When a burst of joy is really just a burst bubble

Have you ever worked for an organization and started to feel as though you were being edged out?

Do you have a friendship and feel as though you’re the one doing all the work?

When you’re involved with the life of someone, you want to know that it’s moving forward, progressing toward something. It may be developing quickly or by only baby steps, but forward motion — any forward motion — lets you know the relationship is alive.

There are some, however, who have an intuition, a gut feeling, a sense that something isn’t quite right.

One day you’re sailing along, communicating, texting back and forth. Suddenly there’s nothing, or the dialogue is stiff and distant. Then a few days later it’s again as it was before.

Maybe you’ve sent a text to your partner and wonder what’s going on as you see the “read” notice sitting there without reply…for days.

Perhaps it’s been days since you’ve heard anything and you’re on the verge of giving up on it all when you get an enthusiastic text to draw you back in.

Being strung along can be among the most heartbreaking feelings you can experience. It leaves us feeling betrayed, embarrassed, and foolish.

Take United State Air Force Lt Col Robert L. Stirm.


If you’re old enough, you may remember this historic photo capturing the coming home of a Vietnam POW after his release from the Hanoi Hilton. I only recently heard of the story behind this image. For those that don’t know the full story, it’s heartbreaking.

Stirm is seeing his family for the first time since spending five years as a POW in Vietnam. He was shot down in October 1967 and was released in March 1973. The focal point of the image is Stirm’s 15-year-old daughter, Lorrie, running to meet him with open arms.

Here’s the story the photo doesn’t show.

Three days before Lt Col Stirm arrived home, the day he was released from captivity, he received a “Dear John” letter from his wife. She told him she had been with several other men while he was in captivity and she was leaving him.

They divorced the year after the event depicted here and even though his ex-wife remarried, Stirm was ordered by the court to pay her 43% of his military retirement upon his separation from the Air Force.

While his family members displayed this photo in their homes, Robert Stirm could never bring himself to follow suit because of the heartache that surrounded that day.

Whether with a person or with an organization, you should never feel uncertain about your relationships.

I’ve had my own awkward moments of being strung along.

I was strung along in a failing, three-decade marriage.

I was strung along in an organization that had no intention of allowing me to fulfill an initiative I had introduced.

Getting blindsided when I found out things were not as I had been allowed to believe were some of the most soul-crushing moments of my life.

Have you been trying to get some face time with your boss and keep getting put off?

Do you ask your significant other or friend to meet up for coffee and keep getting told they’re just too busy?

Here’s the thing: no one is that busy all of the time. If you’re valued, if you’re someone an organization wants on their team or in their life, they will figure out how to make it work. The hard reality is that if you have a gut feeling that something isn’t right, that you may be little more than a player at the end of the bench, you probably are.

So, what should you do?

First, think through whether you’re on the same page. Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs and desires. The reaction you get will tell you a lot about whether you see eye-to-eye.

Second, get advice. Talk with friends or co-worker who you know will tell you what you need to hear. Let them in on what’s going on and see what they have to say.

Third, don’t be afraid to cut things off. This can be the hardest decision you’ll ever make, but it could be the best thing for you in the long run.

When I realized the organization for which I worked had zero intention of meeting my desires, I had to make the most difficult and scary decision I ever made. I walked away. It was gut-wrenching and like going through a divorce. To this day I still have friendships that were lost because of that decision. But I know that as painful as it was, it was the right thing.

I’m thankful to be in a relationship with an amazing woman. Erika and I talk openly about what we want. We are committed to going through the struggles and the joys every relationship faces together.

To be sure, there are challenges before us. But I never doubt the value I have in her life and I hope she never doubts the value she has in mine.

I know this isn’t everyone’s experience and have seen a person’s heart shattered when they realize things weren’t as they seemed.

Being strung along as a bench player in the life of another person or an organization can leave you feeling demeaned and devalued. But with the help of trusted friends, open communication, and honest self-reflection, you can get out and move on to your best future.

After all, you’re worth it.

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