When To Let Go

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.


6 Responses

  1. Wow, a sensitive man- a rare breed indeed!

    I think there is a lot to think about in what you’ve written and I want to give it more thought.

    However I think I can say- with a fair degree of certainty- that if one person isn’t feeling the love in a relationship, then no matter how painful it might be, it’s time to call it a day.

    It’s also been my experience that it never, EVER works to get back with someone that you have broken up with. To me, no matter how much you might love that person, it is just prolonging the agony.

    Very interesting post. Thanks for giving me food for thought!

    I’ve never gotten back together with anyone either, but I can see under certain circumstances that it COULD work – IF the breakup was done respectfully, and both parties acted like adults the whole time.

    Okay, so those two conditions automatically limit the incidence to a frighteningly small portion of the population.

  2. *sigh* Where do I begin?

    Yes, it is about relationships, specifically mine. You know all about it, but for your readers that have probably never read my blog, and if they’re anything like me and read other people’s comments, I think I should give them the back story. There’s a lot issues between me and my boyfriend. The biggest one being that he has Asperger’s syndrome. There’s some dispute about whether or not I have it, but even if I do, I don’t have it nearly as bad as he does. The second is that he lives in Illinois, I live in Kansas. We don’t get to see each other much. Okay, we’ve spent a total of one weekend in each other’s physical presence, and it was not a good experience for either of us. And ever since, any time I’ve mentioned wanting to go see him again, it doesn’t happen for whatever reason. Him and I have talked about me moving up there, but at this point, I’m not financially able to, and I really don’t know when I will be.

    Now, I myself have plenty of issues, mainly I suffer from very serious depression, and major self worth issues. Basically, I have a hard time believing that I’m worth anybody’s time, and I find myself constantly questioning whether or not he really loves me, stuff like that.

    So, yeah, I would say I am unsure. Unsure of whether or not my relationship really is dysfunctional or if I’m just trying to sabotage myself again.

    I’ll save my specific comments for an email, Becca, but I will say publicly that I think questioning yourself and the direction of your relationship, given your circumstances, is absolutely understandable.

  3. It’s funny to me how where you are in your life affects how you interpret things. When I was reading Chaotic Kitten’s (love that name, BTW) questions, I wasn’t even thinking about relationship. I was thinking about being on a non-profit board, about having a crappy dentist, about the job (and co-workers) you like but that doesn’t have suitable health insurance…all of the things I have ‘quit’ recently. So as I was reading your answers, I was impressed with how they seemed to apply to all of the other big sitations in life too.

    Sometimes I wish that as soon as you made a big decision to quit or change something, you would get an immediate feeling of ‘I did the right thing’. I’ve never had that. It usually takes a week (or two or three or more) to get a feeling of knowing if I did the right thing. I guess because you have to take risks to change your course sometimes. I’m not a risk-taker by nature, but I also don’t like being miserable…so I have changed jobs, professions, and relationships before when I could tell that I was going down a path of ‘nothing good can come from this.’

    You’re right, these are things that can be taken much more broadly than within the context of a relationships.

    And I also agree that there’s rarely any instant gratification from making those changes – whether you did the right or wrong thing is really only clear in hindsight, and sometimes long hindsight. I think life would be easier if those choices were clear either beforehand or immediately afterward, but they’re usually not. All you can do is have faith in yourself. Or try to, as is usually the case for me.

  4. (whoo, look at me, monopolizing the comments queue)

    I am the person everyone in my life asks these kinds of questions…and I am utterly and totally the WORST person to ask.

    I have a pathological need to NEVER quit. It is something so grandiosely unhealthy inside of me that I would need volumes to discuss the tragic events and ramifications.

    SO, all I can say is that I utterly and totally believe that there is an appropriate time and place to quit things that are “bad for you”…relationships especially.

    I can say this because I am the converse example and BELIEVE me, no one want’s to be here.

    Hey, when I blog off at the mouth sometimes you have to catch up!

    I think in my case it was a similarly pathological need to never be the bad heartbreaker guy.

    The results weren’t really any better in the end, methinks.

  5. There was a time, about 7-8 yrs ago, when Todd and I broke up for about 5 minutes. We were in the car, and he, out of habit, reached over and rested his hand on my thigh. I plucked his hand off, tossed it back to his side of the car and said “We’re broken up. You don’t get to do that anymore.” LOL.

    Relationships before that, for me, tended to end when I started writing songs about the guy. When the angry chick rock-y songs came out I knew he had to go.

    But I also tended to view break ups as removing a splinter. The splinter is uncomfortable as it’s lodged beneath the skin. You can still walk around, but it’s there nagging at you. Then you get the pin and tweezers out and you stab it it, and you pluck at it, and you try to get the annoyance out of your skin. You slap a bandaid on, and eventually you’re all better and ready to go barefoot again.

    That’s a funny story about the 5 min breakup. It seems to me that Dys and I had a moment like that, but now for the life of me I can’t figure out what it was.

    I like your view of break-ups, and yeah, when you’re writing angry songs then maybe it’s time to reconsider the relationship. Unless it’s making the angry sex better, then maybe…

  6. i think one of the best (and hardest) things to learn is life is knowing when to quit, whether it be a relationship, a job, whatever.

    people who stay for the sake of staying, of NOT quitting, may have the right intentions. but that doesn’t mean it’s the right decision.

    listen to your gut. it never lies.

    Wow. Honestly I’m a little shaken by being forced by your comment to go back and read this post of mine. Sometimes our own words are a little too strong, you know?

    Of course my immediate smartass retort is to quote John Cusack from High Fidelity: “I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have SHIT for brains!!”

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