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Why Recycling Your Exes is Bad for Your Environment

A woman who's thinking about leaving her ex, laughing on a couch.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good “second chance” story.

I mean… who doesn’t love a good rom-com starring the lovable cad of a boyfriend who lets his awesome (and of course, perfect, gorgeous, and flawlessly thigh-gapped) girlfriend down in new appalling ways every single day; probably doesn’t have a job, goals, ambition, or the ability to stay faithful for longer than one episode of a Netflix binge; and doesn’t realize the error of his ways until said girlfriend has left him high and dry, and taken her Netflix password with her? (So basically Matthew McConaughey in every romantic comedy he’s ever been in.) We all know what happens next, right? Mr. McConaughey sees the light, chases his leading lady to the airport/train station/across the world/etc./etc., becomes a better man than he was five minutes earlier, and professes his undying love, then she takes him back, no questions asked. They kiss, we swoon, the credits roll. And, once again, Hollywood succeeds in making us forget why exes are, in fact… exes.

There are certain ex-boyfriends out there, who always come back around. No matter how long it’s been since you broke up or what remote, deserted island you moved to in order to escape him—he will find you. He will online stalk his way back into your life via a tweet or a Facebook friend request or an Instagram DM. He might even start a new account to get to you since you blocked him on all the old ones. Nope—ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no river wide enough to keep him from getting to you. And more than likely it will happen right at the very second that you finally get over him. It’s like a weird male antenna that receives a signal that you’re not hung up on him anymore and his fingers are suddenly drawn to his phone like a moth to a flame. “She’s not crying into her pillow every night anymore! I better call and remind her why she was crying in the first place!”

While not all exes have bad intentions, and some might actually be texting just to see how you’re doing, it’s best to avoid that danger zone like you would a coffee shop with no WiFi. Why? Because as the old adage says, “A leopard never changes its spots.” In this case—the spots being whatever reasons you had for ending the relationship in the first place.

“Things ended for a reason. Remember that reason.” That’s something my therapist likes to remind me of every time I come to her with an ex who has popped back up in my life like a game of whack-a-mole. (Or a whack-a-leopard, I guess.)

Whatever spots your particular leopard had when last you saw him, you can bet they’re still there—even if he’s cleverly hiding them behind a more mature age, smoother talk, or sudden eagerness to commit.

I once tried to date a guy when I was 20, then again when I was about 26, then again when I was 31, and I can categorically say: The third time was NOT the charm. Nope, he was sketchier and shadier every time I gave him another chance. It’s like this guy went out of his way to get in his lifetime quota of weird dating behaviors with me. But I seem to just have this soft spot for my exes.

And I can’t help but wonder… is this just me? Or is everyone more susceptible to catching feelings for someone they’ve once had feelings for? Here are the stories I tell myself to justify recycling an ex:

– He’s changed.

– Things were left unfinished between us, and this is our chance to get it right this time.

– Maybe he’s the one I’m supposed to be with, and it just took time for us both to realize it.

Here’s the thing, though: People don’t really ever change THAT much. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying people aren’t capable of change. I believe they are. I’ve changed greatly over the past few years. But I got here through intensive struggle and therapy and confronting my own junk. Most people aren’t willing or able to take the necessary steps to effect real change. Barring a miracle or a massive life overhaul, your ex is still the same guy who told you that you were the love of his life then broke up with you via text message.

As for the “unfinished business” excuse? I would argue that any ending, no matter how it comes about, is closure. It’s okay, and even healthy, to let some things end messily, and badly. You just can’t put a cherry on top of every sundae. Sometimes things just end because they’re supposed to end, and you don’t get an explanation or an apology or closure. My therapist also likes to remind me that we are responsible for our own closure. You should never leave your peace of mind or ability to move on in someone else’s hands.

And finally… real love isn’t like a movie and and it’s not supposed to be. Real love doesn’t have to chase you to the airport at the end of the movie, because real love doesn’t leave in the first place. If he was and is the one you were meant to be with, he would have stuck around. For the hard stuff, for the intense stuff, for the messy stuff. Don’t get so sucked into the idea of a perfect Hollywood ending that you mistake glitter for gold.

Exes are, by definition alone, bad news. Exile, excommunicate, exclude, extradite, exhume, exhausted… do any of these words give you a warm and fuzzy feeling? There’s a reason that “ex” comes before “boyfriend”—and it’s best to leave that relationship in the ground where it belongs and not try and recreate a moment that probably wasn’t all that great to begin with. Besides, if you’re filling up your calendar with X’s, you’re leaving no room for O’s—as in “Oh, he’s so wonderful!” So the only “ex” you should be headed for is the exit, and quickly!

At the end of the day, recycling exes might not be bad for the environment, but it’s bad for your environment. If he didn’t make it past your past, he’s certainly not worthy of your future, so quit wasting time on what might have been and look ahead to what can still be. Just because “ex” didn’t mark the spot doesn’t mean there’s not still buried treasure to be found… Most likely where you least expect it. So here’s a shovel. Start diggin’.

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