Whew-wheeeeeee. If there is a topic that I can tell you I’m sharing from a very up close and extremely personal experience, it’s recycling relationships. And yet, that’s what a lot of us do when it comes to relationships — personal and professional, romantic and platonic — we may grow, change and evolve and yet, even when a relationship is no longer serving us, what we will do is recycle it.
And while I guess one could see it as a way of trying to not “throw anything away,” I want to share some of the reasons why recycling and upcycling relationships could actually be counterproductive while ultimately doing you more harm than good, if you’re not careful. Are you ready to dive in? This one might be slightly a bit of a doozy.
What It Means to Recycle Relationshipsex girlfriend princess GIF by VH1Giphy
When it comes to the environment, I’m pretty sure we all know that recycling is good for it. When you are “treating or processing (used or waste materials) so as to make suitable for reuse” and what you are doing this to is things like plastic and glass, that is beneficial. However, peep another definition of recycle — “to use again in the original form or with minimal alteration.” When it came to a lot of the men in my world, this is where I used to trip up — badly and often. I mean, if the relationship came to an end, it was for a justifiable and significant reason, right?
Why does the passing of time or even missing someone (even if it’s just the sex) suddenly make those reasons invalid? And while I do think that there are times when getting back with an ex isn’t totally toxic and unhealthy (there are exceptions to every rule), this can’t be the case when you’re literally going back to what and who has remained in their original form…because isn’t there something (or some things) about the “original form” that caused you to call things “quits” in the first place?
That’s why, whenever people come to me talking about intentionally remaining in hamster wheel situations with an ex, something that I will share (again, from personal experience) is in order for returning to your past to actually work, BOTH PEOPLE will have needed to do some personal growing and evolving. Otherwise, all you’re doing is repeating a pattern — oftentimes one that will get you absolutely nowhere than where you’ve already been.
So yeah, before recycling a relationship, think about what the word literally means, because all of us have limited time (much less than we think that we do). And you know what? Why waste it on something that you’ve already experienced? Meaning, if there’s nothing new to see, why even go there? Rinse and repeat: Why even go there?
What It Means to Upcycle Relationships
Okay, so upcycling is a bit different. Back in the day, I lived across the street from a girl who taught me how to upcycle jeans that no longer fit. What we would do was cut down the seam of the pants and then sew the fronts and backs together in order to turn them into a skirt. This is a great example of what it means to upcycle because the definition is “to process (used goods or waste material) so as to produce something that is often better than the original.” I’ll be the first to say that upcycling is way better than recycling.
Still, when it comes to relationships (friendships included), be careful with this. Case in point — there is a woman from my past who was toxic — I mean, TOXIC toxic. Every couple of years, she would reach out to want to “fresh start” our friendship and every time, I turned her down (check out “6 Signs You're About To Let A Toxic Person (Back) Into Your Life”). The main reason was that, although we had similar senses of humor and she was very smart, her intellect was also very cunning and calculated at times — so much to the point where, after getting some distance from her, I didn’t really see where she was holistically benefitting me on any level.
I actually could name more reasons why she was not good for my world than why she was constructive in it. And so, even though, according to her, she had changed and things would be better, the “original bar” was so damn low that I didn’t really see the point. Y’all, if you’re going to upcycle a relationship or friendship, take the literal definition to heart — think about how the original form of the dynamic was and then really ponder if there was enough goodness there to build on the original and make it better. Not a little bit better. LOTS BETTER.
3 Things to Consider Before Recycling or Upcycling RelationshipsBreak Up Couple GIF by Insecure on HBOGiphy
Okay, so now (hopefully) you’ve got a clearer understanding of what it means to recycle and upcycle a relationship with someone else. If it’s something that you’re considering doing, it’s important (imperative even) that you ask yourself the following three questions, first.
1. In this season of your life, what do you actually need them for?
Something that wisdom teaches us is, it’s not just okay to have your needs met in relationships, it’s absolutely essential. That said, during the time when the two of you were apart, how did your needs shift? Once you are clear on that, how can bringing them back into your life help you to get some of those needs met? Not only that but are they down to meet them and are you, based on where you are in this season of life, willing to meet theirs as well? If the answer is “no” to any of this, again…what’s the point in returning to what you have already left?
2. Are they “good” or just “familiar” to you?
A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for xoNecole entitled, “Question: Is The Man In Your Life Good 'TO' You? Good 'FOR' You? Or...Both?.” If you’re thinking about recycling an ex, I highly recommend that you check it out. Beyond that, something else that you should think long and hard about is if the person is actually good to and for you, long-term, or just someone you are familiar with. You know, it took me a LONG time to fully get over my first love and a part of the reason was the familiarity was nostalgic — and to me, that was comforting.
Once I got past that, though, and then I accepted a lot of his “foot-dragging” and “stagnation patterns” (which had always been there) for what it was — I got that he’s not a bad guy (he really isn’t). Good for me, though? Meh. He’s more familiar than anything else. And sticking with — or returning to — something (or one), just because it’s something (or one) that I’m used to? That simply isn’t good enough. That’s the kind of revelation you come to when you know what you are truly worthy of. TRUST Me.
3. Do you have a pattern of recycling or upcycling relationships?
A poet and author by the name of Naphtali "Tuli" Kupferberg once said, “When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge.” And lawd, ain’t that the truth? You know, it’s gonna be difficult to know if you are recycling or upcycling a relationship if you’re not willing to admit to yourself that this is a pattern for you. I’ve got a client, right now, who is in a counterproductive situation with a friend. Interestingly enough, what they call “having faith” in them, I call “being used” by them because all that ever really happens is they fight, make-up, and then my client does most of the work to keep things going until they…fight, make-up and do the same thing all over again.
You know what they say — in order to have something new, you must do something new. That said, no one is saying that you can’t maintain peace in your ended relationships or even be “cool with them” to a point. Yet again — and it really can’t be said enough — if you’re just going through the motions of going through the same stuff or you’re not taking the original version of your dynamic and making it better (not you alone; BOTH OF YOU), at the end of the day, it really is a waste of your time — and you should love yourself enough to not waste your time.
I know this is the time of year when people tend to “pop back up.” If/when they do, ask yourself if it’s worth it to recycle or upcycle because, from personal experience, I can tell you that more times than not…it’s not. Doing a new thing is (typically) best.
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