When you were younger, did you ever do the flower-petal thing when you had a crush—flower petals strewn at your feet as you recited, "She loves me. She loves me not," your eyes wide with anxiety as you got down to the last few, your mind trying to do the quick math to see if indeed your crush loved you when the lone petal was standing?
Me neither. But if you did, that was kinda cute.
The same loves-me, loves-me-not conflict is what drives almost every sitcom in the history of television. Think of Ross and Rachel, Luke and Lorelai, Nick and Jess. Will they? Won't they?
It makes for good TV.
The will-he/won't-he, on-again/off-again storyline is a lot less entertaining when the show is your actual life, you're not a kid plucking flower petals anymore, and you're wondering, Does he love me, or not? Will we, or won't we? And unlike TV, most of these situations don't work out in the end. They suck us in, toss us around for a while (sometimes months, even years), spit us out, and we're left wondering what's wrong with us.
I've been there. We all know people who have been there. It stinks. And any of us who have been there always end up asking ourselves this question:
"Should I move on or keep trying?"
It's a tough question to answer, especially because when you're in it, you're not always thinking or seeing clearly. It's like when you're desperately hungry and walk into the grocery store—you're not in the right frame of mind. It's only after you get home and ask yourself why you have a year's supply of Oreos and Cheez-Its that you realize you were in a fog of temporary insanity.
The point is that your relationship or lack thereof with this person sits right in front of you and dominates your thoughts and your judgment, and therefore your decisions.
If you're someone who's in a will-they/won't they kind of situation or someone who's in an on-again/off-again, up-and-down dating relationship, and you're wondering if you should give up or keep fighting, you might need some help.
There are definitely no easy formulas when it comes to relationships, but if you're willing to be honest with yourself, here are five questions that will hopefully lead you to some more clarity about what you need to do next.
1. Are you always the exception to the rule?
We need to get this out of the way first. I know that there are people who start off rocky and eventually make it. I'm sure some real-life Rosses and Rachels are out there in the real world. The problem is that they're very much the exception to the rule. And if you're constantly telling yourself and other people that you're the exception, if you're constantly hoping that you're the exception, you're not in a good spot.
I've been here before. I know that most people who would describe their situation the way I describe mine shouldn't and won't work, but I tell myself that I'm different, or she's different, or we're different, and we're going to beat the odds, and we're special, and...it's not true.
When you bank on being the exception, you're crossing your fingers and hoping you hit the relationship lottery. And that's not a good plan.
2. How does this person/situation make you feel?
The question doesn't ask how you wish they made you feel or how it will feel someday when everything works out. How does it make you feel, as it is now?
I'll cut to the chase: if this person—or the dance with/pursuit of this person—is consistently making you feel upset, disappointed, insecure, jealous, or is bringing out negativity and the worst in you, it's probably time to move on.
This person should make you feel pretty darn awesome and inspire you to be better, especially in the early phases of the relationship. The beginning of any relationship is when you feel the most positive and elated. If you feel consistently bad now, the trajectory of any potential relationship with this person doesn't look great.
3. What are the wise, caring people in your life saying?
First of all, do you tell anybody? If your situation's a secret—because you feel like you need it to be and especially if the other person has asked you to keep it secret—it's not a good sign. The people in your life, particularly the friends and family who have some wisdom and experience under their belts, should know about what's going on and you should give them permission to weigh in.
When they do, what are they telling you? They're your DD's for when you're drunk in love. They're your eyes when you can't see clearly. If they're expressing some concerns, that's a red flag you can't ignore. Listen to them.
Here's a tip: sometimes, it's tough for people to feel like they can tell you the hard truth. Maybe they don't like conflict, maybe they're afraid of pushing you away. Just because they don't explicitly voice a concern to you doesn't necessarily mean they're not concerned. How can you tell? If they also don't explicitly voice enthusiasm. When you're in a good situation with a good person, the good people in your life will be excited for you and communicate that. You should take a lack of excitement as a warning sign, too.
4. Do you have to explain or excuse every time you talk about the situation?
When you do talk to your friends or family about what's going on, do you have to jump into a long, twisting story about the latest developments? Do you find yourself making excuses for your behavior or for the other person's behavior? Do you find yourself getting defensive?
Do you have to start with, "Well, here's the thing..." or "Okay, just hear me out first..." or "How much time do you have?"
If it's exhausting or uncomfortable to talk about, you probably need to move on. If you feel like you're explaining the plot of The Bachelor, you probably need to move on. Good, healthy relationships should be fun to talk about in the beginning. You should be smiling when you tell someone what's going on, not squirming or crying or sighing or arguing.
Which leads us to the last question, and it's a simple one.
5. Should it be this complicated?
Let me answer this for you: No. It shouldn't be.
If your situation has become so complicated that it requires complex backstories and diagrams and flowcharts to explain, you have to ask yourself, "Should it be this way?"
If you think it should be a little tough because it makes it worth it in the end, take it from someone who's thought that one too many times: it shouldn't be. It really shouldn't. Not at the start.
If you find yourself consistently wondering, “How does this person feel about me? Do they like me? Do they love me? Do they care about me?” I want to make it very clear for you: how someone feels about you should be stupid simple. You should know they care about you, like you, love you. You shouldn’t have a single doubt.
It shouldn't be complicated.
If it is, you should think about leaving this person behind.
It's not an easy thing to do. It's not easy to let go of something you want so bad. But on behalf of the countless number of people who have had to learn the hard way, I want to let you know that it's not worth it. It's not worth the insecurity, it's not worth the stress, it's not worth the complication.
Find someone who makes you better. Someone you can't wait to talk to your friends and family about. Someone who never makes you question how they feel about you.
That's worth it.