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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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.

Romantic Love is Not The Most Important Love

We as a society are positively in love with love.

We have love stories. We have rom-coms and romances and Harlequins and YA-novel love triangles. We have countless songs telling us that “all you need is love” and “I was made for loving you, baby“. We maintain Pinterest boards, planning out our dream wedding for that day when we finally find the right person. We have this idea in our society that we are not complete human beings, that we need someone else to complete us, to make us whole. And once we find that other half, then everything will come together and we’ll live happily ever after.

Our obsession with love is an oddly limited sort of obsession. We do not care all that much for a very sort of love felt toward all man-kind; some find that admirable, sure, but if the amount of violent video games and movies where the heroes preach shooting first and asking questions later is any indication, then this sort of love is too often forgotten about. We do not show the same level of obsession toward platonic love between friends or siblings or family members; we like it sometimes, sure, but it isn’t quite represented as the same.

No, our specific breed of obsession is toward romantic love.

And this can be somewhat alienating to people who have no interest in romantic or sexual love, people who identify as asexual or aromantic. But even if you do not identify with either terms, this obsession can be somewhat harmful.

This obsession might make you feel like you need to be in a relationship, no matter who it’s with. Because you find your value by attaching yourself to another person, any person, and it’s better to settle than be alone.

Except it isn’t.

This obsession might lead you toward feelings of depression and loneliness when you’re single, feelings of being not good enough, of being unloveable, just because you aren’t currently involved with someone.

But that isn’t true.

This obsession might force you to make sacrifices that you wouldn’t otherwise make, because you’ve been told by everyone and everything – by your friends, your family, your movies, your magazines, your songs, your self-help book – that love is the most important thing in this world, and nothing else can possibly compare.

But there are more important things.

Like, say, your happiness.

I won’t deny that romantic love can be very fulfilling, as well as a great source of happiness. But, despite our society’s obsession with it, it isn’t really the most important type of love out there.

After all, self-love is more important.

It is more important for you to find completeness within yourself than within another person. It is more important for you to value yourself than your relationship.

Because, end of day, people leave. Circumstances change. The world turns, and things don’t always turn out for the best, but ideally speaking, you should always be able to depend on yourself.

Self-love is what will make you realize that you deserve better than to settle for a relationship that doesn’t make you happy.

Self-love is what will make you realize that your comfort matters, that your dreams and desires and wishes, they matter just as much as anyone else’s.

Self-love is what will make you realize that, even if you aren’t in a relationship right now, that doesn’t mean that you are unloveable.

So maybe all we need is love, but it isn’t always romantic love. Sometimes, the only sort of love we really need is to look at the mirror and to realize that the person looking back at us is strong, capable, resilient, and worthwhile. That that person is loveable, even if, right now, that love doesn’t come in the form of a lover.

Porcelain Tales: the Lady

In my house, there is a collection of porcelain dolls that have been painted to appear grotesque, terrifying, or simply creepy. The following stories are inspired by each of these dolls.

 

I met my beloved only three years before the huntings began.

His name was Nikolas, and I knew he was extraordinary from the moment I first laid eyes on him. He was a poor man – a beggar, really, dressed in rags and dirt, thin from hunger ragged from misuse, but even still, he was beautiful. I watched him from afar for many nights before I approached him, wanting to understand him better but afraid of what he would think if he saw me. He was a good man, after all, a godly man, and I was little more than a creature, my true nature hidden beneath dresses and servants and extravagance. We were one in the same, really: both of us false surfaces, concealing something underneath.

I didn’t want to approach him, didn’t want him to see me for what I was, but there was one night where I had little choice. He was on the streets later than usual that night, begging for anything the men on the street could spare, and three men staggering back from the pubs could spare nothing save for a sneer and a cruel word in his direction. They dragged him back into a dark alley then and began to beat him. I tried to ignore it, tried to tell myself that this was the way of humans, and that it was not my place to intervene. But I just couldn’t convince myself of that, not when the beautiful face that I had become so accustomed to watching was being disfigured by their blows.

The men laughed at me when they saw me approach, just as I knew they would. Men love to laugh at any woman who thinks she can compare to them. But one look at my true face, and they ran off, crossing themselves and crying out, “demon! Demon!” as they went. I could have killed them. Many in my situation would have. But I wouldn’t, not then. I was a godly woman, after all, and more than anything, I feared proving those men right.

