Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: You gave some good advice on “paying attention to how hard you have to work” in a relationship, but is it possible to be burned anyway? My ex-fiance gave me the distinct impression that not only did we have a good foundation, but that our differences were tolerable. We would spend hours upon hours talking this stuff out and building (what I thought was) good communication.
He called off the wedding anyway with no warning, saying that he couldn’t do it.
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I’m left asking why I made the effort. Seems like no matter what, someone can always dupe you by mirroring your hopes and dreams to get what they want, and then ditching you when it’s convenient. Your advice is sound, but it seems so hopeless.
If you’re looking never to get hurt, then, yes, hopeless is the right word. Everyone who cares about something also gets “burned” by it, just by dint of caring.
Think of it in terms of sports, because why not: If you care whether a team wins or loses, then you will feel good when it wins and bad when it loses. Right?
You’re asking why you made the effort when a loss was inevitable, and the answer is, you cared so you gave it your best. His leaving doesn’t mean he didn’t give it his best. It doesn’t mean he duped you, either. Maybe he did, sure, but maybe too he really was nuts about you, and unwittingly worked a little too hard – those “hours upon hours” – to persuade himself that your differences were surmountable. Maybe that wore him out, and maybe he felt terrible about that, but also understood you’d both have better chances at happiness if you parted ways.
That isn’t necessarily staying “to get what they want” and “ditching” when “convenient.” People who are decent and who really care about each other aren’t immune to hurting each other. Again, all they have to do is care, and both will eventually feel hurt by something.
So why get involved with anyone? Because enough good can outweigh the inevitable bad. Plenty of people will happily choose 20-40-60 loving years with someone for the price of heavy grief when that person dies – and that’s a happy ending, no? Till death do they part?
Even when it’s not as pretty, when people stay together for X years then ultimately split, they can still look back on those years as mostly good, even valuable to them – be it in shaping who they are, in creating beloved children, in being the path that took them to the happy place they’re in now. Not all ends are failures.
So, you make the effort because the best connections to others, and the memories of them, make life worth living; the good ones make life more fun and/or interesting; and the worst ones – when picked over as objectively as we can afterward for useful information, about others and about ourselves (with a good therapist’s help as needed) – can help guide us toward something more rewarding.
Ultimately it’s about finding, sharing and counting on our own strength, versus the permanence of another person’s feelings for us – especially since the former can help the latter along.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.