Should I Leave that Person?

A dating conundrum

Recently, someone wrote in to my blog to ask if I thought there was any hope for his relationship with a woman who had stabbed him thirteen times. (She had previously stabbed him on other occasions.) I told him that I did not think so. As one might expect, there were also other aspects of their relationship that seemed suspect. I ventured in this case to violate my usual practice of trying not to tell someone whom I do not know what to do. People often inquire of strangers for advice. When they write to me, I try to be helpful without being too specific. Certainly, though, by the time they are driven to asking my advice about a dating relationship, the various troubles and conflicts that characterize it would seem to argue against its viability. When things are going well, no one asks my advice. By the time someone does, everyone among the writer’s family and friends has already taken a strong stand against the other person. “Get rid of the bum!” is a typically emphatic point of view. The person asking for my advice is looking for a contrary opinion.

Two reasons for not giving advice.

I do not know what advice to give. No one can be absolutely sure of the future course of any relationship. For instance, there are cases (more than one) similar to that of the man described above where a marriage has survived even worse strains. From time to time newspaper reports appear of a lonely husband greeting his wife’s return with flowers at the door to the prison to which she had been sentenced for trying to kill him. Perhaps they will have better luck in the future. Certainly, couples break up only to get together again, sometimes to break apart again after a while, and, not infrequently, get back together again. Were they right to break up? Possibly. Maybe they were right to get back together. Who can say? A number of couples have married twice; and I know of at least one couple that married three times. Apparently, they thought there was reason to think that one or both of them had changed significantly. Besides, if a marriage breaks up after a number of years, it does not mean that it was not working and worthwhile for some of those years. Dating relationships are even more fragile and hard to judge. If no one can predict with any certainty what will happen in the future, how can anyone give sensible advice? Still, getting stabbed repeatedly is a bad sign.

Perhaps it is a matter of the odds. Given the fact that anything can happen, what are the chances that a particular relationship, given its particular circumstances, will succeed? On the positive side, there may be mutual respect, kindness, congeniality, a similar sense of humor, and so on. On the negative side, shifting the odds in the other direction, besides stabbing or assault, there can be chronic infidelity, stealing loose cash, or, perhaps, the occasional drunken stupor. These lengthen the odds against having a long-term, satisfying relationship. Still, anything can happen.

Putting aside the pluses and minuses of any particular relationship, the odds are, these days, that young people will not marry until the age of thirty, or thereabouts, later than marriage took place on the average only forty or fifty years ago. Consequently, the typical young person has dated many times and had three or four serious relationships, all of which have failed to last before, finally, settling down. Before then, therefore, the odds are strongly against any particular relationship becoming permanent. If I were a betting man—and if I could find anyone to bet with—I could make a lot of money betting against any particular romance leading to marriage. Of course, stabbings and other assorted shortcomings make the odds even worse. On the other hand, over the course of the years, the odds shift. Sooner or later, given enough opportunities, an unlikely event becomes very likely Of course, what a young person wants to know when he or she comes to me for advice, is the likelihood of their current relationship lasting. I cannot be definite. All I can say is, this behavior argues against it, or, possibly, this other behavior is encouraging.

But, there is a second reason for not offering advice. Nobody ever pays attention to that advice if it goes against their hopes and wishes. For that reason, I never advise anyone to stop seeing an apparently undesirable person. He, or she, will not stop. The most I will suggest is that they also see other people.   It is easier to break away from an unsatisfactory person if there is an alternative at hand. (c) Fredric Neuman