The Sunk Cost Fallacy And You

The Sunk Cost Fallacy And You

When holding on is more harmful than helpful, it's time to say goodbye.

Like any Millennial with a phone and steady access to wifi, I spend a lot of time on the internet, and in my 19 years, I've read a lot of relationship advice blogs in an attempt to feel like I have my life together. One of these blogs is Captain Awkward. It was there that I discovered something called the "sunk cost fallacy."

Tell me if this sounds familiar.

You're looking to clean out your closet. In it, you find a shirt you haven't worn in ten months. Man, this is awful, you think, why did I buy this? But you remember that you dropped $30 on this shirt, and so you reluctantly put it back in your closet with empty promises to wear it sometime, knowing in your deepest heart that that shirt is never coming out of that closet again.

Or, the most common question on aforementioned relationship advice blogs, which, with little variation, goes a bit like this: "My boyfriend and I have been together for a long time, but he doesn't respect me. He never contributes to household maintenance/plays video games all day/leaves broken glass on the kitchen floor because cleaning is a societal expectation he disagrees with/has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and I'm not happy in this relationship anymore. But we've been together so long and I love him. What can I do to fix myself so that he respects me?"

The answer is almost always "Sweetheart, you can't. This guy is an actual hornet's nest in human form. It's time to let go." Followed by many, many comments by the letter writer defending their significant other and insisting something can be done.

These are examples of the sunk cost fallacy. In economics, "sunk costs" refer to payments or investments which can never be recovered. Businesses try not to take sunk costs into account when considering the future of the business, because it's even more harmful, economically speaking, to continue sinking cash into something that's going to flop. But humans are actually biologically inclined to avoid losses at all costs, which creates situations like cluttered closets of clothes you'll never wear or, more seriously, domestic violence victims remaining with their abuser because they've already spent one or two or ten years of their lives with them and they don't want it to be "worthless."

Listen. We only have one life. The sunk cost is an attractive fallacy, but one that ultimately traps us in routines we hate because we fear that we've "wasted" our time. There's a reason why "better late than never" is such a ubiquitous saying. Why fight to be happy later when you can be happy now: namely, by dropping the sunk cost fallacy and changing your life tomorrow, or today?

I'm not advocating wastefulness here, but mindfulness of what will make you happy in the long run. Are you hesitating to change your college degree, even though you hate it because you already sunk a year into it? Go to the guidance office tomorrow and see what sort of options you have anyway. Your two-year relationship is making you unhappy and multiple attempts to work it out have failed? Get out of there and find some new opportunities for love. Do you have a shirt in the closet you've been dying to get rid of for the last six months? Make some room for that rockin' new sundress, girl! Goodwill all the way.

There are things in life worth fighting for, but there comes a time where hanging onto the old is getting in the way of our own future happiness. Beat the sunk cost fallacy, and learn how to say goodbye.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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A Love Letter To The Oxford Comma

Something that needs to be said.


My dearest love,

I know what it's like to feel unneeded, unwanted, and like if you disappeared forever, no one would know the difference. But I need you to know something—I would notice.

Sometimes people leave you out, not considering how it makes you feel. They're simply searching for leisure, style, or the satisfaction of others—all things that should pale in comparison when it comes to what you can provide.

You provide clarity and consistency. Elegance and intelligence. You are a light in my life. Without you, I feel dazed, confused, disappointed, angry, and hopeless.

But I know that I have to stay strong. I must, for you, because you are a force worth fighting for, but you're just not strong enough to fight for yourself. I must take it upon myself to fight for your rights, your justice, and your very life.

Whenever you are absent, I will bring you forth from your lonesome despair and reprimand the doer of this dreadful deed. Whenever I can, I will speak of you kindly in intellectual conversations with my peers. And above all, I will never ever fail to remember you and utilize you, for the benefit and integrity of both of our combined works and efforts.

I don't know how this monstrosity that is your common exclusion started, but by all means possible, I will attempt to put it to an end. I knew from the minute I saw you that I would love you forever, and someday, the sooner the better at that, the rest of the world will appreciate you in the same way I do.

I am not certain about many things, but if I am certain about one, it is you. Bid me good wishes in our joint endeavor, as I bid the same for you. Godspeed, my love.

Forever you obedient servant, faithful admirer, and steadfast warrior,

Aaron Doss

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