Should I forgive my selfish ex-boyfriend?

31st January, 2009

Dear Economist,

I was living with my boyfriend when he got accepted to a very good university in London. He convinced me to go with him. I applied and got accepted to another very good university to pursue a masters degree that I long dreamed of. He broke up with me before I knew I had been accepted, arguing he wasn’t prepared to carry the responsibility of me leaving a life behind to go after him. Of course, it was his idea in the first place.
He has been living in London since September. I have just arrived. I still love him, but I think he has been very selfish. Should I forgive him and look him up? Human selfishness and economics have always walked hand in hand. I would love to have your advice.

Dear CP,

The whole episode seems to have been very good for you: at your boyfriend’s urging, you followed your dreams and now you are realising them. Wonderful.

However, this happy fact does not translate into a compelling reason to renew the relationship. Normally I advise people that they should ignore “sunk costs” – to put it another way, there is no use crying over spilt milk. In this particular case you should ignore the “sunk benefits”. Forget the fact that it’s all worked out well, and focus instead on what this story tells you about the prospects for a happy future together.

If your boyfriend is not rational then his behaviour is self-destructive and self-obsessed. Even worse, if your boyfriend is rational – as economists usually assume – then he seems simply to have been opening up an option (to have his old girlfriend in London) and discarding it when it had no value to him.

I’d guess he thought he could do better than his old relationship in London. I’m quite sure that you can.

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