Dating Games: Changing vs. evolving

Growing or aging is done naturally, organically, fluidly… and is completely different from changing. When you evolve, you do it for yourself.

Never Change for a Man  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Never Change for a Man
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"I will never change for a man. If he doesn’t like me for me, it’s his loss.” This was an emotionally charged, hard-headed decree made by a 17- year-old me after some random guy I had been on two dates with had called me to tell me how to dress for our future dates. I subsequently hung up on him and called my girlfriends, baffled. Similar conversations asking me to change – not my clothes but other things about me – played out a couple of times during my dating life since then. My philosophy was simple: if a guy would only be with me on condition that I’d change something about myself to please him, then he didn’t really want to be with me and didn’t appreciate the qualities I was bringing to the table.
A girlfriend of mine, Liat, is pushing 40 and has allowed desperation to get the best of her. Whereas she was once a vivacious, flirty, outgoing gal who everyone wanted to be around, since she met her latest boyfriend her entire demeanor, not to mention her appearance, has changed. He’s a bit conservative and some have even called him controlling. Our fun friend now straightens her famously curly hair, wears slacks and sweaters in place of summer dresses and stands by his side at all times, suppressing her natural urge to socialize. Could this be the evolution of someone going from singleness to coupledom, or has she sacrificed her identity for the sake of a man? Some say that she’s now acting more age-appropriate while others just pray that she’s happy. Her appearance and her clinginess are the least of my worries; I’m afraid that he’s dampened her spirit and that she’s allowed him to. I hope her self-worth and self-identity haven’t disappeared along with it.
Asking someone to change is an interesting concept. No one changes overnight and expecting someone to do so isn’t realistic. A few years ago I had a boyfriend who said he didn’t like my sarcasm and couldn’t be with me if I continued to joke about everything. Even though it was a big part of my personality, I actually considered toning it down for him. The next day, I found myself catching myself before making jokes until I realized the joke was on me. I was faking it. I wasn’t going to change because I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me.
As I dated over the years, I learned a lot about myself as an individual, as a girlfriend and now as a wife. Call it evolving, growing or aging, it is done naturally, organically, fluidly… and is completely different from changing. When you evolve, you do it for yourself – not for someone else. When you grow, you do so because you’ve been working on bettering yourself, for yourself. And we can all only hope that we age well, like wine and cheese, and become better as we get older.
My sarcasm has dissipated on its own as I’ve matured, no thanks to that unforgiving boyfriend whom I told to go fly a kite when he asked me to change. I realized, independently, that making jokes was something I did when I was uncomfortable or insecure. As I’ve aged, I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin – as well as in awkward situations – and am able to handle myself with grace – and without sarcasm. That change occurred before I became someone’s Mrs. but it has been solidified since standing under the huppa.
Regardless of what it is your boyfriend or girlfriend wants you to change, remember that he or she should love you because of those quirks and not in spite of them. If you’re given an ultimatum between changing and breaking up, then maybe you should take the latter offer and save yourself the grief; especially if you’ve only been dating a short time. If this is a long-term relationship or even your fiancé or spouse, then take a step back, take a deep breath and think about what your significant other is really asking. If the motive is pure and he or she is honestly trying to help you become a better person, then think long and hard before making any abrupt decisions. You may find yourself not only being a better girlfriend or boyfriend, but also a better person.
But don’t fake it. Faking a change is always obvious because you’re eventually going to relapse and go back to doing whatever it is you were told wasn’t “good enough.” An adult needs to do major work in order to truly change and a significant other needs to have realistic expectations about how long it takes for someone to change and just how much they will be able to alter themselves. An old dog can learn new tricks but it takes time and patience, which must stem from love and hopefulness. And one should receive a lot of credit for doing that work, even if the end result isn’t perfect.