The older we get, the more selective we tend to become about our relationships. Sometimes, however, it gets hard trying to navigate them. Sometimes we feel like we should keep people around because they’ve been around for a long time. Seniority, I suppose. Sometimes we keep people around just because we’re comfortable with them. Contrarily, sometimes we’re afraid to allow new relationships to blossom because they’re unfamiliar to us. Well, we tend to be a compilation of the five or six people we hang around the most. That said, we’ve got to make sure we build and nurture purposeful relationships.
It’s intimidating at first, so I’ve learned to simply go back to a lesson I learned in high school. In biology, there are three main relationships between organisms living within the same ecosystem: mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism. What does this have to do with your relationships? I’ll tell ya.
Mutualism occurs when both organisms in a relationship benefit. These are the relationships where both people grow and change and push each other to be the best they can be. In mutualistic relationships, you feel full because the other party is pouring just as much in to you as you’re pouring into him/her. These are people you can depend on, and people who know they can depend on you. These are the folks you keep around because you bring out the best in each other.
Commensalism occurs when one organism benefits while the other is unharmed in a relationship. These are valuable, most likely seasonal relationships. These are people who are around to learn from you, but that you may not be able to fully invest in emotionally. These are the friends whose houses are on the way to your school/work/church, so you don’t mind giving them a ride, but you wouldn’t neccessarily call if you needed something. They benefit from it, but you aren’t harmed. You may also be the beneficiary of this type of relationship. As I said, these relationships are fine because they’re not harmful, but they usually only last for a season.
Parasitism occurs when one organism benefits while the other is harmed in a relationship. Bad news bears. These leeches suck the life out of you. Flee while you can. These relationships leave you feeling empty, and emotionally drained. They can be abusive and toxic. They’re people who take from you, but constantly leave you high and dry when you need them. They don’t enhance your life, they don’t leave you unbothered, they leave you bruised, broken, insecure, and full of disappointment. These are the relationships that take a while to heal from, so get out while you have the chance.
It’s important to know what you’re getting out of relationships to know what to invest into relationships. Next time you take a minute to evaluate the purpose of the relationships in your life, consider which of these categories the relationship fits into.
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