Friday, March 13, 2015

We shouldn't be expecting anyone to change for our benefit...

A lot of people think all men are jerks...  Indeed, even some men feel this way about themselves and other men.  My time with Bill has taught me that jerks come in all genders, shapes, sizes, colors, and religious stripes.

I used to write a lot more about Bill's divorce and his ex wife than I do now.  I think I've processed a lot of what we've been through together.  My time with Bill has changed me somewhat, though.  In the past, I might have been in the group that thinks that, by and large, males are selfish jerks.  Being with Bill has taught me that I can't always assume that.  I have become very sensitive to the concept of sexism and I realize it's not just a problem that affects women.  Men experience sexism, too, though perhaps not necessarily in the same way women do.

I have gotten quite a few comments on some things I've written about my husband's experiences with divorce and losing his kids.  Many who read my posts assume Bill is an uncaring jerk.  They wonder how in the world he could be a good person and leave his kids to be raised by his ex wife.  Some assume he doesn't care and is more concerned about his paycheck and pursuit of happiness than he is about his daughters.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  On the contrary, Bill has a heart of gold.  He's a good listener.  He's kind and generous to a fault.  Almost anyone who knows him, save for his ex wife and her offspring, would agree.  He's a man with very few enemies.

However, because of the prevailing attitude that all men are automatically selfish, childish assholes, some people assume that he's the one who screwed up his marriage and he's the one solely at fault.  I'd kind of stopped thinking so much about this phenomenon until last night, when I saw the following meme on my Facebook.

How would people react if I posted a meme that reversed the genders...  Maybe I should try it.

I had to speak up because this is exactly the kind of mindset I'm referring to.  This meme assumes that the man always *needs* to change.  It assumes that the man is automatically a lesser being and is motivated to fix himself for his woman because she's somehow intrinsically superior.  Why?  Because she lacks a penis?  Because she is able to give birth?  Because, by and large, women aren't as physically strong as men are?  Men may be physically stronger in many cases, but I have seen plenty of women make up for lack of brute strength by being manipulative and passive aggressive.

Women can be jerks, too.  Sometimes it's the woman who ought to be revising her behavior.  Why do so many assume that the man needs to "change"?  I would think that anyone who truly respects their mate would get involved with them because they love that person for who they already are.

I don't think it's wise to get involved in any relationship with the idea that one's partner is a fixer upper.  For one thing, efforts to fix other people rarely succeed; that's something they have to decide to do for themselves.  For another, it's offensive and insulting to think you have the power to change someone or can even inspire them to change who they are.  What makes you think you're any better than they are?  Going into a relationship thinking that your partner needs fixing and you're the one who's going to do it is foolish and ultimately a huge waste of time.

Expecting your partner to prove his love to you by becoming a "better" person is also a waste of time.  Any man who would decide on his own to change who he is *solely* for his woman's benefit is already way more sensitive and intelligent than the average person, male or female.  It wouldn't spontaneously occur to the vast majority of people that they need to change for the good of their partner, especially if they have character flaws that are so serious that a positive change would be immediately recognizable.  And, even if you are with someone that sensitive and intelligent, chances are good that you're not sensitive or intelligent enough to notice it and offer them appropriate praise or gratitude.

I don't know about you, but I would be very offended if my husband told me "You're a great person, but you'd be even better if you'd lose thirty pounds and stopped laughing so loudly.  And, while you're at it, stop slouching so much.  And get a well-paying job at a bank."  I also wouldn't like it if he silently expected me to do these things and measured my love for him by whether or not I decided to do it on my own.  Frankly, I also think it's pretty arrogant to assume that if I did make those changes, I did it only for my husband because I love him.  If he had that attitude toward me, I'd surely be vexed by it.

If you love and respect someone, you don't try to change them and you don't expect them to change themselves for your benefit.  You have a relationship with them because they've already sold you on the quality of their character.  And you don't assume that the way you think they should be is going to better for them.  If you don't like who they are, you should find someone else to be with.  It's only the respectful and smart thing to do.

Now, when I say this, I don't mean it's wrong for someone to try to have a positive influence on their partner.  For instance, thanks to me, Bill has become much better about using dental floss.  When we met, he neglected to floss regularly.  I pointed out to him that taking a couple of extra minutes each day to floss would improve his dental and overall health, not to mention make him more kissable.  He started flossing and now has much better checkups at the dentist.  Bill has positively influenced me to learn more about the world and to try different foods.  He's made me more interested in travel.  He has also influenced me to have more empathy for men, rather than assuming they're all immature pigs.  He also makes me wear a seatbelt when I'm in the car.

But Bill hasn't asked me to change who I am.  He hasn't told me to learn how to laugh differently or stop being loud and obnoxious.  He doesn't tell me how to wear my hair, how to dress, or to lose weight.  He gives me a reason to look pretty, but I don't feel like I have to look pretty for his benefit.  He loves me for who I am on the inside, not for what I look like or how I spend my time.  He supports me if I choose to make a change, but he doesn't demand or expect that I do so for him.  I hope he wouldn't assume I didn't love him just because I choose to stay the way I am.

I will admit that I have influenced Bill to update his wardrobe, but I encourage him to pick out things he likes, not what I want to see him wear.  And when I buy him clothes, I choose colors and styles that I know suit him.  I would never buy him a pink sweater because I know he wouldn't be comfortable in it and would not want to wear it, even if I (hypothetically) think he'd look fine in it.  So far, he's liked my choices.  I don't tell him he needs to be more outgoing and gregarious and go to med school so I can be a doctor's wife (not that I'd even want that).  He, in turn, doesn't tell me I need to pipe down, be more ladylike, and wear high heels and pearls more often.

I don't think it's wrong to try to influence a person to make positive changes in their lifestyle.  I do think it's wrong to expect a person to be someone they're not.  I am delighted that my husband is who he is.  I'd never want him to change.  I think more people should focus on their own evolution rather than trying to get their partners to change for them or assuming that they will somehow inspire them to change.


  1. I think you nailed it here. If you make a permanent commitment to a person, you have to assume you're getting what you see if you're lucky. (Sometimes people manage to hide certain bad traits until a relationship has been solidified legally or by the introduction of a child into the world.)
    Expecting any major change for the better is not realistic. Maybe you can teach a person to pick up his dirty socks from off the floor, and we all evolve with age, for good and for bad, but assuming a person can "fix" another is very naive.

    1. Yes... and it's also very insulting.


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