Friday, December 16, 2011

Soulmates and Lemons

Originally published Aug, 2003.

Q: okay Dr. G., what about this? For almost two years now, I've had a relationship with a married man who was separated from his wife. They weren't divorced, but they were living apart. Anyway, each time we talked about his marriage and such he would assure me that he no longer loved his wife and that he believed the marriage was a mistake. Then, all of the sudden he decided to go into counseling with her to give it "one last change" even though he claimed that he didn't think it would work out. Well, I guess the counseling worked because now they are back together and we are no longer seeing each other. Needless to say, I am really upset over this. My friends say forget him, but it's not that easy. I honestly think he is my soulmate, and I have two years invested in this relationship. What should I do?

A: Before I answer your question, I have something I too need to get off my chest.

When I was in graduate school I took 800 dollars of my hard-borrowed loan money to buy a used car. For that price you can imagine it wasn't pretty, and definitely didn't score me points with the chicks, but it usually ran when I needed it and got me back and forth from home and school for a while. Anyway, like a lot of cheap, crappy cars it broke down on me a lot. First needing a new clutch, then some electrical stuff, then an alternator, some brakes, a new exhaust system, etc... Not knowing anything about cars except how to drive them, I ended up dropping about 500 bucks in repairs every other month. On top of other expenses and the total poverty that graduate students are forced to live in (believe me, I lived on less than a part-time burger-flipper), this sucked.

So why did I continue to invest in this piece of shit? Economists often refer to this phenomenon as "throwing good money after bad", or wasting good resources to try and salvage a bad investment. As a psychologist, I know we do this all the time and can lead to difficult situations, yet knowledge of the behavior didn't keep me from going broke. A lesson I still seem to be learning.

I guess the reason we do this is because each of those additional investments seem so much easier to make than starting over from scratch. A 500 dollar repair was a hell of a lot cheaper than buying a new car, and as optimists we like to think that perhaps if we stick with it, it'll pay off in the end. Sometimes it does, but more often you end up selling the car as scrap metal for some pocket change (I got $100).

So, by now you must realize that, by analogy, my car = your relationship. Relationships are the same, we make a small investment upfront (time, intimacy, even money) in hopes of a big pay-off later. Sometimes our investments are misplaced, and yet, like me with my car, we continue to throw good money (and time) after bad. I lost a year and about 2,000 bucks. You lost two years, but if you continue to harbor feelings for him you'll lose even more.

You are lucky that you currently have such insightful friends in your life. They are right, and I think you realize this as well, in that you need to get over your feelings for him and move on. Sometimes this is easier said than done, try to stay busy and reach out to your friends when you need their help. Before you know it, you'll be ready to put a down payment on another relationship. Remember, a "soulmate" isn't a soul-mate if that person is in love with another. The sooner off you can chalk this relationship up as a loss and send him to the emotional salvage lot the better.

PS. I've said it before but it always needs repeated:
Anyone, man or women, who is SEPARATED from a married partner has not given up on the marriage. If they say something to the contrary, they are either lying to you or kidding themselves. Period. Case closed. People get separated for a number of reasons (career relocation, having extra-marital sex, PMS) but giving up on marriage isn't one of them. Usually it's a trial period that allows partners to see if they can meet someone better, sometimes they do but often they don't and reconcile. I'm not saying don't date someone in a separation, but just do so informed and know what to expect.