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!"