You Cannot Change People – And That Isn’t A Bad Thing

We as a society tend to romanticize the idea of changing someone.

It’s a common romance story trope to have two people meet, one flawed but with a heart of gold (usually the man), one more or less perfect already (usually the woman), and through their love, they both become more or less perfect, compatible, happy lovers.

A more recent example of this might be the Fifty Shades of Grey movies, which have come out with a new installment consistently around Valentine’s Day since 2015. These movies follow Anastasia Steele as she meets and falls in love with the wealthy and conventionally attractive Christian Grey, only to find out that he is emotionally distant, deeply traumatized from childhood, emotionally abusive, possessive, and uninterested in a romantic relationship. Yet, through her love and her love alone, she manages to train him into becoming her husband and (presumably) a better man.

Now, I wish that I could say that the Fifty Shades of Grey movies invented this trope, but I sort of feel like it’s existed since the dawn of time. Growing up, I had this notion that romantic love was supposed to be a force so strong, that it could not only withstand but defeat anything. If you were a bad person, then the compulsion for romantic love would be enough to lead you out of your habits and into the light.

And I think it’s significant that women, in particular, are told that this is possible. From the time that we’re small, girls everywhere are told to romanticize the ‘fixer-upper’. The rude, disrespectful, selfish man who we can teach to respect us with time, patience, and love. The beast to our beauty. We’re encouraged to put up with all sorts of unpleasant behaviour because “we can change him”, because he’s really a good guy “deep down”.

But here’s the thing that I think everyone should hear, whether they be men, women, flawed, or somehow, impossibly perfect: you cannot change people.

That isn’t to say that people can’t change. They most certainly can, but they need to be the one at the helm of that change. Not you. Because you can stand beside someone for their entire lives, telling them what to do, how to act, what to say or think, but if they aren’t hearing you, then it won’t matter. You can have the best intentions, the best advice, the most confidence that they can be a better person, but you cannot help people unless they want to be helped.

I think that this is an important lesson for all of us to learn, regardless of which side of the change that we intend to be on.

Because if we want to change our loved one, and if we believe so whole-heartedly that we can do it no matter what, then we set ourselves up for failure. When they inevitably return to their harmful behaviour, then we blame ourselves for it. We wonder what we could have done differently. We wonder why our love wasn’t enough to stop it. We tell ourselves that it will be different next time – and maybe it will be, but only if the other has perfectly, completely understood that they need to change. If they don’t understand this, then they’ll just end up doing the same thing again, because they don’t have a reason not to.

If we hold onto this idea of being able to change someone, then it allows us to excuse their behaviour and stick by them, even when we have no other reason to. Even when their behaviour harms us. They might even use this idea against us, telling us that it will be different next time, that they can change, but not if we leave them or hurt them. They might hold desperately onto us, taking what they need and giving nothing back. And we allow them to keep doing it, all in the hope that they might eventually stop.

If someone in our lives is flawed, self-destructive, or outwardly toxic, then we really only have two choices: we can accept them as they are, in full knowledge that they might never change, or we can decide that what they do doesn’t serve us and only hurts us in the long run. There is no shame in either option. There is nothing wrong with you if you leave, because there was nothing you could have done that would have fixed them. Their flaws are not your responsibility. And there is nothing wrong with you if you stay, so long as you understand and are prepared to deal with the potential consequences.

And perhaps all this sounds a little bit harsh, particularly for the people who are dealing with some sort of flaw or habit that they hope to be able to change, but I don’t think it should be. On the contrary, it can be a very liberating thought.

Your salvation does not lie in another person. You do not need a hero; you can be your own. And, no, that isn’t as easy as it sounds: you need to want it. You need to be able to recognize that what you are doing does not serve you or the people around you. You need to know that you deserve better. You need to put in effort and you need to pick yourself up after bad days and you need to forgive yourself when you inevitably fail, and you can do it. It is possible, but there is a reason why very few people succeed. You need to be strong. You need to be a warrior.

And you cannot do any of this if you put all of the work required for your change into another person.

This idea of romantic love being strong enough to incite change is incredibly harmful – for both sides. Romantic love can be a powerful force, sure – it can be what inspires people to want to change, and it can bring out the best of people, but it cannot be the sole reason for any permanent change. For that, we need a very different sort of love: we need to find self-love.

 

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Can Men and Women Ever Really Be Friends? (And Can Bisexuals Have Friends At All Then?)

A lot of casual homophobia tends to be predicated on this fear of queer people flirting with straight people.

This whole idea of, “I don’t mind you being gay, just so long as you don’t hit on me.”

