Paper or Plastic: Knowing When to Stay and When to Walk Away


About a month ago I smelled a foul odor coming from the food shelf in my apartment. I assumed it was just the garbage, which happens to be right next to the shelf (NYC sized apartment anyone?) and ignored it. The next day the trash had been taken out and the smell was still there so I decided to investigate. After removing every single item from the shelf I found, tucked away in the back corner, the remains of what once was a bag of apples. I'll spare you the gory details but suffice it to say I couldn't even remember the last time I had bought apples.

The other day I was talking with a friend who began sharing some problems about her current relationship - one she has been in for about four years. She started by saying that lately things had been pretty bad. When I asked her what "lately" was she attempted to trace the etiology of the issues. After some digging we learned together that these problems had existed for years. She was only now just realizing it. 

I thought of the apples.  I had placed those apples on the shelf and forgotten about them entirely. It wasn't until the effects of rot started to manifest that I saw fit to even investigate the source of the smell, and even then it took me a whole extra day to attempt to solve the problem. They had gone rotten weeks before of course, but it took me until maggots were practically manifesting to finally do something about it.  My friend's situation was no different. The relationship had been rotting for years, but the issues had been placed on a shelf and forgotten. Never addressed, never considered. Now, years later, shit is starting to stink and she is wondering what the heck that smell is. 

I asked her if she even realized how bad things had gotten and she said she did but that things had not always been that bad. (Duh, what relationship starts off just terrible. They always START good otherwise we'd just dump them and move on, but I digress) I then asked her what she was going to do about it. Her response was alarming.

"I don't want the ocean to be full of plastic but I still pack my apples and bananas in plastic bags when I go grocery shopping." (So many apples being referenced in this blog.)

It took me a moment to realize what she was saying and I'm pretty sure my response was something like, wtf does that even mean? 

What my friend was really saying is that she knows there is an issue. A major issue.  She knows the problem cannot be resolved by staying in the relationship. She knows the apples have rotted in the back of the pantry. And she's not doing a damn thing about it. 

The simple truth is, there is a constant struggle between knowing when to stay and when to leave a relationship. I was in a relationship that was nothing more than a whole bushel of rotten apples for three and a half years. By the end, the smell of our issues was so bad I had to wear a damn gas mask when I opened the door to our apartment, and yet leaving was the hardest thing I have ever done. But holy shit, once I did and I smelled that fresh air, I knew it was the best decision I ever made. 

It didn't take me long to realize this was the right choice either. It was as if once the door shut on that apartment for the last time, I never looked back and never felt much need to. I had the whole world ahead of me. I was free for the first time in what felt like an eternity. Free to live my life for me and just me. 

I've learned with time that there is a difference between being faithful and being foolish. Between being loyal and being lackadaisical. Between being doting and being a doormat. And like every good poker player knows, winning is about knowing when to hold them and knowing when to fold them. Sometimes even when you've put all your money in the pot, the only way to win is to leave it there and walk away from the table. Otherwise you'll just bet the shirt off your back and be sitting there naked. Still losing. 

Now, not every relationship is my former relationship and not every relationship will (hopefully) ever be that bad. But that situation is not the gold standard on when to leave. The truth is, I should have walked away from that situation years before it got to that point and I ignored countless red flags until they eventually lined the sidewalk of our street, steadily waiving in the wind, a permanent fixture in our life. 

So, if you're in a rotten relationship and you're wondering where that fine line is, here's a little marker for you. If you're at the point in a relationship where you're comparing it to a toxic product currently polluting the world's ecosystem - it's probably time to walk away. And go buy yourself a reusable grocery bag for heavens sake. 


Leave a comment