Why Loss Hurts So Much (Even If You Never Liked Him in the First Place)

Kelly didn’t even like Jonah.

And yet here she was, glancing down at her phone every few minutes, listening to breakup songs.

She met him on Tinder. He seemed nice enough. They went out a handful of times. Enough to make her think they were dating, or at least moving in that direction.

But recently Jonah had stopped texting her. Occasionally he’d text back if she texted him first, but otherwise she never heard from him.

Her girlfriends told her to forget about him. After all, hadn’t Kelly said she wasn’t sure about him? Jonah was an okay guy, but certainly not her ideal match.

Kelly knew she should listen to her girlfriends. She should put Jonah out of her head. There were a few guys on Tinder who wanted to meet up. She should throw herself back in the dating pool.

But she didn’t want to.

She just wanted Jonah to chase her again.

Why We Hate Losing

You’ve heard it said a thousand times: “We always want what we can’t have.”

But you may not realize there’s an even more powerful principle at work:

We don’t want to lose what we ALREADY have…

Even if what we have isn’t all that good.

This principle is called “loss aversion,” and it’s behind many of our worst decisions.

Researchers have learned that people will go out of their way to avoid losing something they have, even if they could get something even better in return.

In fact, the pain of losing what we have is twice as strong as the happiness of unexpectedly gaining something good.

So, if you lose that $20 bill in your wallet, the pain you’d feel would be two times stronger than the pleasure you’d feel if you had found a $20 bill on the sidewalk.

This principle explains why it’s so hard to get rid of the old clothes in your closet, even if you’re making room for new clothes. It explains why resigning from your job is so hard, even if you’re ready to move onto something new.

And it explains why we feel so much pain when a romantic prospect vanishes on us, even though their absence opens up the possibility of meeting someone better.

But there’s one thing that makes the pain of loss even worse

Why We Hold on to Bad Relationships

Not only do we hate losing what we’ve got…

But we also hate losing anything we’ve invested a lot of time and energy into.

If you’ve sunk a lot of money into repairing your car, it will be hard for you to get rid of it—even if you could save a small fortune by trading it in rather than fixing another broken part.

This is called the “sunk cost fallacy,” and it explains why we hold on hardest to relationships we’ve put a lot of work into.

The sunk cost fallacy makes us reluctant to give up on something we’ve invested in…even if we’d be better off cutting our losses and moving on.

If you’ve been through the wringer with a partner who has cheated on you, lied to you, or stolen from you, then—strangely enough—you may feel even more invested in the relationship.

You’ve been through so much with this guy. Leaving him now feels like giving up. Surely all your efforts to work things out weren’t in vain, right?

Yet chances are you’d be much happier with someone else. So why stay?

The combination of loss aversion and the sunk cost fallacy make us hold on tighter when the best thing for us is to let go. We hang on desperately to what we’ve got, even though it’s not as good as our other options.

If you’re in a healthy committed relationship, that’s not a bad thing.

But it can hold you back when you’re dating.

You’re more likely to stick with a guy you’ve spent a lot of time and energy on, even if he can’t make you happy in the long term.

The prospect of loss makes you hold on tighter, even when losing the guy is a blessing in disguise.

Jonah’s disappearance forced Kelly back into the dating pool, where she eventually met Mark. Mark made her laugh. He enjoyed spending time with her as much as she enjoyed spending time with him.

Today, she brushes off her obsession with Jonah. She can barely remember him now. What she has—a healthy relationship with Mark—is so much better than what she used to have.

Have you ever found yourself holding on to someone who wasn’t good for you? What helped you finally let go?

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