And, you know what, I understand that nobody enjoys having someone that they aren’t attracted to flirt with them. Straight people don’t enjoy being hit on by queer people. Lesbians don’t enjoy being hit on by men. Bisexual people don’t enjoy being hit on by someone who isn’t their type.

But, that being said, there is a larger issue here as well. This idea that queer men are attracted to all men, and queer women are attracted to all women.

A lot has been said on this already. It is a prevalent problem in our society, and it is a problem that lends itself to many harmful ideas and stereotypes.

Queer men can easily be excluded from such male-centric activities as, say, sports – because what would happen in the locker room? We all know that queer men can’t control themselves around any naked man – really, any at all. It doesn’t matter what he looks like or how he acts.

Queer women also tend to be stereotyped as the ‘predatory lesbian’ – the aggressive woman who won’t take no for an answer, and is out there to hunt down and ‘turn’ any unsuspecting straight woman.

And, sometimes, straight people become really awkward and uncomfortable around queer people, on the simple basis that they’re afraid that they might get checked out or flirted with.

Because, as we all know, when you’re attracted to a gender, you’re attracted to every member of that gender. Right?

Now, as a bisexual person myself, I have walked in both straight and LGBT communities, and while this isn’t a perspective that comes up often in the LGBT community (I can tell another queer woman that I’m queer without her immediately assuming that I’m hitting on her. Unless I am actually hitting on her), this perspective does come up quite frequently in the straight community.

And it doesn’t even exclusively come up in terms of queer people: it’s actually a sort of common perspective. Growing up, I remember frequently hearing the adage: “can men and women ever really be friends?” the presumed answer to this always being: no, because sex will always get in the way.

And if this were true, then I couldn’t have any friends. Ever. I’m attracted to every gender, so obviously I’m trying to sleep with everyone.

If this were true, then dear god, my life would be a nightmare.

But I’ve had male friends (both heterosexual and not) who managed to remain platonic. I’ve had female friends (both heterosexual and not) who managed to remain platonic. So where does this assumption come from in straight culture?

Well, in this particular scenario, I feel that the best way to explore why heterosexual people feel this way about queer people is by looking at heterosexual culture.

When it comes to young boys, we treat sex as a sort of conquest. It is the way that men can prove their masculinity; we turn it into a sort of goal for them. And we also teach men that every single woman is a potential conquest.

And, similarly, we teach women that every single man is ‘just after one thing’.

This tends to be in the background of many male/female relationships in heterosexual culture: a sort of chase. And it is so prevalent that many men feel entitled to sex with essentially any woman – even if she is ‘just a friend’. Look at the term ‘friendzoned’ for evidence: although this term has (hopefully) been mocked out of general usage, it was initially created by men who felt cheated because a female friend dared to say ‘no’ to sex.

And this idea of ‘the chase’ has created many, many problems in and of itself: most obviously, it has created rape culture. It has created this society where many heterosexual relationships are expected to follow a script where men pursue sex and women withhold it – and if a man pushes beyond her comfort zone, well then, he was just following the script. It has created this society where women are shamed for expressing any sexual agency or desire.

But it has also created this general confusion about how straight people can interact with queer people. Because many (obviously, not all) straight people automatically assume that if someone is attracted to a gender, then they will engage in ‘the chase’ with that gender.

But queer people do not grow up in quite the same way that straight people do, and the simple fact that many queer relationships involve two people of the same gender means that we cannot engage in the same conventions that straight people simply take for granted. For us, there were no lessons growing up about how we should view (at least one of) the genders that we were going to date. Lesbian women were not told by their mothers that they need to actively go out there and have sex with as many women as possible.

So for us, it’s just natural to know that we aren’t attracted to every single member of a gender. And, trust me: if we’re not attracted to you, we aren’t going to hit on you. Chances are, you’re safe.

And I think that the fact that so many straight people are afraid that queer people will start ‘chasing’ them really reveals something about ‘the chase’: it isn’t pleasant, and it isn’t healthy. We need to stop measuring our worth by the number of partners that we have had – whether we’re calling a man a ‘stud’ for sleeping with many women, or we’re calling a woman a ‘slut’ for sleeping with many men. We need to think again about the way that we’re teaching our youth about sex, or about the ways in which they should view the other gender. And a big part of this involves talking more about consent, but it also involves questioning our own gender biases. Because they are so deeply ingrained that I think we sometimes have a hard time recognizing them.

How Millennials Are Changing Relationships

“Millennials don’t want relationships,” I read this morning on social media.

And, admittedly, my first response to this was something akin to: oh great, is this another thing millennials are killing, along with diamonds, golf, and napkins? Are millennials responsible for the death of relationships as well?

