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People Can and Do Change But Not Just Because You Want Them To

·750 words·4 mins

“People don’t change,” he says.

And I can tell he thinks he’s absolutely right by the way he says it. But that’s the funny thing about confidence: It doesn’t always equate to accuracy or skill ( in fact, there’s research that suggests that confident people are less skilled, and more highly skilled folks are plagued by doubt).

But you’d have a hard time telling him that. He knows he’s right.

The trouble is that I’ve known plenty of people who changed over the years. Sometimes for the better, yes. But also for the worse. And plenty of times they changed from one neutral state to another.

And like anyone else, I’ve had multiple times where I myself changed and someone else changed, too — and the nature of our relationship changed as a result. Sometimes this meant I became closer to someone I’d never really vibed with before. Other times it meant I drifted apart from folks who were extremely close to me.

And that second case was always hard. Painful. And therefore memorable.

You Can’t Just Pick Someone and Change Them Into Your Ideal Partner Though

“The way to be happy,” she says, “is to pick a man and change him.”

I cringe reflexively.

“Seriously,” she insists. “Every guy’s a fixer upper. A dream guy waiting to happen. You just have to have the right mindset.”

“Which is?” I ask.

“Imagination,” she says. “Not only to see what’s possible but also to know how you should… get him to do what needs to be done.”

“Manipulation?” I ask.

“That’s a nasty way of saying it,” she says. For a moment, I think we’re going to get into a tiff over it. But she only stops for a beat and continues sharing her latest conquest. The whole time she frames him as a fixer upper. Using a lot of the same vocabulary, even.

Like my other friend, she’s confident that she’s right. That this is the way to go about things.

Her confidence is interesting to me, however, because she doesn’t actually have a lot of relationship experience. She does date now and again. But she never seems happy for more than a few brief moments. Very little lasts. And when she is in a relationship, she’s constantly frustrated with whatever guy she’s seeing. Because he’s not quit lining up with her ideal image of how he should be. How he should change.

She’s focused so much on changing her partners that she never really gets to appreciate them for the way they are.

And it also doesn’t seem like she’s having much success trying to change them either.

But that confidence is there again.

People Can and Do Change But Not Just Because You Want Them To

I think the truth of the matter is likely somewhere in the middle.

There’s no denying the reality that people can and do change. However, they don’t always change the way that we’d like them to change. And someone doesn’t change just because we want them to. Sometimes they don’t even change when _they _want to change (due to willpower, competing desires/interests, lack of resources, inability to delay gratification, etc.).

We don’t get to control how other people change. The best we can do is influence them. And how much we can influence them depends on a variety of factors including (but not limited to) their personality, the nature of our relationship with them (and how much/how little they care about our approval/disapproval), situational factors, etc.

But no. We don’t get control over how other people change.

What we _do _get control over is how we respond to how much they change (or don’t) and in what ways. Whether we stay in a relationship, change the nature of that relationship, consciously change in some other way ourselves, or leave.

Sometimes this translates into some truly painful reality. At times I wish I subscribed to either the “people don’t change” camp or “anyone can be transformed easily” camp. Because both seem more clean, more comforting in a way than acknowledging it’s somewhere in the middle. (Declaring that people can’t change has obvious negative implications in this case but also has a positive upside; it shields us from the fear that people we have good rapport with will change in a negative way.)

But I don’t. I’ve had to accept that people can and do change but not just because I want them to. And everything that means — and doesn’t mean.


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