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“The only time you can change a man is when he is in diapers.”
That has always been one of my favorite phrases. It is one that I shared with my former long-term boyfriend’s mother when she expressed her dismay in him. He was who he was, and we either had to love him or leave him—it was her job to love him, and unfortunately, it was my job to leave him.
But it wasn’t due to a lack of desire or what finally seemed to be exhaustive and endless effort. It wasn’t without addressing the issues and tireless attempts to find some middle ground from where we could stand, build, and flourish within our relationship. There were some outstanding qualities in the man, though he wasn’t really a nice person.
It is only in hindsight that I realized that I was attracted and attached to those good qualities—blinded by them. There were so many times I shook my head at how he treated others (especially his mother), and I knew in my heart that, eventually, he would treat me the same way. And he did, as short-lived as it was.
In a way that only time and deep reflection can shed light upon, I think that I was unconsciously trying to change him—but I didn’t see it that way.
When we met, he could not have been more attentive and interested in who I was as a person. I was honest about who I am and where I stood when embarking on the relationship. I addressed communication styles and relational habits that were not a fit, and he seemed to make every effort to work with me on that.
His work always came first, which I was in full support of, as I myself was a recovering workaholic. Our weekend away plans were always thwarted by something he had to do first, leaving us with 24 hours (if we were lucky) unless the time away somehow benefited him and involved something he needed to do. So eventually, I let those go.
With seven days in the week, suddenly that day was the only one to get something done. It was an uphill climb from day one. However, we always seemed to work through it and come out stronger. We took two breaks, and he came back after each one, not wanting to live without me and wanting to find a way—any way—to work it out. And my heart melted, my love grew stronger, and I’d be swept away—again.
Then years passed and, in what seemed like record time, we unraveled. I’d slowly and painfully realize that his coming back was on his terms; somehow, he was highly skilled and coy at manipulating me to get what he wanted. And I was continuously left feeling like it was me; I needed too much or cared too much. Maybe I was too sensitive? But I knew deep inside that it wasn’t the case. So the frustration grew, the hurt started building walls, and my pressure level reached its limit.
I fell for the sales pitch, and I was stuck in an emotionally unhealthy, cyclical struggle. I wasn’t asking him to be someone he wasn’t; I was asking him to be who he was.
He changed, and I felt it deep inside long before I was truly ready to acknowledge it. Then I doubted it all because of my own romantic history. Was he ever being honest with me? Was he just acting? Did he have good intentions at the start? Did he love me the best he could, and then it got old (which seemed to be his pattern for everything in life)?
Then this happened:
I was upset about his reaction to something I shared one day, and he said, “Maybe I’m not who you need me to be.”
I vehemently disagreed, but maybe I should have processed that statement as “I’m annoyed; I’m done; I’m done trying; I’m done putting on this face; I’m done with you.”
But I didn’t. My response may have been filled with denial; however, I truly thought it was a ridiculous statement. Of course, he was who I needed; otherwise, why would I still have been with him?
And within that question, my personal quest began.
Why was I still with him? Was I seeing the relationship with blinders on, clinging to the good times, the special moments, and the reminders of his potential? After all, I knew that man once, and I only wanted him back.
Did he make me smile? Laugh? Happy? Was he my best friend, the person I could depend on when life got rough? Did he share my passion for life and humor? Was he the person I could call in the middle of the night if my world was falling apart? Could he lift my spirits when everything was working against me? Because that is what I gave of myself and showed him to be true.
I recalled the exact morning when I told him that he took happiness, smashed it on the sidewalk, and watched it crack. He enjoyed misery; he liked stirring the pot to start trouble and blamed others for his woes.
And at that moment, I let his mood ruin my day. I own that decision, but it was also what made me take a good look at who he was, what I needed, and think long and hard about our relationship’s actuality.
It was time to let go; it was time to take that risk. I knew that when I laid out what I was feeling and how frustrated I was, we would be over. My gut told me that he was no longer all-in, despite him telling me the week before that he couldn’t imagine his life without me.
The contradictory words and actions, ups and downs, were making me crazy and not what any healthy relationship should endure. I’d been fighting for us for so long. But I was also prepared to be alone again and face the grieving, which I knew would ensue no matter how sure I was that leaving was the best thing for myself—for my health and well-being.
So I did. And he hasn’t looked back.
I wondered: was I unconsciously trying to change him?
I hadn’t thought so, but in reality, I was because he wasn’t honest with me or true to who he was for a long time.
Or maybe he doesn’t know who he is. Maybe he was someone else, but I didn’t know it—maybe he didn’t either.
Or maybe it was all an act?
Maybe he does this regularly, and I was just fooled—again. And when he tired of being whoever that was, he was not the man for me; the man who would be with me for the long haul.
He was not the man who would be by my side or support me in the same way that I supported him. And I kept trying to make him into that person, not knowing that he couldn’t be anything but who he really was.
And that is the man everyone else knew; that is the one I couldn’t continue on with.
I’m not mad or outraged; I’m hurt.
I’m not mad for all the love I gave so freely without being loved back in the way that I need.
I am disappointed in myself for not paying attention to the red flags.
I am disappointed in myself for allowing his inconsistencies and contradictions to mess with my mind and provoke self-doubt when it was so obvious.
I am disappointed in myself for not trusting my gut when it has never led me wrong.
But I forgive me, just as I forgive him.
So how can you know the signs?
1. He says what he means and means what he says.
You can believe in what he says through his actions and follow-through. If he’s inconsistent or contradictory in what he says and does, consider running. If he tells you something, then later insists he didn’t say it or accuses you of misinterpreting what he meant, consider running.
2. He thinks he wants to explore a future with you.
If he wants to explore a future with you, that’s honest. Neither of you knows what the future will hold, but you realize that you may want it to hold each other. Trust is earned, and time reveals. If he is looking to move in together or get married in the first months and then flips and talks about his future in solo-tense, consider running. If he rushes you into making immediate fixed decisions, consider running.
3. He mistreats others.
If he is nasty to his mother (no matter how he says he feels about her), and he is unpleasant to family, friends, or strangers, considering running. No matter how nice he is to you at the start, eventually, you will be treated the same way.
4. He has impulsive needs and wants.
If he insists on having everything immediately, then gets bored with it, consider running. He may not have the maturity to think things through or make responsible long-term decisions. No matter how infatuated he is with you, eventually, you’ll realize that he had to have you. Now that he does, you’ll be tossed aside for any new, bright, shiny thing.
5. He thinks the world (and everyone in it) owes him.
If he has a sense of entitlement, never sees himself as doing any wrong, and thinks no one can do something as well as him, consider running. His ego may be overinflated; he may have a skewed view of himself. Eventually, you’ll be the source of his problems, too.
6. He is constantly negative.
If he never sees the sun through the rain and finds fault with everything around him, consider running. As the saying goes, “A negative person sees a problem to every solution.” And one day, you’ll be just another source of their problems, no matter how much you gave, how much you loved, or how hard you tried.
We don’t choose who we fall in love with, but we can choose who we stay involved with.