Knowing when to walk away
March 31, 2002

A close college friend of mine didn't marry her longtime beau.  They were the most in-love couple I had ever seen. At the seeming  height of their romance, she called it quits and moved on with her  life. I was dumbfounded.

"How could love not conquer all," I wondered.

When it happened to me, I looked back with respect and  finally understood her wise but very difficult decision. Breaking  up is hard to do, but it's even worse when your heart is  double-sailor-knot tied into a drowning relationship.

The first two weeks of dating, I've concluded, are the frivolously fun "rosy-glasses" phase. Your potential new love can  do no wrong. Little quirks are considered cute. You hear in his  words every heartfelt thing you could possibly want to be told.  But most impressive, the other person is able to drop everything  for you, like you are the highest priority in the world.

Ah, then phase "reality" kicks in. You have jobs you've been  neglecting, laundry needs to get done, and the thinking head's  logic brings into focus some of the other images the rosy glasses  blurred out. And let's not forget how those little quirks become  oh-so-grating over time.

Next comes the wonderful relationship comfort zone. Love  grows as contentment settles in. But before you know it, the plot  thickens. Drama comes dancing in, like the court jester doing  cartwheels with no underwear on, telling little jokes like, "Oh, I  have five kids. You just never asked." Or you find the IRS reading  your beloved his last rites. Or an angry spouse pays you a visit.

Cartoon warnings like "Danger! Danger! Johnny!" blast through  your mind. "Danger! Danger! Drama!" is more like it.

But this isn't Hollywood, so the story crisis usually gets  handled less skillfully and with more broken dishes and runny  makeup. Tact and grace slip out the back door without even saying  goodbye. Meanwhile, there's a grenade with the pin missing in your  lap, and you can't remember a bit of relationship or military  training.

How could you get to this point? Did you not see the "Bridge  Out Ahead" sign before starting this journey? Remember? The rosy  glasses rendered all the pertinent details invisible.

We all see the red flags that alert us to trouble ahead. We  just choose to ignore the warnings. What? He hasn't dated in nine  years? (Shouldn't you be asking why, not complimenting him on his  remarkable celibacy?) He hasn't lived in one place more than six  months ... ever? (Gee, he hasn't found the right girl to tame his  gypsy spirit!) Oh, he is so animated and fun to be around whenever  we're out. (Who's keeping track of how much he's drinking?) And  here's the classic: He gives you one number, but it's just his  cell phone. (The wife might pick up at the home number.)

Ladies don't come out of this one as innocents, either. I've  heard that guys get the "Oops, I'm pregnant!" story. Or they set  up a real-life meeting with the online virtual soul mate who  describes herself as J-Lo but turns out to be more like Rosanne.

Then there are other little things that turn out to be major  incompatibilities. For instance, I dated a guy who worked the  graveyard shift. Great, except his sleeping hours were my working  hours, and vice versa.

Another guy believed perpetuation of the family lineage was a  bad thing, while at some point I might want to have a child or two  running amok. And then there was the man who thought his hometown  was the center of the universe. He didn't have the urge to visit  anyplace outside those borders.

Growth and common goals are on my list of compatibility  necessities. Love, passion and chemistry are high on that list  also. Somewhere mixed in are honesty, integrity and humor. Of  course, a nice behind and deep sultry eyes won't get the heave-ho,  especially if he can also banter well in a thoughtful conversation.

But when the cards are really counted, I will stay with the hand that has a winning potential, even if my heart wants to  gamble on riskier odds.

Kenny Rogers of "The Gambler" fame sang it best: "You've got  to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em. Know when to walk  away, and know when to run."

So love can't conquer all. Deciding that it's in your best  interest to walk away with your heart still intact is a sensitive  and personal issue. But it doesn't hurt when your survey of 50  family members and close friends opens a chorus of "Dump the loser!"