Once my initial reaction was out of the way, I started to think about this claim a little deeper. I mean, in this culture of Tinder and social media dating, you are more apt to hearing people wonder about what the future of dating is. So is there some validity to this claim that millennials don’t want romantic relationships, in a society where social contact is established through a screen?

As a millennial myself, do I want a relationship?

Well, yes. Someday. It just isn’t high on my list of priorities right now.

I am twenty-three years old, and right now, my life is a little bit rocky. I’m in the process of figuring out how I can move to another city. I’m trying to decide what I want to do with my life. My career and my pursuit of my dreams have sort of taken priority for the past few years, as I learn to navigate through this crazy, little world that I inherited. And, yeah, I would eventually like a relationship, but I don’t necessarily see myself settling into an image of domesticity, at least not any time soon. Right now, I’m still trying to find myself.

And so are the majority of my fellow-millennial friends. I have friends who have jumped from relationship to relationship, not because they don’t want to stay in one, but because they’re still learning and figuring themselves out. I have friends whose every romantic encounter is a Tinder hookup, because they aren’t emotionally prepared to settle down yet. I have friends who settle into happy, serious relationships, and then a few months later, break up and post all about the whole experience on social media.

And, personally, I don’t see any of this as a sign that millennials don’t want a relationship. It’s just that many of us are still very young. And a lot of this is pretty par for the course of young people, social media or no social media.

So then why do I keep hearing people say that millennials don’t want relationships, or that millennials don’t know how to make lasting connections with people?

Well, 1 – I think that this a pretty common complaint for every new generation of youths. Let’s face it: elders just like to complain about us. And, considering young people are consistently trying to find themselves and explore their environment, whether it’s the 1960’s or the age of Tinder, this is probably going to continue being a complaint for many, many years to come. The baby boomers will say it about us. The millennials will say it about the next generation. It’s just the circle of life.

But I also think that there’s another side to all this, and it’s something that I touched on briefly earlier: the definition of what a relationship is is, slowly but surely, changing.

Divorce rates in America peaked at about 40 percent in 1980, and although this number has been declining ever since, this does mean that many millennials grew up in households where their biological parents were split up. We are the generation of step-parents and single parents, and we are also the generation that grew up with both parents working outside of the house.

Perhaps (at least partly) because of this, it is estimated that the marriage rate might drop to 70 percent in millennials (compared to 91 percent of baby boomers).

Yep, that’s right. We’re killing the wedding industry too. Take that, heteronormative marriage ideals.

But it isn’t just the divorce rate that might make millennials wonder about marriage. As we talk more and more about the role of women in our society, women are encouraged toward pursuing careers and building lives outside of the home. More and more, we’re moving away from this idea that the only thing a woman can be is a wife and mother.

As Time put it, “millennials want jobs and education, not marriage and kids”. In fact, according to them, 55 percent of millennials said that marriage and kids aren’t important.

This goes back to what I was saying before: relationships just aren’t a priority for me right now. I want a satisfying career and education, and as a woman in 2018, I have more freedom than ever to get that. A satisfying relationship can come later, when I’m a little bit more adjusted and sure of myself.

And not only that, relationships are becoming increasingly less weirdly Stepford with time. We are talking more and more about such issues as heteronormativity, and how harmful that can become. Same sex relationships are becoming more and more accepted within society, meaning that today’s youth are more open minded than ever. Only 65 percent of millennials identify as exclusively heterosexual, and already, this is becoming an outdated statistic, as only 48 percent of Americans between the ages of 13 to 20 identify as exclusively heterosexual. According to the survey conducted by the J Walter Thompson Innovation Group, a significant amount of today’s youth identify as bisexual.

I also don’t think that such societal conversations as the role of polyamory or sex positivity should be ignored, as these are changing the way that we, as today’s youth, view relationships.

And I’m really not trying to say that any of this is a negative thing. On the contrary, I think it’s amazing. I think that millennials these days have more freedoms when it comes to relationships than any generation has ever had before, and I’m really curious to see where we’ll take these freedoms as more of us grow older and more mature and more prepared to settle into relationships (or not settle into relationships, whatever makes each individual person happy).

I think that, for too long, relationships have had a solid structure that each and every person is expected to follow, or at least pretend to follow. And I think that this structure works for some people, but not for everyone. And right now, millennials are creating the freedom to build new relationships that work better for each individual person. And is this a trend that will continue? Or are we destined to become the stubborn, old curmudgeons, complaining about the next generation and their inability to form healthy, normal relationships? That, I suppose, only time will tell.

What is Sex Positivity?

