Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Somebody I Used To Know: When to Walk Away

There comes a time in life, in relationships, in situations, where we have to accept that the strongest thing we can do is stop fighting, and walk away. We have been preconditioned to be fighters, we’re told not to quit or give up on the things that are important to us. We’re made to believe that by doing so, that we are, in some way, failures.

I am no different, in fact, I am the worst offender of this. Despite all of the lessons I’ve learned in life, one I have not been able to fully been able to embrace is walking away. Walking away from a toxic friendship, an unfulfilling relationship, an uninspiring job, or a life choice that no longer brings me joy. In fact, the second I see things spiraling south, I go into overdrive, trying to salvage, protect and save, regardless of the outcome it has to my personal and emotional health. I think this is, in part, due to my passion for the things and people in my life. If I commit to something it’s because I care about it, sincerely and wholly, and I find many of the attitudes today too cavalier, giving up because something isn’t perfect, because it isn’t the exact way they envisioned it in their head. I watched a friend take a “dream job” and leave after three weeks because it wasn’t “what she thought it would be.” I lost respect for this girl, thinking that she should’ve sought out the opportunities that WERE available within that position, perhaps find something that she hadn’t anticipated but was still incredible, but just in a different way. I’ve fought for friendships despite knowing the person should be cut off, I just couldn’t walk away from history.  I’ve stayed dating people even when the magic ended because it was there once and I believe in love.

I guess for me, as idealistic as I am, I have a realistic side. I know that life comes with trials and tribulations, and with ups and downs. I know some the best things are the ones we work for, that the challenges we’re presented with are important life lessons, showing us who we are and what we’re capable of. I will never be the kind of person who doesn’t give everything I have to something that matters to me. I am a bit on the extreme side, and I’ve spent some time observing how the other half lives. 

I’ve had extensive conversations with people who leave jobs when they’re not getting what they want out of it, who cut off friends when they’ve outstayed their welcome, and break up with significant others the minute it becomes apparent that it’s heading down a dead end.  I find them fascinating and admire their courage. I have started to realize that they have an equal commitment; it’s the one to themselves.  They don’t want to settle for anything less than they feel they deserve, so they don’t.  They aren’t selfish, they’re just acutely aware of what works and what doesn’t, and don’t have time for the in between nonsense.

I think there is a middle ground, a healthy balance between idealism and realism where the right approach lies. While I understand the people above, I do think it is too easy to just walk away, just like it’s senseless and pointless to stay firmly planted. So how do we know when is enough?  Unless there is some major event that makes it impossible to not cut off, we have to rely on other means. It’s all about evaluation and honest assessments. 

RELATIONSHIPS:  Platonic and Romantic

BALANCE/COMMITMENT:  Healthy relationships are all about balance, you get what you give. No one wants to be the friend who is there for their friend in times of trouble only to be abandoned when the tables are turned. We don’t want to be the one who is always giving, always being the first one to call or make plans.  There are times that one person will have more significant needs than the other, and that’s fine, this is normal. But it can’t be a completely off kilter exchange. Both parties have needs and those needs should be recognized and met.  I know there are times where I can be emotionally demanding, but I also know that when someone I care about needs me, that there is nothing I wouldn’t do for them. Examine the commitment levels and see if they’re fair, if you’re happy with them, if you feel like you’re giving too much or too little. We need equal and fair levels of commitment. We need people in our lives who want us in their lives as much as we want to be in theirs or want them in ours. If this isn’t existent, then it’s a toxic relationship. Constant sacrifices and compromise of ourselves are not recipes for a healthy relationship.

COMPROMISE:  This is on the heels of balance is compromise. All relationships require a certain form of compromise. We can’t have everything we want in life, and we also can’t expect people to adhere to our every whim. What we can expect, though, is that we are going to be met halfway, that those we are involved with are concerned with our well being and needs. We need to be able to make certain concessions but at the same time understand that it’s happening on both sides.

COMMUNICATION: To be able to communicate is key. We need to be able to have an open line, where we feel safe and comfortable to express ourselves. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be silenced or stifled. If we are holding back out of fear of repercussions or rejection we are only causing damage to ourselves.

HEALTH: This should obvious, but the second that a relationship is detrimental to our health, both physical and emotional then we should walk away.  If a relationship is overly stressful, or we find ourselves crying or distraught more than we are happy, then why stay? If we stop eating or overeat, if we can’t sleep at night…then why, WHY put up with it? We shouldn’t because don’t have to.

