The turning point came six months into our relationship. I'd asked him to take Valentine's Day evening off from work, and he "forgot." At dinner the following night, he gave me a stuffed animal. It was Hallmark's special that year a bear with a hollowed out stomach that could conceal a jewelry box or other surprise. There was nothing inside; James hadn't even removed the paper wadding. It's the thought that counts in any gift, and this one said: "I didn't bother to open the obvious zipper or even wonder why it was there."
I'm not one for angry outbursts, so I waited a few days before sitting James down for a talk. I told him that after six months I needed to know where our relationship was going. He admitted that I deserved clarity, strongly hinted that he want to stay together, and promised to call me in a couple of days. I never heard from him again. After about a week, I left a message on his answering machine, officially ending whatever it was we had.
Hindsight is 20/20, and looking back I can see where I went wrong. All my previous relationships had ended in clean, obvious ways: a fight, a long distance move, another woman. There were no such end points with James, just a lot of chronic frustration and ambiguity. I failed to recognize that never being totally happy was reason enough to leave, and that is, I believe, the key to deciding whether to stick it out or bail. I'd been sticking around for the potential of what James and I could be if he kept our dates, if we worked through our sexual issues, if I could adjust to having two small children in the relationship mix. The fact that I occasionally got brief glimpses of that potential only made it harder to see that, in the real world, we were going no where.
I'm friends with a married couple who talk to each other almost exclusively in "Dr. Phil" lingo: continually acknowledging each other's feelings and voicing all frustrations in careful "I" statements devoid of anger or blame. Going out to dinner with them exhausts me, and I see in them what longterm involvement with James might have been an eternity of never quite getting what I want. In the wake of my six-month non-relationship with James, I've adopted a 100-50 test: If I'm not 100% content in a relationship 50% of the time, it's probably time to get out. Every relationship takes work, but that work shouldn't be unrelenting. It's as simple as that.