As a society, we have pretty complicated opinions when it comes to sex.

We want to see it constantly – in our advertising, in our movies, in our music – but we want to see it subtle, full of euphemisms, and on our own terms. We don’t like it when it’s too explicit. We don’t like it when it challenges our preconceived notions of heteronormativity. And we don’t like it when it forces us to think of people who we do not personally find sexually attractive as sexual beings.

In other words, we like to find individuals sexy, but we do not necessarily like to think of them as sexual.

Is it any wonder that we have a difficult time understanding the concept of sex positivity?

I’ve often seen sex positive individuals mocked as being aggressively sexual nymphomaniacs who just want to have non-monogamous, kinky, pansexual sex with everything that moves. I’ve heard it said that, not only do sex positive individuals fall into this stereotype, but they want you to fall into this stereotype as well; if you aren’t comfortable having sex with everyone, if you aren’t comfortable talking about sex in great, almost disgusting detail with every individual you ever come across, then you aren’t sex positive enough.

Oddly enough, I’ve only ever heard this opinion raised by people who do not identify as sex positive.

So what does it mean to be sex positive? I mean, it’s totally possible in our hush-hush-wink-wink society of closed doors and whispered euphemisms that you might have heard this word before, but were too embarrassed to ask what it meant.

Well, acting as a sex positive individual looks different for everybody, but what this essentially boils down to is a few common beliefs.

Sex positivity is a subsection of feminism. That isn’t to say that every feminist is sex positive. That isn’t to say that feminism is only about sex positivity. But, generally speaking, sex positivity tends to be regarded as falling under that same umbrella of liberating women or other marginalized people.

Because, historically speaking, it’s been women who are both uncomfortably sexualized and denied the opportunity to so much as speak about sex (I mean, 66% of women aged 18 to 24 don’t even feel comfortable saying the word ‘vagina’, even to a doctor; whereas the ‘penis game’ is fun for the whole family).

But that isn’t to say that women are the only people who would benefit from a sex positive society. In fact, we all would.

What sex positivity essentially means is that we, as a society, need to get more comfortable with the idea of sex – in all of its forms.

We need to become comfortable talking about sex. We need to become comfortable teaching our children about sex – because too few children are. 71% of Americans will have sex by the time that they are 19 years of age, but only twenty states require sex education to be taught at all. And, hell, even when it is taught, the actual information tends to be lacking. Only thirteen states require the sex ed that is taught to be medically accurate, meaning that in thirty-seven American states, people are walking around with either no education in sexuality, or medically inaccurate education in sexuality.

What I remember most from my own sex ed class is my teacher laughing uncomfortably until she was red in the face (I got an A in that class).

This means that children are going out and having sex without fully understanding what they are doing or the possible repercussions that could come from it (like STIs or pregnancy).

In fact, education on sexuality is so poor that, to this day, there are many people who are still confused about what consent is, or how to ask for it from a partner. And this is a huge problem.

But sex positivity is about more than simply educating children. It’s about allowing people to express their sexuality in whichever way they feel comfortable.

Do you want your every sexual experience to be a kinky, pansexual orgy? That’s totally fine; go out and do that.

Do you want to have vanilla sex with one individual for your entire life? Cool. Do that.

Do you want to never, ever, ever have sex because the very thought makes your stomach curl? Great. Don’t feel pressured to have sex. You’re cool the way you are.

As I mentioned before, in our current climate, we are weird about sex. We don’t want to hear about it, but we at least want to know that you’re doing it, and doing it ‘correctly’. If you’re sleeping with multiple partners, then you run the risk of being labelled a ‘slut’, a ‘whore’, ‘cheap’, ‘easy’, ‘frivolous’ – and as such, you are dismissed as a person. If you identify as asexual, then you’re constantly assaulted with comments such as, “oh, you just haven’t found the right person yet”.

But true sex positivity does not uphold any of that. True sex positivity is about allowing people the information that they need to decide how they feel about sex, and then the freedom that they need to explore it however they choose.

You should feel allowed to explore your sexuality. You should feel like it’s okay to have many sexual experiences, with many different people, and you should also feel like it’s okay to not have sex. Whatever you want to do should be accepted as totally fine.

End of day, sex positivity is about creating a world where sex is not a shameful thing. Where being a sex worker is a valid way to make money, if that’s what you genuinely want to do. Where women are allowed to wear a hijab or a mini, mini, mini skirt, and feel the same level of confidence and acceptance. Where men are allowed to wear pants or a mini, mini, mini skirt, and feel the same level of confidence and acceptance. Where being monogamous and non-monogamous and asexual is all totally fine.

