“Leave me alone”! The silence that followed was interrupted by a downright dirty slap-ptaaaw! Matt and Suzie’s flat neighbours have had their fair share of the couple’s heated exchanges, but today was different. Fridays were days set apart for reconciliation, tendering bruises and deafening karaoke-sex; making sure the neighbours knew this was just a blip in an otherwise perfect love story. Five out of five days was worrisome. But no one wanted to play rescue only to read a signed notice on the couple’s door: Love isn’t perfect. Couples fight. We love each other. ‘When will this end?’ They thought in silence.

“This is the final straw. I have had enough. I am leaving for good!”, Suzie cried out in a weak tone slamming the door behind her shut. “You always say this! Haha. See you on Monday, babes.” Matt remarked in a sarcastic tone. Two weeks turned to three and two months thereafter. The neighbours began to think she left that bastard for good. But what they really couldn’t wrap their heads around was why she had to endure this for so long. Was letting go that hard?

Picture of
Photo by Kevar Whilby on Unsplash

Just like the neighbours, I sometimes look back at some of my past relationships and wonder why it took too long to jump ship. Is letting go that hard? Well, the answer isn’t that straightforward. Bizarrely, I watched a friend play a game of virtual Roulette at a betting company and there I realized, our heads fuck with us in incredible ways.

A GAMBLER’S PITCH

It all started as curiosity. “How much are you putting in this game man?”. “Ghc 50”, he replied. ‘That’s quite a lot to put in. Do you have experience with this?’ I asked. He replied nonchalantly, “Nope. Heard it’s a big catch. We can make quick money.” [NB: Ghc- Ghana cedis]

He set out to work. Five tries had yielded losses. He was down to Ghc 10. I whispered to him, “Bro, this isn’t a good day. Let’s try another day”. He rebutted- ‘No! I am figuring out this game. Give me a couple of minutes’. Thirty-two tries after, he had depleted over Ghc150 and taken a Ghc50 loan. His returns? A mere Ghc 20. ‘Let’s walk away’. “No! I have won Ghc 20. Shows you I can figure this out!”. I looked in horror as my buddy fixated on the screen more than ever.

Image by Aidan Howe from Pixabay

I walked away with lots of questions on my mind: How much was he willing to lose to try break even? Was he seeing keeping at this was a dead-end? Why was letting go after making so many losses difficult? Certainly, there was something I wasn’t understanding.

Knowing When to Stop: The Brain Mechanisms of Chasing Losses

In 2006, researchers set out to decode the brain mechanisms involved in “knowing when to stop”. Why were gamblers still seated making so many losses when the most logical thing to do was walking away? They called this phenomenon of gambling more in a bid to recover losses loss-chasing.

In their research, they split the participants into two groups. After a stipulated time when both groups were caught real deep in a gambling game, one group will continue to chase losses and the other will try to quit gambling. Using functional Magnetic Resonance Imagine(fMRI), they monitored the brain activities in both groups. What they found was quite revealing!

Chasing losses was associated with increased activity in cortical areas linked to incentive-motivation and an expectation of reward. By contrast, quitting was associated with decreased activity in these areas but increased activity in areas associated with anxiety and conflict monitoring. 

Knowing When To Stop: The Brain Mechanisms Of Chasing Losses

In simpler terms, chasing losses was linked to hyperdrive in areas of the brain that tell an individual to keep going, risk it all, a reward is on its way. Deciding to stop led to the risk-it-all part to slow down. However, the part of the brain that controls anxiety, shame, fear and internal conflict was on steroids.

The researchers explained, the conundrum that hits pathological gamblers remains: Will you rather risk feeling distraught over not getting an elusive reward or enjoy the high that comes with jerking off to the hope of getting the reward? An incredible level of discipline is needed to do the former. Not many can pull it off on the fly.

Do you see any similarities when it comes to love? The million dollar question is:

Are we sometimes pathological gamblers, when it comes to love?

4 REASONS LETTING GO IS SO DAMN HARD

1. THE TORMENT OF EXPECTATIONS

Right off the bat, we picture what life will be like with our lovers. The cuteness of babies with your nose and that of his eyes. How good life will look being in each other’s arms saying “till death do us part”. Heck, just pause and picture the intense emotion of being old and sickly sharing a good bye kiss as our better-half breaths their last breath with our lips locked. These sound beautiful in thoughts. Well wrapped in a not so distant future. We can get there we think. This is our gambler’s elusive reward- a positive future that may be.

Relationships are hard. Letting go is incredibly tough. The hardest dilemma is- when things aren’t working out in reality as opposed to the jolly-butterfly expectations, do we keep trying much harder or hardest? Is giving up worth it? Before you answer the latter with a yes, hold on, what about your expectations from the start? Is the pain of letting go worth having than the slow killing pain of hanging on for a better future?

