You Cannot Change People

They say that people can’t change, but I disagree. People change all the time.

People grow and develop. People learn new things and change their minds and take on new and better habits. People apologize for their own wrong-doings and try to make amends. People change their entire lives and use their mistakes to help other people going through the same thing.

Change isn’t just possible; it’s common. It’s a daily occurrence that comes for us multiple times in our lives.

But what isn’t always possible is changing someone else.

Sometimes, the people we care about don’t want to change. Maybe you see something wrong with them, but they don’t. Maybe you want them to become a more outdoors-y type person, but they’re perfectly satisfied staying indoors – in fact, they might even prefer it. You might be succeeding only in making them uncomfortable by encouraging them to do otherwise. Maybe you disapprove of a specific habit of theirs, but they see absolutely nothing wrong with it, and don’t understand why you’re trying to take it away from them.

Sometimes, when we try to make people change when they don’t want to, all we do is create a strain. We make them want to do the forbidden thing even more, directly because it is forbidden. Sometimes, when we try to make people change when they don’t want to, all that we are really doing is getting mad at them for being who they are. And from time to time, we seem to take this opinion that, especially if we’re in a romantic relationship with someone, we should come before everything else in their lives, but that just isn’t the case. I’m not saying that our loved ones shouldn’t value us highly, but it is important that they value themselves, their personalities, their likes and dislikes and the way they were made.

And it’s important for us to value all of that too. Maybe not like it; no one is going to like absolutely every tiny little aspect about someone, but so long as what they are doing does not hurt or disrespect anyone, then all that making a big deal out of it does is hurt and disrespect who they are as a person.

And no one should have to shave off important parts of themselves in order to be with someone they love.

And if what they are doing is hurting or disrespecting someone, and you want to stop them from doing that because you truly do love the better sides of them… you still might be disappointed. Like I said, people can change, but you can’t necessarily change someone.

If they are going to change, then that change needs to come from them. This is true of small changes, like encouraging someone to go to the gym once in a while, and this is true of larger changes, like dissuading someone from engaging in behaviour that is bullying or abusive. You can try to help them out, you can try to be there for them, but if you choose to do that, then you need to remember who they are, and that they aren’t going to change unless they make the decision to do so. And they might never make the decision to do so.

And if you don’t think that you can handle that, then it’s okay to decide that you can’t have that person in your life anymore. It’s okay to value your own well-being.

Because change comes from within. You cannot enforce it on someone else. And if you choose to try, you run the risk of pushing them away or forcing them to give up pieces of themselves. So end of day, you can choose between two options: you can love them for who they are, flaws and all, or you can decide that they do you more harm than good and leave them. There is no shame in either choice, but you need to make the one that you can live with end of day.

 

Advertisements

Why “My Girl/Boyfriend Won’t Let Me” is Problematic

In many relationships, two things tend to happen: 1) you will change over the course of the relationship, and 2) you will find that you need to respect the opinion of your partner. This is just the nature of life in partnerships, and I am not going to argue that either of these things are a bad thing. Really, they don’t have to be. Change can very well be a good thing, it can be a sign of growth and development, while respect is absolutely necessary in creating a happy and harmonious social environment.

But that being said, I do have a growing pet peeve when it comes to relationships that involves both of these things.

These pet peeves show up most often in the form of little comments, things like: “I wish I could change my hair, but my boyfriend won’t let me”, or “I can’t go out tonight, my boyfriend won’t let me”, or “I don’t really hang out with that person anymore, my boyfriend doesn’t like them”. These sorts of comments usually earn from me one of two responses, either “dump him” or “he’s your boyfriend, not your father”, but to be honest, these comments trouble me a bit more than I tend to let on. Not because I think of it as a sign that the relationship is abusive or that either party in this relationship are inherently bad people or anything like that, but it does reflect an attitude that I find somewhat troubling: this idea that one partner in a relationship can and should control the other.

And although I focused primarily on women in the given examples, this can happen to men as well. And I’m sure that this happens in many different ways, taking several different forms depending on who is involved, but the way that we tend to think about most often, stereotypically speaking, is an intentional attempt from the female partner to ‘change him’ – to make him spend less time playing Dungeons and Dragons with his buddies and more time being suave and cool or whatever it is that she intends for him to do now. I can’t personally speak to how accurate this stereotype is, but I’m sure it does happen. I think we’ve all heard the tropes that when it comes to women, they ‘like a project’, they want a ‘fixer-upper’.

And, personally, I take issue with this idea for two reasons: 1) maybe he liked playing Dungeons and Dragons with his buddies. Maybe that made him happy, and yes, you also make him happy, but differently. You aren’t his entire source of joy in this life, and you aren’t making him a better man by taking the other sources away from him. And 2) chances are, you entered into this relationship knowing who he was; shouldn’t you love him for who he is? I mean, yes, we are all flawed, and he might have some habits and hobbies that are kind of annoying, but asking him to stop doing something that he enjoys is entirely different from asking him to pick up his dirty socks off the floor; one matters to him and the other doesn’t. You don’t have to join him in the hobby; you don’t have to understand it; you just need to respect that it matters to him.

But let’s get back to the little comments that I’ve heard women make about what their boyfriends will and will not let them do. Because while these two examples are similar, both of them getting back to this issue of control, they are also very different. The latter example that I gave about one partner intentionally changing the way that the other lives is very overt, and it does require a bit of consent on the changed partner’s part – how rational and well-informed that consent may be is another matter, as they might be agreeing to go along with everything just because they’re so in love at the moment, but nonetheless, consent must be given to make this very obvious, blatant change. The first example is much more subtle.

The first example is limiting what the other partner can and can’t do in small ways, ways that can easily be ignored or brushed off at first, but that build up over time – making them ask for permission instead of an opinion.

And don’t get me wrong, it is perfectly fine to consult with your partner about making plans or changing your style or hanging out with a specific person. You can ask them if they had any plans, what their opinion is, etc., but at the end of the day, the decision should always be yours. This is your life, your body, your friends – you have the ultimate say in what happens with all of it. And if your partner is actually getting outright angry with you because you have respectfully made plans with someone else or because you got a haircut, then that is a totally separate problem and it isn’t fair to you.

The reason why this is such a pet peeve of mine is because, in relationships, the issue of control seems to come up often, but I am personally of the belief that neither party should be in control of the other. Too often, we romanticize this idea that every couple is two halves of a whole that is only completed when they’re together, but this isn’t true. Every single couple in this world is made up of two completed, totally whole individuals who are just trying to make all their quirks and weirdness mesh well together, and both parties in the relationship should be treated as though they are both whole, both capable of making decisions for themselves.

You do not need your partner to make decisions for you. You should not let them make the decisions for your own life. Because you are a partnership; you need to work together. You need to respect one another, and part of that respect comes from respecting who they are as a person and the fact that they are fully capable of taking care of themselves. And while you’re together, you very well might change, but your partner should not be the one in control of that change.