The sagest advice my father ever gave me in dealing with people is that “You cannot change someone.”
It sounds weird that a father would have to tell his child this, but if you’re a father (or mother), it’s almost irresponsible not to tell your daughter she is not capable of making another person change. This is important as it will save her a lot of grief in life since society is pretty hell-bent on romanticizing the notion that a good, virtuous, loving, or kind woman can “change” beasts into beauties.
Our society tells little girls to dream of landing that “fixer-upper” who will finally be all hers.
(It’s pretty different from the narrative guys get of getting the trophy – the already perfected woman – as a reward for being awesome. There is no assembly required for this woman.)
I see it play out over and over and over again with women. Women who meet a guy, know he isn’t quite right or even realize up front there is no future in the relationship – but by virtue of proximity, sexual contact, and time – convince themselves this guy is “the one” and he’s going to put a ring on it. There seems to be this desperation for just a dude who can fill out the suit and role and we’ll work on the details later. That a man can be made into husband material, possibly, if you just love him enough.
Of course, that doesn’t always quite pan out, as evidenced by how moving in with your boyfriend typically doesn’t end in long-term commitment. And everyone has that horror story of the friend-of-a-friend who was with some guy for six years, wanted to get married, but they finally broke up and he got engaged six months later to someone else. Nobody wants to be that woman.
Yet, so many volunteer for that opportunity when they find half a guy and get busy on making him “whole,” whether he wants to be whole or not.
The belief in the fixer-upper can be attributed to our popular culture and fairy tales – the worst offender being “Beauty and the Beast,” where a guy basically harasses, imprisons, and terrifies a woman, but because she’s so pretty and nice he decides to stop being an abusive dick and becomes the handsome prince of her dreams. Other offenders include the “Twilight” saga, “Jason’s Lyric,” “Mo’ Betta Blues,” almost every romantic comedy ever made (especially all ones starring Katherine Heigl), and the original stage play version of Tyler Perry’s “Diary of A Mad Black Woman,” where the main character actually takes her horrible husband back instead of acting out the final scene in “An Officer and A Gentleman” with a braided, be-wigged Shemar Moore.
All of this is a way to say he’s not so bad. You can change him, girl. Thus, sending you off on some quixotic quest to turn gang bangers into distinguished gentlemen. So many girls search for a thug with a heart of gold when most thugs only have a heart of thuggery.
The worst part of this is that it reinforces the belief that “men will be men,” and that the onus is on women to adjust, correct, or fix the bad behavior instead of society’s jerks taking some kind of personal responsibility for being horrible time wasters.
Men, although seemingly less interested in “fixer-uppers,” are not immune to this kind of emotional time waster.
While I’ve dated and befriended my fair share of guys who wanted female perfection even if they were slightly damaged themselves, Pygmalion complexes are real. (That’s when a dude thinks he “made” you, therefore you should love him forever, even if he’s gross. Think of music mogul Tommy Mottola and his ex-wife Mariah Carey.) There have been countless guys who thought through their money and connections they could take a hot but uncouth chick and pull an Eliza Doolittle. They dream of being able to simply My-Fair-Lady the crap out of the sort of girl who says “irregardless” and likes shopping at Walmart. Thinking you can take a random girl out of Houston’s Fifth Ward and turn her into Beyoncé by the power of your own sheer determination and guidance.
It’s channeling Robert De Niro’s character from “Casino” in regard to turning an enterprising good-time-girl played by Sharon Stone into a loving wife: “I can change her.”
No one can change unless they want to change. No one can take your help, guidance, or love unless they want to receive it. Even if on your end it makes perfect sense. Even if you could, in effect, act out the last part of the film “Mo’ Betta Blues” and save Denzel Washington’s life. Because reality is not a film where deep down someone is good and that is enough to make it work. Good is never enough. It’s about compatibility. It’s about being able to accept someone – good and bad, flaws and all – and then treating them accordingly. It’s about being honest in who we love and how we love them.
Saying I love you, but change isn’t honest. It’s a bad investment. And with the wrong person, someone with malicious intent, it could easily become a Ponzi scheme.
You can love someone. But that love won’t always be right.