My friend once observed, with equal parts delight and disappointment, that I was an avid recycler. Only she wasn’t talking about my environmentally-friendly habits, she was talking about my dating patterns.
Admittedly, my former flames have been known to make recurring guest spot appearances in the soap opera that is my love life. You can blame it on my soft heart or on the power of nostalgia. I blame it on a combination of both, but mostly on a short-term memory with an extraordinary capacity for repression.
Still, I make no excuses for regaling in the return of old romances and the routine that comes with it. The familiarity, the forgiveness, the laughter shared over inside jokes and nearly forgotten experiences – they all bring with them a warmth reminiscent of a well-worn sweater. You know the one I’m talking about? The one that fits you perfectly and makes you look good and feel great in spite of the burn marks on the sleeve and the rip on the back… You know that tried-and-true one that you always go back to when you can’t find anything else to wear in your closet.
The wiser among us know better than to wear that sweater, despite its irresistible shaggy comfort. However most of us need our best-friend to talk us out of it, and even prod it, with force, from our desperate grip.
A study on personal relationships, and specifically on/off relationships by Dailey et al. showed that as many as 40% of people fall into the latter category – returning twice or more to previous partners. If so many of us are doing it, can it really be that bad? Perhaps I’m not one to advise on this sort of behavior as it has never worked out in my favor. Yet I still believe that forgiveness is a virtue that should be dispensed with abandon. The Torah reminds us that the nature of man is not infallible. Ecclesiastes 7:20 states: “There is no human being on earth who has done good and has not sinned.” And even in instances of sin, Hillel (Pirkei Avot 2:4) teaches us to refrain from passing judgment until we ourselves have experienced the perspective of the other.
It’s difficult in a moment of rage or disappointment to understand what your boyfriend was thinking, or if he was thinking at all. A breather, some distance and time can heal all wounds and offer you the level-headedness and objectivity necessary to see another perspective and give the relationship a fair second chance.
But before you commit to giving the relationship another go, you should profoundly reflect on the first experience. Did you have a deep connection and a mutual respect? Did you have compatible values and life goals? If any of your answers are negative, I’ll tell you the same thing my Ivy League-educated psychologist girlfriend said when she noticed my maladaptive reconciliatory pattern: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Albert Einstein) And indeed, it is absolutely ludicrous to return to a romance that has no promise except for heartache.
Furthermore, if you recognize that your personal “red lines” have been violated that is a clear indication that you should move on to another romance.
Kohelet Raba 7:16 teaches that those who are kind to the cruel in the end will be cruel to the kind. I certainly believe that re-entering into a relationship that has been abusive in whichever way and forgiving, even loving somebody undeserving will result in deep scars and anxieties that will plague future relationships.
With all that said, if you’re a hopeless romantic with rose-colored glasses or plain ol’ stubborn like me, the forecast may not be so gloomy.
Rabbi Harold Shulweis offers hopeful insight into forgiveness and second chances in his sermon on reconciliation. He says: “Forgiveness is not amnesia. Forgiveness does not reverse the past but it promises a new and different outcome. When you forgive, when you seek reconciliation, things may never be as they were before the injury. But you can establish a new relationship, a speaking civil relationship. […] What is important is the victory of reconciliation and the possibility of transformation. What is important is not to dwell obsessing on the recriminations of the past, but on the opportunities of a better year.”
Indeed, reconciliation brings with it opportunity for transformation – yours and your partner’s.
I've seen used vinyl, and other miscellaneous junk destined for the garbage transformed into breath-taking art through a visionary recycling program. Recycling can breathe new life into used materials, and I believe it can do the same in the context of a romance.
So maybe my friend was onto something after all when she called me a "recycler."
Margaux Chetrit is the founder and president of Three Matches, an international dating agency. Her insights on love and sex are inspired by a career in diplomacy, a panoply of academic degrees and ex-boyfriends.
For more of her musings, please visit: www.threematches.com or follow her at www.twitter.com/threematches and www.facebook.com/threematches