Sunk Cost Fallacy: learning when to walk away in dating

A lot of us will stay in a sub-par relationship or dating situation that we think works. In business, sunk cost fallacy is “a greater tendency to continue an endeavor once an investment in money, effort, or time has been made.” Meaning, decisions are being made by emotions. To make a clearer example, let’s say you just bought a house and you find a problem. So, you put money in to fix it, but then a few months later, another problem arrises, and another…. You might think, “Well, I have come this far. I can’t give up now.” And you end up spending more time and more money to keep fixing problems and not admitting it was a bad investment from the start. The New York Times article, “Sometimes You Have To Quit To Get Ahead,” by Stephanie Lee, talks about the sunk cost theory and how our ego gets in the way of what’s truly best for us.

How does this come back to dating?…

This happens a lot in a breakup situation or a situationship. Some casual relationships can last up to a decade with no end in sight. Or a breakup turns into breakup sex, which then turns you into the side-chick when he gets into a new relationship. Yet, the mind has decided, “I’ve come this far; I’ve invested; I will be rewarded for sticking it out.”

Our brain thinks, “But what are the alternatives?”….

Our brain thinks a lot in black-and-white. If we think we should stay in a bad relationship or non-relationship, the alternative thought is, “Well, I don’t want to be alone.” It’s very all-or-nothing. “If I break up, I will be alone forever with six cats.”

This way of thinking is the opposite of thinking abundantly about dating….

When we are in a scarcity mindset, we think there are not enough men to go around. All the good ones are taken, so we should hold tight to what is good enough.

A breakup is a breakup….

When a guy breaks up, accept that it is over. So many times, I would stick around on the sidelines hoping that he would call me to bat if his new relationship didn’t work out. If he saw what a great listener and great friend I was, then he would come back to me and dump her. A guy who ended up breaking my heart just wanted a summer fling. I couldn’t accept the breakup, so I kept holding on and stuck around as his friend. Four years later and after many nights of crying in my car…nothing came out of it, not even friendship.

So what can we do?…

It might seem dramatic to delete a number or block on socials. But it’s crucial to really get it though your head that it’s over. You can make a graceful exit and wish him well, then disconnect. Even if it’s a casual situation, you can’t give him the opportunity to rope you back in as an option. If he has broken up with you, he made his choice not to be with you.

I advise from the beginning to go into a casual situation with one foot out the door…

Once you realize it’s just casual, it can be over at anytime. This happened to my roommate in college. Her casual guy claimed he was afraid of commitment, yet he broke up with her because he became exclusive with someone. This is very common in a casual relationship. He will lean into the oh-I-am-too-damaged-to-commit narrative. Every man is willing to commit to the right woman.

This isn’t about landing a man….

The sunk cost fallacy is about getting deep into a situation that isn’t working and feeling trapped. Even if you love being casual and continue dating, are your needs being met?

Not dismissing that breakups are hard…

Yes, it hurts to get dumped, but holding on for dear life will extend the pain. As the book, “The Rules,” say, him wanting you to be his friend after a breakup is a demotion. Don’t accept the downgrade, you have real friends who care about you.

Bottom Line….

Time and investment does not always equal a reward. It’s more about working smarter, not harder. Does the situation serve you, or are you just happy to sit at the table? My biggest regret in the four-year waste of time was that I didn’t exit gracefully and with dignity. The power balance shifted to when HE wanted to hang out. I begged for his attention and affection, but never got it. It’s no surprise that we aren’t even friends because the word “friend” was just a bargaining chip to feed his ego. It’s always better to get out too early than too late. You will never get that time back. Think abundantly! There are plenty of great men around who are a much better fit.