Whether we recognize it or not, or maybe we just don’t even want to admit it, there is a shelf life to every relationship.
It is that ”come to a head” moment when we know that it is time to leave, time to say goodbye—goodbye to the over-ripe avocado, goodbye to a marriage, a friend, a job, a home, a country, or even a dinner party.
It seems logical that one would exit a marriage when one is more than fed-up.
I was having coffee with a few students and casually mentioned that I was driving my ex to the airport. ‘’What!?’’ one of them spouted. ‘’What do you mean you’re driving your ex to the airport?’’ The others chimed in, ’’Why would you do a thing like that? Don’t you hate him?’’
Their reaction got me thinking about loving and leaving. There was a pot of gold there all along that I hadn’t put to words until this student brought my attention to it, and I am gratefully and humbly passing on my epiphany to you. It was huge for me and hope it will be for you.
I was married 28 years. That is a long time to devote to just one person, especially in our days of a ”quick fix,” or ‘’I’m outta here’’ attitude. One day I woke up and for no apparent reason, I knew that it was time. The catalyst had not been a hateful argument, some deceitful betrayal or some other God awful event that would end any marriage. I didn’t wish for my husband to be any different than he was, nor was I placing high bets that I would be able to replace him with someone much better. I hadn’t fallen in love with Prince Charming, with plans to ride off into the sunset. None of this could be further from reality.
The truth was, I loved him dearly and was grateful that he had been part of my life for almost three decades. The marriage was good. We knew each other well, and we had worked hard to foster love and respect for one another. We had an amazing son, a thriving business together and a house that we had renovated as a team (well, maybe he did more than I did).
So why would I step away from a good thing?
Life ebbs and flows, and so does our relationship with everything we touch. In the subtle realm of each of these relationships there is that tipping point, so quietly lingering, utterly raw. It is that whispering from within, a shift of energy, when you know deep down that you have done your time—it is time to go. I call this ‘’the shelf life of life’.’
But instead, what do we do? We tip to the right and fall into a sea of panic and outstay our own welcome, whether it be a job, a relationship, or even a friendship. We stay put for all the wrong reasons—guilt, pity, obligation, fear, criticism, the promise—”until death do us part”—hope for revelation and most of all, the dread of making a big mistake.
When we outstay our visit, things become uncomfortable. We become uncomfortable with ourselves because deep down we know that we are no longer living truthfully. To appease our nagging Soul, we come up with a handful of clever justifications that we are heading in the right direction and staying put is the right choice.
It is no wonder that resentment, disrespect and hatred accumulate creating a tsunami of emotional warfare between us and the other. At the end of it all, and in the thrall of hurt and anger, we are forced to leave, or we are left behind, both ending with a very sour taste in our mouth. All of a sudden, none of it seems worth it.
When we do seize that moment and choose to leave, more often than not, we have carefully planned our exit, lining up a new job, the rebound lover, or any other number of “unripe avocados.” Then and only then, can we leave with confidence and courage. Saying goodbye only when one has a backup plan creates affliction and disappointment and is the fertile ground from which we reap mistrust in the ebb and flow of life, which ultimately is called impermanence.
After one of our sessions, our mediator told me in private that she wished all her clients could uncouple with such a high degree of self-respect and love, instead of brutally fighting over some weathered red velvet couch wearing a cigarette burn on its armrest.
I came to realize that I didn’t need to wait until hatred set in before leaving a relationship, boredom set in before leaving a party or a vacation, but that I can intentionally exit when it is still a good thing.
There is something so authentic in knowing when that moment has come. If you listen carefully, you will hear, ‘’It is time.’’ We can be mindful of this calling just before the tipping point and practice it in every relationship that we have.
There is a sensitivity to the momentum of how things move, how they dance and finally understand that all is in a perpetual movement fostering its transformation. The key is in identifying the when: when to step away, when to say no—before it all turns bitter.
That morning I woke up, and I knew that the time had come. We had completed our season together, and, yes, there was still love, but the moment was ripe to move on and close that chapter, enabling each of us to walk on our individual paths because we both equally deserved and deserve that.
My gift to myself and to you is to remind that we can deeply love someone or something and no longer be in love. We can love and still leave. We don’t have to wait for it to be unbearable; we can love and still honor the shelf life of every moment. What greater gift can you offer yourself and your partner?
Author: Jessica Magnin
Editor: Travis May