There’s nothing more anti-American than giving up — you might as well strangle a bald eagle, wrap it in an upside down American flag and burn it on the steps of the White House. The “never give up” adage is the cornerstone of our culture: It’s in our songs, our movies, our gyms, our famous speeches and of course, our sports.
And yet, when it comes to our romantic relationships, there’s a manifesto’s worth of content that basically says: Give up! It’s okay to let go! Do it now! In fact, for women, it’s especially encouraged. Exhibit A: “You Deserve More: Why You Should Give Up On The Person Who Gave Up On You.” “Accept your reality and move on from there. The truth is that if the person you love has given up on you, he or she doesn’t deserve your love. Period,” says Elite Daily.
There’s also: “It’s Time To Finally Give Up On That Guy Who’s Not Into You,” which contains similar “you deserve better” wisdom. Or what about: “The 14 Telling Signs it’s Time to Give Up on a Relationship,” by far the most instructive guidance of the three articles, but ultimately, the same advice — if your relationship is causing you more pain than bliss, it’s time to hit the ejector button.
While none of this advice is necessarily wrong, the problem is that there are other types of relationships besides romantic ones. So when is it okay to give up on a family member or a friend who’s hurting your life? Or is it never okay to begin with?
It’s not an uncommon predicament, either — there are several forums in which people are asking whether it’s okay for them to give up on a parent, sibling or friend. This anonymous woman, for example, asked whether it’s okay to give up on her sister who’s in a toxic relationship that brings out the worst in her. Her questions are familiar ones: “What do you think? Should you always be there for family, no matter what? Even if it causes you incredible stress? Or should you worry about yourself and give up on them?”
Another, even more serious, example is a young Asian redditor who, according to himself, is, “not fully out and still transitioning,” and unsure of how much more physical and emotional abuse he can take from his parents. “I don’t know if it’s worth trying to get my mom to understand/accept me but I also don’t know if I’ve given enough effort to not feel guilty about giving up,” he asks.
Allen Wagner, a marriage and family therapist in L.A., tells me that he’s also had plenty of clients ask him about when to fold and walk away. “One client recently asked me if I thought it was okay for her to give up on one of her family members who often makes her feel horrible,” says Wagner. “My advice to her was that if a person is toxic in your life, you shouldn’t feel guilty about distancing yourself from them.”
But while Wagner explains that it’s important to understand the context of a situation — because, he says, a lot of times, people perceive themselves as victims when in truth, they’re the ones who’ve built a negative reality for themselves — he does think that if a person can’t be happy for you, you shouldn’t feel guilty about letting them go. “When you’re around people who are jealous of you or wish against you and that make you feel bad about the good things, that’s someone that you shouldn’t feel bad about letting go,” says Wagner.
Another common, related dilemma involves dealing with an addict, says Wagner. To this end, writing for Mind Body Green, Rob Schuman writes about how giving up hope for his addict son was the best decision he’s ever made:
“So, I told ‘hope’ to go f*ck itself. And it ended up being one of the best things I ever did. It released me from the future. It released me from all of my hopes and dreams — from everything I’d projected into the beautiful eyes of my newborn son. It let me breathe. It allowed me to step into the here and now. It allowed me to see him less as my child, my dependent, and more as a person in the driver’s seat of his life. Someone who would make his own choices and deal with their consequences.”
In Schuman’s case, giving up on his son allowed them both to rediscover their individuality by ending their codependent relationship. “When we reconnected, the energy in our dynamic had shifted profoundly,” writes Schuman.
Wagner agrees with Schuman’s notion that, while it can be the hardest decision you ever make, sometimes, the only thing you can do to help an addict is — at least temporarily — give up on them. “You’ll help them when they’re motivated to climb up, but you can’t enable them from falling,” says Wagner. “There are times when you have to ask yourself, what’s the value of this person in my life? It’s not easy to walk away from close friends or family, but it’s okay to take care of yourself.”
As for whether there’s an actual number of attempts you need to make to reconcile a relationship before feeling justified in giving up on a person, Wagner says that no such threshold exists. “It’s different in every situation. If someone is a loyal friend, you’re not going to just walk away from them if they’re going through a hard time.”
Instead, he believes it boils down to loyalty and how much value that person has in your life. But even then, he argues, there’s a difference between giving up on a person and letting them go. “The latter is usually a temporary compromise within yourself,” says Wagner.
Semantically speaking, it’s also slightly more patriotic.