“When do you decide someone’s a hopeless case?” she says. She’s been describing a troubling pattern of mistreatment and then apology with her and another person. It’s been going on a long time. She’s very unhappy. And while she’s an optimist, she just isn’t seeing much improvement. Instead, the apologies seem more like placation. Smoothing over. With no intention to really change.
And I’m not sure the answer to her question, about when you should give up on a situation and decide that someone’s a hopeless case. Other than the truth, which is unsatisfying, and I’m sure doesn’t qualify as sage advice. I say it anyway. “I’m not sure there’s an objective answer,” I say. “When I know, I know.”
“It’s hard, too,” I continue. “Because not everyone will understand. Especially not the person you give up on. But maybe not just them. There might be others who see what you do and will conclude you gave up too easily.”
“Yes,” she says. “I’m afraid of that.”
“Understandable,” I say. “People can be awfully judgey about things that don’t involve them and they haven’t personally experienced.”
“They can,” she replies.
“But I’m not afraid of it anymore,” I say.
“Oh?” she says.
“Well, okay, maybe I still am,” I confess.
“But I don’t let the fear stop me,” I continue. “If I feel it’s time to leave, I listen to myself. Every time I’ve questioned that — or let someone else questioning it stop me — I’ve come to regret it.”
And as we talk some more on the issues, the conversation takes a different turn.
Maybe that’s the wrong question, after all. Maybe it isn’t about whether things could possibly one day turn around with enough time and aggravation. Whether there’s a slim window of hope left open. A tiny sliver of probability.
Maybe a better question is whether there’s more bad or good. Maybe it’s better to think about how you feel in the moment versus spending a lot of time and energy running probabilities surrounding how the other person could possibly be. Maybe. Possibly. In some distant future.