Nikolas was hardly conscious when he first saw me. He was babbling, raving, muttering something about a “beautiful angel” who had “saved him”. I knew, from the look of his injuries and the sound of his heart, that he was close to a mortal death. I tried to convince myself that that was alright, natural even. It was God’s will, and my very existence already spat in His face – I should not dishonour Him anymore by interfering now. But he was my Nikolas. I had only ever seen him from afar, and already, he was mine, and I couldn’t lose him. And so, as gently as I could, I lifted his broken, beaten body off the ground, whispered soothing promises of relief in his ear, and then I sank my fangs in the soft flesh of his neck and drank down what was left of his blood.

I wouldn’t let the humans bury Nikolas, as they had done to me all those years ago. Instead, I took him back to my manor, and I had my servants prepare for him a coffin of glass and gold. He laid there for seven days, growing in beauty and strength, until he woke from death at last. He was shocked, of course – as much by me as he was by his new life, but all considered, he took to it rather well. Later, he would joke that that was because he was much richer in death than he ever had been in life – and, most certainly, I did take care of him. Anything he wanted, I was keen to provide. Any clothes he asked for, I got him. Any food, any sport, any desire, I fulfilled to the greatest of my ability. There was only one line that I would never permit him to cross, and he abided by it well: never, not once, would he be permitted to kill a human. He could drink from any of the animals in my keep, he could hunt at night in the woods like a beast if it pleased him to do so, but so much as we could not help being creatures, at least we could preserve what little was left of our souls.

It did not take long for Nikolas to fall in love with me as I loved him. At first, it was nothing more than a flirtation, something that made my heart beg for more but made my mind fearful to hope. Over luxurious tables of the finest china, he would call me his “dearest angel”, and I would have blushed if there was blood left in my cheeks, but even still, a small part of me worried that it was not me that he loved, but my riches. It would have been so easy to confuse the two: we both had come into his life at the same time. It was not until the huntings began that he proved otherwise.

The hunters did not come for me immediately. I caught word of them from a visitor, a creature in the shape of a small child who came running through my door and screaming of human terrors, of men who had come into her home at night and had plunged stakes into the hearts of her loved ones. She begged me to take leave of the manor immediately, and I did not take her warning lightly. After all, she was right: I was too public here. When the hunters came near, they would know to go to me immediately. I would need to flee in the night, to go into hiding. I could take none of my riches with me, and none of my faithful servants either. I could take only a horse, what money would fit in my purse, and the outfit that would draw the least attention to myself.

When my mind was made, I took special care to tell Nikolas that he did not need to come with me. He could remain in the manor so long as he knew the risks. I would leave everything to him, and he could live out the remainder of his new life in luxury. Nikolas was quick in his response.

“To hell with luxury!” he said. “I lived a penniless existence alone – I’d be more than happy to do it with you. I’m going with you, my dearest angel, and nothing you can say will stop me.”

Needless to say, I was overjoyed. I threw my arms tight around him, and despite all our fear of what lay ahead, we found solace at least in our first kiss.

We headed out into the world together, me and him, scrounging low to escape the hunters. These things came in waves, I knew, and so Nikolas and I only needed to survive long enough for them to die out or get bored – either would happen soon enough. As it turned out, however, this wave was the longest one yet. For nearly a century, Nikolas and I remained hidden, poor but desperately in love with each other. We eventually caught word of who the leader of this wave of hunters was – a young man who eventually grew old, as humans tend to, and so he passed the legacy down to his son, a strapping boy by the name of Augustine. His men, too, were exchanged throughout the years, the only requirement for the job being an intense hatred of our kind and a desire to do God’s work. That latter fact made me desperately angry, and I cried bitterly to Nikolas about it often.

“They want us dead because they think we’re demons. Monsters. But ever since I awoke in my grave, I have done nothing but strive to keep my soul as pure as possible. Why can’t they see that? Why do they still want us to fear them?”

“Because,” Nikolas said sternly, taking me into his gentle embrace, “they’ve already decided who we are. The truth doesn’t matter when compared to their hatred.”

Still, as poor as we were, as pathetic and fearful as our lives had become, they were still the happiest years of my life, because I had Nikolas. Nothing else mattered when he was by my side. I could overcome any obstacle, heal any hurt done to my heart, because he kept me strong.

