Upon the crenellated spire’s edge, the hero stands with barely enough strength mustered to keep himself upright. After ages of fighting for the land he loved the only things he had to show for it were swaths of razed cottages and blood soaked countrysides. His adversary, the dreaded Necromancer of the North, approaches with outstretched arms.
“It is the age of reckoning,” begins his monologue, “After countless successors, your line ends here. When you meet your progenitors, tell them you failed. Tell them why their corpses no longer rest within the earth. Tell them who struck you down.” A streak of black lightening cuts through the sky like a jagged blade slicing through flesh. “Give up. You have nothing left to fight for.”
And, to the surprise of everyone including the undead legion surrounding the Necromancer’s spire, the hero did just that. The walk down the spire was pretty tough on his calves for sure, but it wasn’t all that bad. Life wasn’t nearly as tough as he made it some times, but he liked his stick-to-it attitude toward most things. Every blessing comes with a set of curses, though.
That’s life, but it’s nice to take a breather, he thought with a weary shrug, I wonder if the tavern is doing dine-in with this whole global, undead pandemic thing going on.
Giving up on something we care about or have invested a lot of time into can be one of the most emotionally arduous trials we undergo. The sunk cost fallacy is something that most people are familiar with by now, but knowledge of it does not lessen its strangle hold on our futures at times. Look no further than the penny slots at your local casino if you want to see it in action.
A vice that I see as even more detrimental than a gambling addiction, however, is the addiction to sticking around. Like any other good thing, affirmation can be something we really, truly need. A kind word, a thoughtful gift, an understanding touch: those little vistas of affirmation can mean the difference between keeping our heads above the water and sinking into the deep waters of despair. We stick around for those good things because they highlight the best parts of ourselves when we can’t. It’s why we are social animals; sometimes we just can’t do life on our own.
Most of the time, we can though.
Life is a lonely prospect. I really don’t think anyone in their right mind would argue with that, and most people do the best they can to fill that loneliness with emotional investments that they hope will pay off in the moments that count. You pick up your friend from the airport at an inconceivably early hour because you hope that they would do the same for you. You snuggle your partner even after a bitter fight because you hope they will apply the same gentleness to you. We put our feelings into the slot, pull the lever, and watch the wheels spin spin spin because we think if we just keep trying eventually that jackpot is going to hit.
What if it doesn’t though? What if your friend flakes every time you desperately need a ride? What if your partner balks at every chance to show you affection when you need it most? What if that jackpot doesn’t hit? Or worse…
What if those wheels never stop spinning?
Seriously, what do you do? I’d reckon that a lot of people would stay seated and wait for the spinning to stop. Weirder yet, they may even try to put more money in the machine and pull the lever again. Maybe someone would see it as a sign that the payoff would be even bigger because they waited so long. They’d stand with their duffel bag under the return spout in earnest expectation for hours on end, and eventually we would all look at them like they were insane because obviously something was broken, right? We wouldn’t be the one’s with something to lose though, and that’s the biggest difference.
Sometimes I watch my friends and colleagues stumble into the same old cycles of waiting for partners, parents, and acquaintances to change and give them what they are due. It’s baffling to see from the outside, but the perspective from the inside is obviously very different. It seems that every time I ask why they hang on for so long, tolerating all manner of abuse and neglect in the process, the most frequent answer I get is, “I don’t want to give up on them.” Hell, I’ve even given that answer myself!
For a long time I found that answer so frustrating. Give up on them?! They gave up on you a long time ago when they _______! Eventually I had an awakening. I was too focused on the object; the subject is what really mattered. The “I” is the important part, not the “them.”
The fear of giving up is not the fear of failing the object of our affection but the fear of admitting (and believing) that we, the subject, deserve better. It’s why I have started to ask “Is giving up on someone always a bad thing?” instead of “Why don’t you just leave them?” It cuts right to the emotional dissonance at hand, and yet most of the time, people will give a laundry list of reasons why it could be a good thing to stick around.
At that point, if they aren’t pissed off at me for prying, I’ll finish up with, “If giving up isn’t always a bad thing, how do you know when it’s a good time to give up?” I like that question a lot, and I like it so much because I was asked that same question before. It’s stuck with me for years and has changed the way I look at a lot of relationships.
The answer to that final question is different for each circumstance, but it holds powerful implications that I sure as hell never even considered. We sometimes stick around for so long waiting for life to happen to us that we forget why we even started in the first place and, more importantly, what reasons we might have for leaving. The truth is that some people are worth giving up on if the alternative means giving up on ourselves, sacrificing our good faith, or compromising our boundaries.
Again, it’s not an easy thing to do, but we need to stop misappropriating the shame of actually failing someone in ill intent with saying goodbye to something or someone that we know is bad for us. Whether it’s a family member who is intolerable of your life style or a romantic interest that is willing to keep you on the line but never commit, you aren’t at fault for expecting more respect than that and kindly walking away. It is okay to admit that you wish someone treated you better but give up on them because they aren’t treating you the way you deserve. You don’t have to explain why you deserve that respect either; that’s their job to figure out.
Anyone who asks you to wait, to shut up, to subdue who you know you are for their own amusement or convenience has nothing to offer. They themselves are emotionally bankrupt most likely, and you don’t have to pay their debts. Your life is precious and so short, far too short to spend it staring at a broken slot machine waiting for a jackpot that was rigged against you from the start.
You can walk away with a lot of hope, and you can give up with confidence because by leaving something behind you inherently head toward something else.