When Quitting Relationships Is a Win

“Anything I cannot transform into something marvelous, I let go.” — Anaïs Nin

I (well, me and everyone around me) used to think that I was a quitter at love. I spent many years watching couples in my family build lives on regrets and “staying for the children.” And I wanted not one single part of that narrative as my own. So my early dating years were spent in whirlwind romances that never lasted longer than they needed to. I’ve had marriages end too; two to be exact.

I’m unashamed of this… now.

Settling into being a quitter has taken hard work. As a young woman, I was taught that in love relationships, we should always make things work: make the best and most of situations, accept infidelity and betrayals, swallow down our hurt and heartbreak without even so much as speaking of the bitter aftertaste. We’ve been told not to give up, that starting over is harder than staying, and that “men are all the same anyway.” But we’ve been told wrong.

Please don’t let me be misunderstood. I recognize that I’ve played a great role in the deterioration of all of my romantic relationships. I’ve put in much work and many a counseling session to be able to understand and admit that I’m a quitter. As a matter of fact, often my biggest mistake was making the wrong choice in a partner, which I now know was mostly a response to never really taking the time to honestly and intimately know myself, or what I wanted in a mate.

In hindsight, I realize that sometimes a husband needs only to be a lover, and a lover only a friend; that sometimes we create “futures” with people who undeniably belong in our pasts. I also acknowledge, after seeing so many women compromise too much in my own family, that I was quick to say “no sir” and “goodbye.”

I took off the running shoes in my second marriage, and vowed that I wouldn’t quit. I wanted more than anything for it to work—for my family to be like the one I’d been envisioning since I was a teenager, for my mother to stop sighing when I would mentioned a new romance. Despite my commitment to my husband, and to not quitting, the relationship didn’t succeed. And this time, it wasn’t at all for the frivolous reasons that I’d listed as insurmountable obstacles in the past.

We’ve been told not to give up, that starting over is harder than staying, and that ‘men are all the same anyway.’ But we’ve been told wrong.

I had matured into a woman who understood that successful relationships take compromise. I realized that often our mates won’t meet our expectations, that truly open communication saves marriages, and that sometimes (OK, often) an outsider is needed to counsel and mediate us towards happiness and peace. The problem, though, was that I chose a mate who didn’t believe in those principles as much as I did. He really didn’t want to do the work to make us whole, and I fell into an awful depression because I felt placed in a position where I’d be forced (again) to quit and fail as a result.

And that’s what is left out of the conversation when we talk about quitters: that they often also feel like failures, spending a grand amount of time wondering what’s wrong with them… maybe more time than they spend conjuring up lists of what’s wrong with others. We are, indeed, reminded in fables and folklore that quitters never win.

But sometimes they do. 

Leaving that marriage forced me to really excavate through my own feelings of failure. I’ve learned to be more cautious and narrow in allowing others into my most sacred spaces. I’ve been re-educated on what matters most to me in relationships, how to determine success for myself, and that most times the key to not being a quitter is to never start the race in the first place. I’ve learned that even when you stop running, sometimes you still can’t stay. Mostly I’ve learned to hold my head high as a quitter who can now articulate exactly why she’s quit and what will make me quit again.

Today I’m happy to be a quitter who’s found a fulfilling relationship with someone who wants the same things I do. I’m also solidly understanding that if those wants change, there’s work that can and must be done to usher our love through those changes. And ultimately that if we still can’t push through—willingly, together—there is still a life to be had and a lesson to be learned from quitting.

What were you taught about quitting relationships, and how have those teachings affected you? Sound off!

Josie Pickens is a writer and educator who blogs at www.jonubian.com. Connect with her on Twitter @jonubian.