BEHAVIOR/ATTITUDE: A major sign that someone is no longer the best presence in our life is when our behavior and attitude start to take a detrimental turn, and it’s time to examine why. I have been driven to crazy behavior when I was caught up in a toxic relationship. I can tell you stories of hysterical acts, running down the street after someone at 2am in my pajamas, tears streaming down my face.  I look back at this and wonder what the hell was I thinking. Are fights normal? Absolutely, things can’t be perfect all the time.  But when we start doing things out of character, when we start losing our grip on reality, when we enter the world of crazy…there is nothing good or ok about that, and it's time to come back to the land of sanity.

PRESENT DAY: It’s very easy to reminisce in the past, to think about all of the good times and use them as excuses to stick around for someone. While the past counts for something, something major, we can not use it as our only crutch. The past serves as the foundation and building blocks for relationships, but even the strongest buildings require maintenance.  We can’t shoot cannon balls at a structure and expect it to hold up because it used to be a fortress.  We need to look at the present day, the things happening in the here and now and determine whether the present is strengthening the ties or dismembering them.

FEELINGS:  We need to listen to ourselves, because often times our subconscious is onto something. The minute we start questioning things we need to be cognizant of the fact that it’s happening for a reason.  I have had friendships with people that I, ultimately, didn’t trust, that I didn’t feel had my best intentions, yet I stayed friends with them because I didn’t want to lose the relationship. But what kind of relationship is that? It isn’t one. I have dated people who I wasn’t entirely happy with but haven’t broken up with them because I didn’t want to fail. I’ve been in situations where I have met someone else that I liked more, that I wanted to be with but yet I stayed with my current partner out of some kind of misplaced loyalty. I realize now that I may not be with the "other" person, but perhaps they were placed in my path not to date, but to show me that what I had wasn’t right.

TURN THE TABLES: I find this exercise is highly effective in almost any life situation. Say your story and your feelings out loud, or write them down. Then think about it, but from a different perspective. Pretend like it’s a good friend coming to you with this predicament. What would your advice them to be? Then follow it.  

ACCEPTANCE: Sometimes we need to accept that things change. People change, we change. The most successful relationships are the ones in which we evolve together, where we grow together, not apart. The right people in our lives are receptive, not resistant, to this. Sometimes we need to take a step back, see the writing on the wall and realize that it's just not right. That giving up is not an act of defeat but one of strength. That walking away is not a failure but of an actualization of reality and facts. That sometimes we are better off without someone in our life.

OTHERS: Look at your relationships with your other friends or think back to past romantic relationships. Were they this complicated or difficult? The answer is probably not. So this one shouldn't be either.


This is a little bit more complicated because it’s difficult to walk away from a steady job, jobs are our livelihood. As much as we’d like to, we can’t survive sans income but we also shouldn’t stay in a job that is making us miserable simply for the paycheck. The truth is, that leaving a job is scary but not as scary as the adverse effects that can come with hating your life because of your job. When the toils of your life in the office spill over into your personal life, than it’s time to reevaluate and find something better suited. The same thing goes for dreams. We all have them, but we need to be realistic about whether  they are actually attainable and what we wanted or thought we wanted is actually what is best for us.

The bottom line is:  Our jobs should make us feel inspired and positively challenged. People in our lives should bring out the best in us, should make us feel better about ourselves, not worse. When we find this is no longer the case, we need to walk. We need people who care about us like we do them. We need to think, really think, about whether or not this is worth it. The truth is though, if we even have to think about it, then it probably isn’t. We have to stop making excuses for people, and most importantly to ourselves. Excuses are a form of denial, and drowning in them only prolongs the inevitable, causing unnecessary stress and drama in our lives when there doesn't need to be any.

Remember: This is all a learning experience: people, jobs, things. These are all part of the story that we are writing for ourselves, some chapters are shorter than others. Some chapters make us cry, some make us laugh. However, without them, the story is incomplete. We need them to be who we are. It isn't about winning or losing, it's about staying true to who we are.

1 comment:

  1. Wow.... I have to admit, this is the best, most rational, wisest advice about relationships and breakup that I've ever read... A totally mind blown...I just went through a break up. Even though it was mutual and we both know that is the best thing we could do, it leaves such a void.... But reading this makes me feel so much better. I really appreciate this. Thank you :)

    -A girl from Vietnam who's lost in Chicago-