Friday, November 24, 2017

Sunk Relationship Costs

Two days ago I wrote of the fact of how difficult I found it to let relationships go.  Today I suddenly understood the reason why.

The concept is one of business, that of sunk costs, costs that are invested into a project which, whether or not the project succeeds, are non-recoverable.  As Greg McKeown says in his book Essentialism:  The Disciplined Pursuit of Less:

"Sunk cost bias is the tendency to invest time, money, or energy into something we know is a losing proposition simply because we have already incurred, or sunk, a cost that cannot be recouped.  But of course this can easily become a vicious cycle:  the more we invest, the more determined we become to see it through and see our investment pay off.  The more we invest in something, the harder it is to let go." (Emphasis mine.)

Having read that last sentence, suddenly everything became crystal clear to me.  I cannot let go of some people because at some point I had invested so much in the relationship.

Once upon a time, back in the "old days" - say pre-2000 - one simply lost track of people due to moves or time and that was that. Distance was distance and more often than not, a relocation in time or career meant that one simply accepted the high likelihood of the loss and moved on.  But with the advent of mobile phones and cheap calling plans and social media, this all changed:  suddenly the possibility of keeping up with people in real time became a reality.  The investment, it seemed, would not be lost.

But just because something can be does not mean that it will be.

Again, back to the original point of comment:  people move on because, ultimately, we no longer fill a purpose or met a need in their lives (I discount those that leave because of intentionally caused harm, which is both wise and understandable, or unintentionally caused harm, which is wise and understandable from their point of view as well although sometimes confusing).  Seldom do they immediately just "disappear":  it happens instead over period which, if we were honest enough with ourselves and not so concerned with trying to recoup the value of our "investment", we would realize what was happening.  We - or at least I - tend to react by becoming more clingly, more insistent - until the day that calls are no longer answered and the messages disappeared.

Let me be clear:  this is a me thing.  This has nothing to do with anyone else or their actions.  This purely and totally falls on my shoulders.

But falling on my shoulders means I also have the means of resolving the problem.

When I view an investment, I view it from the point of if it is giving me the return I expected.  If it is not, I sell it, accept the loss in revenue and time, and move on.  The same factor should hold true here as well.

Relationships are indeed an investment of time and energy.  But like any investment, they run their course as well.  And only the fool who pretends or does not know better does not realize when it time to simply cut their losses and move on.


  1. Spot on as usual TB.

    I am a fool, I suppose, many times over. Glad to see you are smarter than I am...!

  2. Thanks Glen, but I do not know how much smarter - after all, I may have just figured this out after all that time...


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