Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Husband, wife and wife’s dad live together. Wife is in the bathroom, naked, getting ready for work this morning. Husband asks politely to come in briefly, wife agrees, husband comes in, does what is needed. Wife is facing the mirror, doing hair things, hands occupied. Husband walks out, leaving the door wide open. Wife squeaks in dismay, “Close the DOOR??!!”
Husband takes offense. “You could have just closed it yourself ... “ (It’s a small bathroom, door is within reach of wife standing at mirror.)
Wife points out Dad lives here too, his bedroom is next to the bathroom. Husband says, “It’s just your DAD ... “ because it’s OK for middle-aged woman to flash elderly dad??! Ick.
Depending on the nature of mirror activities — hair, makeup, contact lenses — it could have been two seconds or 90 seconds before wife even realized the door was wide open.
Husband thinks wife was a brat for snapping at him, and not just closing the dang door herself. Wife thinks husband was inconsiderate for just walking out leaving her naked with the door open. Both are offended and think the other owes them an apology.
— Who Was the Bathroom Jerk?
Person Leaving closes the door out of respect for Naked Person. Duh. All he had to do was say, “Oops, sorry!”
He didn’t. Instead, he turned on Wife. The question now being, what’s up with that?
From reading your columns and chats over the years, I’ve understood that to keep up a relationship, sometimes one side has to bear the burden and keep on “talking into the void” even if they may not get a response.
My question is: How long do I keep this up? I’ve never had a close relationship with my brother but we’ve always kept in contact. It is always me reaching out — via calls, text, emails. After 37 years, I’ve had enough. I know if I stop, it will be him responding probably once or twice a year (if I’m lucky). So do I let it go and stop trying?
— Possibly Estranged
There’s no right or wrong time to stop. The only thing that matters is whether you think the energy you’re investing is (still) worthwhile. Some people can keep “talking into the void” for their whole lives, with no response, just on the chance they will eventually break through — or to feel certain they did all they could.
In your case, your brother is responding, yes? So you could decide your conversations and the (albeit weak) connection they sustain are worth the nuisance of initiating.
Others will not see the value in doing that, and will come instead to a point where the steady effort to make contact feels more harmful to them than the idea of letting go — with each attempt at contact serving only as a dispiriting reminder of what they don’t have.
Any choice, to keep it up forever or drop it, or drop the effort temporarily and resume when you’re ready, is as valid and justified as a person deems it to be. I wish I could give you a more definitive answer, but it’s really your math to do.