I spent most of my youth with a man I met from college. Being with him had gradually become for me a way of life, a habit. As one year became two, three, then four… we had begun to settle into a monotonous but agreeable rhythm.
That was not to say there was always peace between us. A weekend seldom left us without a customary call from his charming temper. I could never quite tell when that was coming. Sometimes, I did not even know why we were fighting.
And yet, in spite of that, I stayed till our relationship turned six years old. I thought, rather than felt, that I was happy. I thought love was a complex dance of give and take, a vocation for forgiveness and acceptance. Love, I thought, was holding on, even when it was hard to do.
I was not wrong in that, of course, but I had sorely missed the point. The point was this: why were we still together? Because we have been together for a long time? That was a pathetic reason. Or because we each inspire the other to become a better person? That was a reason Heaven knows I could not lay claim to.
We are, most of us, creatures of comfort. Novelty has its time and place, but first and foremost we tend to crave some measure of stability, some predictability in our lives. For some of us, we find that in a familiar embrace, a familiar hand to hold onto. For better or for worse – he doesn’t necessarily have to be the best person for us; he just has to be the one we are reasonably attracted to, sufficiently comfortable with. Can you almost see why we settle for all the wrong reasons?
- Because we have been together for the longest time
When I finally left my ex for good, some of my friends were frankly amazed. Their common refrain: “Six years! Don’t you feel as though you’ve wasted all your time?”
To have devoted six long years of loyalty, in return for only my singlehood in payment, was rotten and unfair. I wanted to hang on, if only because I had already invested so much.
It is a sentiment most of us would understand. Yet sometimes, in trying to make our past efforts count, we forget that the cause is no longer worth fighting for in the present.
If love has become a habit and we have ceased to find any meaning in treading a shared path, then perhaps, it is high time we chose to let go. All those years spent in the past are just what they are – the past, and wasting any more time in our present and future is like whipping the dead horse with a stick – a pointless exercise.
- Because we can tolerate each other’s nonsense
My ex was a hot-headed man. As his girlfriend, I often bore the brunt of his impatience and his dreadful temper. Seemingly anything could set him off like dynamite. And yet in between his fearsome outbursts, he could be sweet, attentive and loving. I spent most of our time together constantly living in fear of incurring his displeasure. How I yearned for his kind words!
When once my mother heard him shouting at me, she asked, “Why do you let him do that to you?” I rejoined, almost without thinking, “I shout at him too.”
I was shocked at myself. Why did I say that? I was explaining away his awful behaviour, as though trying to convince myself that he wasn’t quite half-bad and I deserved it. In my mind, some twisted-up logic had justified his aggressiveness towards me, because I sometimes threw little-girl tantrums at him. In other words, we were both imperfect, and tolerating each other’s flaws was part of the bargain.
How wrong I was. Years later, after experience had taught me some wisdom, I realised that couples in solid relationships do not merely tolerate each other. They have high standards of each other. They constantly challenge and inspire the other to become a better person. They raise each other up with love, respect and appreciation.
We sometimes stay in relationships because we think there is no other person who will put up with our craziness and our weaknesses. But that should not be the main cause. Search for a positive reason to stay, not a negative one.
- Because we fear loneliness
Better to have someone to hold than no one to love at all.
Sitting down to lunch in a quiet cafe, she narrated her story to me. She had been seeing this man for under a year, she explained, and he did not think they should continue the relationship. So they parted, and for a week after, she shut herself in her room and cried her heart out. She could not understand why; she didn’t even particularly like this man and it was not a great relationship, only that the loneliness of being single was too much for her to bear. It was not long before she went back to him and pled with him to take her back.
Why are we so afraid of being alone? Do we perhaps feel that society will judge us for being unloved and unwanted? Does having a man prove a woman’s worth?
Some of us chase after a relationship, looking for a man, any man, to fill the void. We want someone else to make us happy, someone else to tell us we are beautiful, smart, amazing, and desirable. We forget that this responsibility of finding happiness and building self-esteem is actually no one else’s but ours. Merrily we push this responsibility to our man, demanding to be fed happy pills and nuggets of validation daily. And by God, it is a heavy responsibility, having to deal with a woman’s insecurities and neediness. More often than not, the relationship breaks down into shambles. Well, the man was never her lover first of all; he was her babysitter.
