I’ve been asking myself this question for days. Should you change yourself for someone you love? What if you agree that the change is for the better?
I believe that small changes can yield big payoffs. I’m also convinced that we are the only ones who can change ourselves. Naturally, life takes its turn at forcing change: unexpected joys encourage us to expand, while losses may cause some to shut down, others to shift priorities, and many, eventually, to grow stronger.
But what about change at the request of someone else?
What about change because you think it will increase your options to find a “someone else?”
Changing to Find a Man?
Who hasn’t tinkered with the truth in online dating, setting up a profile presenting your best possible self? Meanwhile, you work to lose those excess pounds while exchanging emails. And you think, at least for now, no harm no foul. But even if you accomplish the change (for the guy who wants “skinny”), prevailing wisdom tells us that changes made for others will not last.
Fundamental changes in attitude, beliefs, and behaviors not only require time, but a genuine desire for the change… for yourself.
I would say the same is true for externals including weight, speech, gestures, and even style. Maintaining a certain body type is the most challenging (for many of us), though we might say the same for retraining ourselves in terms of body language and even wardrobe.
So what about women who shape their identities, their activities, even their facial features and bodies around what they think a man prefers?
Adapting and improving is one thing. Overhauling because you think it makes you more socially marketable? Shape-shifting for every relationship?
I suggest you think again.
Should You Lose Weight to Get (Keep) a Man?
I must have spent 20 years of my life persuaded that if only I could lose 10 to 15 pounds, I could “get” a man… or keep him.
I look back now and realize I tortured myself for nothing. Like so many women, yo-yo diets, especially between the ages of 15 and 35, trapped me in a mess of my own making. I’d lose 10 pounds then put on 20, lose 15 and put back 20 again. This went on for years, and body image battles were my constant companion.
In my marriage, after giving birth to two babies only a year apart, I couldn’t seem to shed the excess. I tried repeatedly (and failed), I blamed myself (who else was there?), and I never thought to consider the impacts of stress, an average of four hours of sleep a night, and what I now see as psychological padding against pain that I wasn’t ready to face.
Would my ex-husband have loved me if I had been thinner? Would he in turn have changed in ways I hoped, spending more time and energy on family?
I’m now certain the answer to my questions is no. And I did indeed lose weight when it was all about me, the result of which was seeing myself and the marriage more clearly.
“If He Loved Me, He Would Change…”
I am currently in transition in terms of living arrangements, shifting from partial cohabitation to, shall we say, a more full-time situation. But I have lived on my own (or alone with my children) for most of my life. I run the household, I like what I like, and I require a certain environment in order to do my job.
I need solitude and quiet (to think, work, and write). I like small meals that I prepare quickly. I like my mugs and spices on a specific shelf. These issues are related: I’m always concerned with time, my memory is visual, and these aspects of daily life allow me to function efficiently.
My guy, however, is gregarious. He adores rock music in the background and he’s fond of four-course dinners that last two hours (which he’s happy to cook). I love everything about him, but… I’m feeling pressed, stressed, searching for coffee cups and mostly… I’m craving silence.
How much must I change? How much must he?
Naturally, we are discussing these subjects and trying to be tolerant as we adjust. Still, the thought of “if he loved me, he would change” has never crossed my mind. I repeat: I do not base an assessment of his love on his ability to change. Nor does he, on mine.
How to Get Someone to Change for Their Own Good
Granted, none of what I’ve mentioned is life-altering. On the other hand, I would like him to drink less coffee and reduce his cholesterol so he will be around for many years to come. Each time I raise these issues, he deflects and continues with his current (high) levels of consumption.
On his part, he’d be happy to see me far less stressed. He tells me to sleep more (as if it were so easy) and work less (an ongoing dilemma). Yet these aren’t purely behavioral changes. Realistically – the nature, difficulty, and circumstances surrounding the change you request must factor into expectations. Moreover, the other person must perceive the change as both viable and a priority.
That said, how can we encourage another person to change for the better? In my experience:
- nagging does not help;
- expressing caring feelings does;
- chiding or punishing is pointless;
- positive reinforcement (including praise) works wonders;
- patience and understanding are a must.
Change is Hard: Adaptability, Flexibility, and Resilience
The extent to which any of us can “tweak” who we are for someone else is a function of our capacity for change, period. After all, what is familiar is “known” and we may be fearful when we bite off too ambitious or uncomfortable a modification of the usual. A willingness to tinker with ourselves and our lifestyle is also a matter of our past success with change.
Some of us are more adaptable by nature – we’ve moved around, we’ve confronted obstacles, we’ve devised problem-solving techniques that reduce the unsettling aspects of change and help us focus on the positives ahead.
We see that the more we change, the more we are capable of change. In other words, practice makes perfect.
Some of us are inherently more flexible – less picky about our surroundings, routines, and schedules as a matter of nature or experience. Maybe we can eat anything (and feel great), fall asleep anywhere (and wake refreshed), and these abilities ease adapting to new locations and activities. Also on the flexibility score, constraints cannot be ignored as a factor. For example, when children depend on you, or if money is scarce, flexibility may be less of an option.
Resilience is a topic that deserves its own book! What makes some of us more able to bounce back from heartache, disappointment, or disruption?
I can only return to the concept of our record of successful change. The more positive change we manage, the more confident we are that we can achieve it again.
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