End of day, sex positivity is about being allowed to explore who you are sexually, and feeling okay in that. Feeling like you won’t be judged. Feeling like you have the right information to do it safely. And sex positivity is for everyone – male, female, transgender, gender non-conforming, straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, demi-sexual, or whatever-kind-of-sexual-you-want-to-identify-as.

End of day, that is all sex positivity is.

What I Learned From Being Single

“People who have been single for too long are the hardest to love, because they have become so used to being single, independent, and self-sufficient that it takes something extraordinary to convince them that they need you in their life.”

The above quotation is something that I read recently in a Facebook post, shared by one of my friends. And, I have to admit, when I saw it, it made me pause.

The word here that draws most of my attention is the word ‘hard’, which can, of course, be used in many ways. You might say that something is ‘hard’, and yet the fact that it is difficult also makes it fun or worthwhile – like a hobby, or some sort of intellectual puzzle. Yet, when we say that somebody is ‘hard to love’, this is rarely the way that we mean it. Usually, ‘hard to love’ refers to an individual who is unpleasant, or difficult, or generally unlikeable – the personality equivalent to that old phrase “a face only a mother could love”.

And, more than that, the phrasing of this quotation makes me think that this was what was intended as well. The person who is ‘hard to love’ is a ‘they’, an other, someone who the reader is not meant to relate to. Yet, the person who is trying (and, evidently, failing) to love them is referred to as ‘you’ – the reader. The way that this quotation is phrased, people who have been single too long are a difficult-to-love ‘them’, and those who are trying but ultimately unable to love them are ‘you’, the relatable one, the everyman.

Except, reading this quote, the one that I relate to is the ‘them’.

So, I’m not going to lie, I’ve been single for… a while. In the past few years, I’ve been on dates, I’ve flirted with people, but ultimately, a mixture of not having a particularly stable or consistent home, as well as my own personal issues, have meant that I haven’t really settled down into any sort of serious relationship.

And I won’t lie; at first, it bugged me. Both for admirable reasons and less-admirable reasons. On the one hand, I just wanted someone to be with, but I was also worried about petty, stupid things, like: would I be able to afford a house, a car, and a life if I didn’t have a partner? Would I ever be truly happy if I didn’t have a partner? Would I ever be able to have a relationship at all if I wasn’t gaining dating relationship experience right now?

It came to a point where I started to think that I should just latch onto the next person who came along, just so I could have someone, anyone, even if I didn’t actually like them.

But, fortunately, I just wasn’t in a place to maintain a relationship – physically or emotionally – which made it easier for me to resist this urge. Instead, I just… remained single. And, as time passed, it not only became easier – it changed the way that I saw both myself and any future potential partners.

Because there is something true about the quotation that I gave at the beginning: when you have been single for a long time, you learn how to live independently. You start planning your life around being single, and you learn that you don’t really need someone else in order to live or be happy; there are always other options. There are always other goals to be fulfilled, other ways to make your life worthwhile. When you’ve been single for a while, you began to learn that relationships are nice, but they aren’t a requirement.

And, personally speaking, I think that that’s an important lesson to learn. I have seen many people start relationships for no other reason than that they want to be with someone. I have seen many people stay with people who treated them poorly, only because they were afraid to be single. And I don’t want to pass any judgement on people who have done this; I completely understand the fear of being left alone. And, more than that, every experience, whether it be remaining single or choosing a mediocre relationship, comes with its life lessons. But, that being said, once we have learned that we don’t require a relationship in order to be worthwhile and happy, then we realize that we don’t have to settle for a relationship that isn’t constructive to our lives. We don’t have to stay with people we aren’t interested in or who treat us poorly, because there’s nothing wrong with being single.

And, really, what’s wrong with our own company? We should be able to love ourselves, to respect ourselves, to treat ourselves, whatever that might mean, because we are beautiful and we are important. We deserve relationships that are going to make us happy, that are going to support us and build us up. Not relationships that hold us down, or that we only choose because we think we have no other choice.

End of day, people who have been single for a long time are not difficult to love. People who have been single for a long time have simply learned that they deserve a certain kind of love – a constructive kind of love. We won’t settle for any old kind of love; we won’t settle for something mediocre, something destructive, something unnecessary. We won’t settle, because we know we have options – whether that be the option of another lover, someone who will deliver more to the relationship, or, quite simply, the option of our own company.

No love is perfect, of course, but love is intended to better our lives. Love is meant to build us up, to help us grow, to make us see new things and new experiences. And if it doesn’t do that, then we just don’t need it. We already have the love of our friends, the love of our passions, and, more importantly, the love of ourselves.