We had taken to sleeping in crypts while we were in hiding, sharing the inside of a coffin with a fellow corpse until the setting sun freed us again. I thought we were safe in there, for who would think to disturb the dead? Only a monster would be capable of such a thing.

But, of course, what else would you call a hunter?

I was woken suddenly from my sleep, the coffin’s lid ripped away and my vision filled with men. So many men, standing thickly together, concealing anything else from my view. They grabbed at me with their filthy, hot hands, tried to hold me in place. But from somewhere beyond my reach, I could hear Nikolas screaming, and nothing mattered more than that to me. I fought the men off, holding back only enough to make sure I didn’t kill them. That didn’t stop me from breaking bones, however, and I broke many on my way out of the coffin. On my way to Nikolas.

By the time I laid eyes on him, however, it was already too late.

The stake protruding from his chest looked wrong to me. Not terrifying or life-threatening or anything like that, just wrong, like something that wasn’t supposed to be there. I recognized his screams and I knew he was in pain, but it took me a long time to make the connection that that, the wooden stake, held still by one of the men standing over him, was the cause of it. It wasn’t until my beloved fell limp, and his blank eyes landed finally on me, did I understand what they were doing.

I followed my beloved’s suite. I, too, became limp, falling hard to my knees on the stone floor. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t feel. I could barely even hear, with the exception of the much-too-loud din of the men laughing – the hunters, I knew then. And the one standing before me, the one jerking the wooden stake unceremoniously from my beloved’s chest, that was Augustine. That was the man who had sent us into hiding, who thought of me only as a demon.

“What’s wrong with you?” one of the hunters was yelling at the men who I had maimed on my way out of the coffin. “Kill the bitch already! We got this one, and he was twice her size!”

“You know the strength of these demons has nothing to do with their size – it’s all to do with age. She must be an ancient one, because she hit something fierce!”

“Is that true, you little bitch? Are you an old crone in a maid’s body?”

“This one’s no maid – hasn’t been for some time now, I imagine. Look at her. Wouldn’t leave someone who looked like her virginal for long, would you?”

Augustine was turning toward me, a smile on his cold, hard lips. He had enjoyed it. Sick as he was, he had actually enjoyed putting a stake through my beloved’s heart and ending his life. He had taken pleasure out of making himself more of a monster than Nikolas ever was. Nikolas had never killed anyone. Yes, at least I could find solace in that: Nikolas had died as pure as we creatures could be.

“She doesn’t look all that strong to me,” Augustine said, his voice a deep, self-satisfied growl. “Why, I’d bet she’d let me just walk up and stake her, just like that.”

I watched as he approached me, tossing that stake carelessly between his hands. He moved slowly, languidly, as though he wanted to squeeze every last moment of pleasure out of this act, and I let him. I wanted him to enjoy it. Because that made it all the more satisfying when I shot to my feet and twisted his head clean off his shoulders like a dandelion.

The other hunters screamed. Many of them tried to race for the door where the sunlight would keep them safe, but they were right about me: my years had made me quick and strong, and so I stopped them in their tracks. Not one of them escaped. I tore out their throats with my nails, crashed their heads against the stone walls, ripped into their chest so that I could tear out their hearts and make them feel what I had. It wasn’t long before there was no one left, and I stood in the centre of the bloodbath, heaving in deep breaths that I was only in the habit of taking.

And it was done. It hadn’t made me feel any better, not in the aftermath anyway, but it was done. I felt as though I stood there for a long time, taking in the sight of the carnage around me with something disturbingly similar to indifference. I wish I could say that they didn’t deserve it. I wish that I regretted it. But Nikolas was gone, and there was nothing I could do to bring him back this time.

When I finally did break out of my cold trance, it was to walk to Nikolas’ side. He had been taken out of his coffin, and now lay crumpled against the floor. There was something oddly empty about him now, something that just didn’t feel right.

But of course, I thought as I knelt beside him, bowing low over his corpse so that I could press one last kiss to his cold cheek. It’s his soul; that has left and gone to heaven, I’m sure of it. He was pure. He’s in a better place.

I only wished that I could see him again, but I knew it wouldn’t be so. Even as I pulled myself upright once again, even as I opened the heavy, creaking door of the crypt, even as I stepped out into the burning, life-taking sunlight, I knew that I wasn’t going to the same place as Nikolas.

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