I don’t have all the answers. I can’t answer that for you. But like a popular quotes says:

Letting go of unhealthy expectations. Picture quote

2. THE FRIGHT OF UNCERTAINTY

Taking a step into uncertainty ranks one of the most daring things to do. There are no guarantees things will be better. It is all risk taking. What happens if the next lover is shittier than the current? Tough questions to ask. The bigger the fear, the tougher it is to let go.

Read: How To Overcome Fear

But the brain has long had a track record of protecting us from critical fuck ups by drawing outrageous scenerios of all the ways things could turn out badly. Sometimes it is right, other times blatantly wrong. If you are a guy, I am pretty sure you are familiar with the in-head scenario- hot girl there will blow me off if I approach her. Only to realize she was such a sweet person.

Letting go of fear to take the first step. Picture quote : the scariest moment is always just before you start.

3. INVESTMENTS TO THE POINT OF NO-RETURN

‘How much are you putting in this?’ I asked. “Ghc 50 Charlie!”. That was a lot to put in I thought. My friend chuckled. He thought that was way too little a sacrifice. And well, maybe he was right. We all have different perspectives. What I see to be a big deal, others laugh it off.

Telling others to give up on failing relationships sounds easy from the advisors point of view, but in truth, you have no idea the degree and value of the investments lovers put into their relationships. Investments could come in the form of time, children, finances, severed family ties, life careers thrown away because of love, terminated pregnancies, and worst of all…Never mind the hymen! The list is endless. The greater the value of investment, the harder it is to leave.

It gets scarier when you think of all you may have invested. You then fall into the gambler’s loss-chasing conundrum searching for the elusive reward- getting the love, attention, appreciation etc you are giving back. It’s fucking incredibly hard.

4. THE PRINCIPLE OF CONSISTENCY

Before we get into the principle of consistency, have you ever gotten into an argument and realized midway you are spewing a lot of hot garbage yet, kept arguing your way out with further rationalizations to not look stupid? That right there is the principle of consistency. When we make a commitment to an action/decision, we tend to back it up with justification and rationalizations even in the face of convincing contradictory evidence.

In short, we don’t want to look stupid by admitting we are wrong. What do we tell our parents and friends who thought our lovers were shitty people who didn’t deserve us? Do we admit they were right and get the “I-told-you-so-speech” or stick to our choices with justifications hoping to be right someday. Not many can take the big fat L.

THE MATT AND SUZIE SAGA

Two months post their break-up fight, Suzie had moved on and found Nii, a man who matched her dream. Nii was the opposite of Matt- caring, transparent, understanding and most importantly ready to settle down with her quickly. Wedding plans were set in motion till the bombshell dropped. A letter arrived in Suzie’s mail which read:

With tears in her eyes, she did the unthinkable-cancelled her wedding plans with Nii. A few days later, she moved in with Matt. The neighbours were baffled beyond measure. True to his words, Matt turned a new leaf albeit for a week till he went back to his violent abusive ways. Six years on, Matt has still made no plans of settling down with Suzie. He’s only got worse with drinking and his abuse, yet, Suzie still hangs on to “the dream”.

Call this emotional blackmail or psychological fuckery, but Matt knew how to play the manipulative game of making Suzie chase losses.

HOW MATT PULLED THE TRICK

  • First, he made her understand after making a big investment by quitting his job to be with her, letting go wasn’t going to be easy. If he could make such a sacrifice, she could too.
  • Secondly, he tormented her mentally by selling her the possibility of a future which met her lofty expectations right from the start. Remember what the quote said?
  • Thirdly, he distorted her reality by magnifying her fear of the unknown by claiming things could turn out worse with Nii. Why not stay with me who could change for the better?
  • Finally, if he could convince her to make an investment of no-return(cancelling her wedding plans) she will be forced to act in accordance with the principle of consistency. That would be the nail in the coffin. Suzie would bring up shitty excuses and rationalizations to back her “bad” decision so as not to look stupid.

SHOULD YOU REALLY LET GO?

Hey, I really wish I could answer this for you. Take a critical look at your relationship now and ask yourself if it is worth the suffering. Personally, I have my red flags when it comes to relationships. Abuse(physical or mental) rank high up there alongside pathological jealousy. Do you have red flags too?

If you don’t, maybe it’s time to know what your deal breakers are. Is it infidelity, neglect, physical abuse, psychological abuse, pathological jealousy etc? Get to know this now! It could be your wake up call/ticket out.

PARTING THOUGHTS

Knowing what you know now, it is worthy to note, not all relationship dreams/expectations are worth chasing at the cost of your physical and mental health. Don’t fall into the trap of making expectations come through at all cost. You might not survive the trauma.

Really think through how much investment you are willing to put in a relationship. Incredibly, it could be time to embrace the pain of making and taking losses from relationship investments and accepting not all Hollywood dreams come true.

Joining in support against abusive relationships. Time to consider letting go?
Gather the courage to report domestic violence and abuse. Don’t suffer in silence.

Till next time, share this post far wide, drop your comments and subscribe to the blog.

Cheers, DrC

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