If I learned anything from The Notebook, it’s that relationships are about commitment, no matter the odds. When your true love leaves, write 365 letters and then build her a house. Then when she finally comes back, yell at her and tell her she’s a pain in the ass.
Then take her out the middle of a lake and let a rainstorm ruin her clothes.
Because when it’s love, you have to fight. Not just for love, but also, for your right to party.
Well, maybe that’s the rule if you’re Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, and you live in South Carolina in the 40’s, but from as far as I can tell, that’s not really how it works for the rest of us. Because not every love story is a novel. Yeah, I said it, Nicholas Sparks, what are you gonna do about it? In fact, not every love story is even a love story. The problem is that it’s rather difficult, especially being right in the midst of it all, to tell whether it’s right to fight, or throw in the towel. What is the maximum number of letters a guy can write before the next one is substantial ground for a restraining order?
As living, breathing beings, we are armed with two coping mechanisms: fight, or flight. When we feel pressure, when we're put in a position that inspires stress or panic, we can respond to stand and fight whatever it is, or we can get the hell out of there. Given these choices, I am a flighter – not a fighter. When push comes to shove, I fake left and make a break for the nearest exit. But often times, the concept of “flight” is automatic acknowledgement of defeat, and that is something I simply cannot accept. So as a society, we have developed a third choice, “flip the Monopoly board.” No one wins, no one loses, and no one owns Park Place anymore because the top hat is now under the futon. It’s called quitting, and I’m a fan.
I’ve been in relationships. The good kind, the ambiguous kind, or as I like to refer to them, common law relationships, and of course, the cliché and devastating bad kind. Clearly, none of them have really worked out, as evidenced by my current singledom. Yet, maybe more importantly, I’ve seen relationships happen. The beginning parts, where everything is awesome and "he’s so wonderful and smart, did I tell you he’s smart? Gosh, he’s got TWO degrees." The middle parts, where "all he ever does is talk about his degrees and they weren’t even from an Ivy League college, I mean what the hell is that about? He might as well have just gone to Chico State and majored in sleeping with drunk sorority chicks." And then the ending parts, where he actually went up to Chico State for a weekend and slept with said drunk sorority chicks. Well, you ARE the one who suggested it.
It's surprising to me, sometimes, how long it took to get to the ending parts. And then, even after it’s over, after the hair dryers have been thrown, the long soliloquies and monologues have been screamed across parking lots, what baffles me most is how often that’s not even the real ending. No, it seems that the break-up is merely a fake end of a band’s set, where they say goodbye, walk off the stage, only to come back on after a few minutes for the expected encore performance. Relationships really don’t need encore performances when all you could think about for the last 4 songs was what you were going to do after the show, how uncomfortable your shoes are, and how you didn’t even really like the band that much in the first place. Their first album was pretty good, but then they went and tried to do this indie electronic thing, and the keytar just looks stupid on everyone.
I think the real issue is that everyone has this negative connotation about the concept of quitting. It’s not necessarily our fault; we’ve been bombarded with anti-quitting propaganda for years. “Quitters never win,” “Wars are not won by evacuations,” and my favorite, “Pain is temporary. Quitting last forever.” Look at that pressure! Throw around a couple of those, toss in a, “there’s no crying in baseball” here and there, and you have a bunch of fully committed, entirely despondent couples. Everyone is just so convinced that giving up is a cowardly act, and yet sometimes, giving up is the most courageous thing to do.
I was in a relationship a few years ago, and at one point I realized, we were both miserable. We were so miserable, but so accustomed to being miserable that we didn’t even realize that we were unhappy. It just became the thing that defined our relationship. We were together because we loved each other, but for that very reason, we resented each other. Because quitting was what weak people did, and we were stronger than that. We were so strong, in fact, that it quickly digressed into a contest to see which of us could squeeze the very life force out of the other on a daily basis. We kept a tally sheet, which actually turned into more of a scroll, but it was a causality, like many a photograph and t-shirt, of our love’s termination. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, to walk away, but after the fog cleared, it was the bravest thing we could have done for each other. To walk away, and to let the other go. I flipped the board, but he didn’t even look under the furniture for all the pieces. No winners, no losers. Well, except for the person who owned the game, because those pieces are kind of important if you ever want to play again.
If it’s so easily accepted that people change as they age, priorities shift, personality traits mature or adapt at varying paces, then why is it so surprising to some that people who were once compatible don’t necessarily remain such? When I was 19, I really liked dying my hair black and listening to Anti-Flag. I dated people who shared my affinity for those things. My hair is now red and I really enjoy the musical stylings of “Florence + the Machine.” Do you think I’m dating the same kind of person I was dating when I was 19? Hell no. Seriously, back off the hair. It was a thing I was doing at the time. It was just a phase. When something stops working, it’s okay to walk away from it. And when someone makes the decision to walk away from you, it won’t do much good trying to hold on to him or her. If he decided to go, you can't tie him to you. He knows how to undo the same knots you do, and if he doesn't, well, there are books.
I’m not advocating quitting because things are difficult. I’m advocating quitting when it hurts. I’m advocating letting things die peacefully. If you have to keep using the defibrillator every 5 minutes just to revive a six-times-stopped heart, maybe you just let it go that seventh time. It’s not so cute, showing up at her work with flowers a week after you threw her journal out the window and she called you “certifiably insane.” Maybe she didn’t mean it exactly, but I can guarantee she meant it kind of. It’s a fine line, between dedication and stalking, but a very important one to locate, and abide by.
After all, true love is never having to hear him read his Miranda Rights.