure of yourself, which is perfectly normal in this situation. Which leads me to my last point:
“Why are these things so hard to figure out?”
I think the answer to that one is because ultimately there is no right answer. Any number of circumstances may cause your relationship to survive as it is, improve, or fall apart regardless of whether you say “enough” or not. Maybe saying “enough” is what causes your SO to change and save the relationship. Maybe despite your best efforts he/she moves on without you. Regardless, Schrodinger’s cat is both alive and dead until you make your decision and act on it…even if that decision is to do nothing.
It’s that unpredictability that makes it hard to make a negative choice. Because, like a gambler looking for the big score, you never know if it’s that next roll of the dice that puts you over the top. Maybe tomorrow is the day your relationship becomes everything you want it to be – can you live with the thought of losing that possible tomorrow in order to go through with the decision to let it go today? Perhaps there are some people who are completely self-assured in such decisions, but I am certainly not one of those.
I think that ultimately there’s no way to be absolutely sure when it’s time to pack it in – but I think you know when you know. It’s trying to deal with that knowledge that gets to be downright painful.