Ironically, the moment we take charge of ourselves and our own happiness, we become ready for a great relationship. After all, if we can’t live with ourselves alone, how do we expect others to stick around?
- Because we have both committed to a wedding or a house
They should never have to find themselves in this position. An impending marriage and a house on one hand, yet love, the foundation of it all, already a crying wreck.
It just seemed like the next logical step for my friend and her partner. Having been together for some time now, with everybody else they knew tying the knot, they saw fit to jump onto the bandwagon, by pressing forward to the next stage themselves.
The imminence of the commitment forced my friend to realise her true feelings. Panic seized her. She could not, would not go through with the wedding. She broke off the engagement.
Reckless decisions aside, she had now tied up her life savings in possibly one of her biggest-ticket items ever. It would be a huge financial loss for both parties, but she knew inherently that was a small price to pay, compared to her lifetime happiness.
Some of us would find it hard to take our dollars and cents so lightly. We would be tempted to stay in a relationship that’s wrong for us, if money, especially our hard-earned money, was involved. So we hum and haw, not realising that we are victims of the sunk cost fallacy. The sunk costs in this case? Previous time spent in the relationship, the costs of the wedding, and the house.
As with all sunk costs, it is important we see through them and cut our losses early. If the both of us just aren’t meant to be, getting out before the marriage will save a lot of pain and expense from divorcing with kids in tow later. We can’t recover what we have already spent in the past, but we can minimise the impacts they have on our future. Then, hopefully, we learn from our past mistakes and never rush headlong into a life decision again. It’s not romantic, I know, but then again, money never was.
[Also see above: Reason no. 1.]
- Because we are attached to the lifestyle he offers
“’Cause the boy with the cold hard cash/ Is always Mr Right.”
– Madonna, Material Girl
When we both started working, my ex began to lead a flashy, high-flying lifestyle. Tailored shirts filled his wardrobe and he raced around the city in a topless car. Little by little, the mindless extravagance seduced me. Although the sensible part of me disapproved, Materialism took root in my heart and dug its poisoned claws into my blood. Soon, I found myself living amongst the clouds.
The material lifestyle proved hard to cast off. In the months leading to our final breakup, we were planning a second master suite in his family home. The new room was to have the dream of all dreams – a luxury walk-in closet. I’m ashamed to confess it cost me a distinct wrench of torment to know I would lose that room if I left. So much so, that I actually found it hard to steel my resolve and say to myself, “This isn’t meant for you. This man isn’t right for you. Why are you staying because of a material possession? Come to your senses and leave, and DON’T ever come back.”
Some of you may see yourself in my story. If you do, give yourself a cold hard shake, and honestly ask yourself if it is really worth your happiness holding on to an attachment with material wants and objects. Because then it becomes his money and lifestyle you like, not him, and if that is your choice, then you will have to learn to live with the attendant emptiness.
It would have been a day like no other. But today was different – I was sombre, I was calm, and for the first time in six years, firmly resolved to strike it out alone.
For me to even get here, I had struggled and fought long and hard with my inner demons. Life with my ex was all I ever knew after university. How was I so sure I would be happier, moving forward, without him?
The answer: I wasn’t. Yet I knew what would happen if I chose to stay. I faced up to the facts bravely; I made no bones about it: if I stayed, life would not change for the better. This was what he was, I could not change him, though I had tried… More than that, our behaviour toward each other had already settled into a pattern of habits that was hard to break. That was certain, that was very clear.
Compared to that, there was the rest of the world I could explore. It could be a series of ups and downs, some frustration, some tears, but possibly very much happiness. Either way, I had the power to make my choice. I thought I would take my chances.
Did I regret my decision? Of course I didn’t! I gave myself no opportunity to. I moved on, in every complete sense of the word. And guess what? I met the love of my life several months later. I never thought I could be this blessed. If I was still stuck in the past brooding about the what-ifs, a beautiful relationship like this would never have happened.
So, my friends, are you stuck in an unhappy relationship? If you are unhappy, why are you still here? Should you hold the fort, or should you leave? Whatever decision you make, I wish you luck, and I wish you courage.