The “sunk costs” of personal relationships


February 25, 2008 10:24 PM

I did a double-degree in Commerce and Engineering in university. From my accounting units, one concept that has stuck with me in all aspects of life is called “sunk costs“. In layman’s terms, sunk costs are incurred costs or investments that cannot be recovered in a meaningful way. Good economics stresses that those costs should not be taken into consideration about whether an ongoing concern should be scrapped or continued.

The ongoing concern should be judged solely on its own merits that are valid currently, and not what has happened in the past no matter good or bad. I feel that this is particularly apt when it comes to personal relationships, especially failed or dysfunctional ones.

A lot of people hold on to relationships that are past their use-by dates because they think that just because it’s been a long relationship, that it would be a big waste to let it go considering the time and effort that they have put into it. And not to mention the good times that were had.

But you have to ask yourself: is the relationship making you happy now? Can you change it enough to make you happy again? Would the effort be worth the happiness that comes from it being revived? If you’ve given it one more big push, or maybe even two and you are still getting nowhere, then I think it’s time to simply let go.


A long time friend had called me in mild distress. Two of our mutual friends have drifted apart from her and she doesn’t know why. She and I both know that she’s a kind-hearted person, who is not prone to emotional flakiness – a good, stable and reliable friend. So it frustrates her to see two of her long time friends suddenly not consider her to be such a worthy friend to spend time with anymore.

She’s tried hinting for an answer, and she’s tried initiating contact but it’s been close to a year and she still doesn’t know why. So I asked her would it make her happy if and when she finds out. She said no and that it would depress her. So I said, “Then why do you wanna know?” “Because!” was her answer. 😉

So I tried to give her a little talk about “sunk costs”. Adding to that, I also said these two things:

  1. Not everyone likes you in life.
  2. Even those that like you now, are not guaranteed to like you forever. People change and you can’t stop that.

Life is too short to worry about people who don’t like you, or who grew to not like you. It’s better to focus on those who feel the opposite and who make you happy now. There are times to grow and maintain a relationship, times to cut it loose, and times to just let it drift away.

Driftwood on a beach, against the sunset
p.m.w @ flickr

4 thoughts on “The “sunk costs” of personal relationships

  1. rn

    it’s just a process of life I guess. People drift apart. We grow at different paces. Realising that helps to keep the love we have inside for each other, even though we know we won’t hang out that much anymore? That’s my theory.

    Despite that, it’s always sad. But housekeeping is definitely needed

    Reply
  2. mooiness Post author

    rn: yeah change is inevitable, that is why I believe in enjoying the people and friendships that we have now instead of worrying about those who have fallen off our radars.

    blur ting: true that – emotions cloud logic sometimes. That is why an objective third party can help, like me with my distressed friend for instance.

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Mooiness! » No man is an island

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