People tweet it, text it and say it to each other over coffee-house tables. They post it in bold script in pithy little e-cards on Facebook, decorated with line-drawings of frustrated 50’s housewives. Celebrities say it in interviews on late-night talk shows while we watch in bed, nodding and telling ourselves: “What great wisdom Theater majors have.” You hear it in songs and read it in books. It’s written as dialogue in movies and plays.
It seems a harmless couple of phrases, and at first glance, full of veracity: “Don’t change for anyone. You be who you are.” It reminds one of grade school and how young teenage girls would write in each others' year books in pink, permanent marker: 2 Good 2B 4gotten. Don’t ever change! XXXOOO
Can you imagine how horrifying that would be? To wander through life with the emotional and intellectual maturity of a frustrated 8th grader who’s most desperate need is to be accepted by other frustrated and insecure 8th graders?
Still, adolescents aren’t the only ones to say it. We hear it all the time as adults from parents, from friends, from “experts” on talk shows. “Don’t change for anyone,” They say. “You be yourself!”
And just which “self” are we supposed to hold to so uncompromisingly? The self we are at work? The self we area around our parents? The self we are at home while we’re warming up a family-sized frozen lasagna for one? Or while we’re being a parent? Or is it the self we are when we’re out partying with our friends? Is it the self who sits alone on a Tuesday night reading a book? The self who wants blood when our favorite hockey team is losing? Is it the self we are when we’re jerking off to our darkest fantasies (Don’t deny it—you know you’ve got a dark side.) Or is it the self we are when we’re standing on Sacred Ground and we feel closest to that bolt of Divinity that zings through all of this chaos and tells our heart that there is some kind of Holy Order to all this mess?
Which of these "selves" are we supposed to cling so firmly to when we’re in a relationship and not give up for the sake of another? Humans are constantly changing. There is no such thing as consistency even though we lie and tell ourselves there is. If there was we wouldn’t develop gray hair and wrinkles, wouldn’t end up buried in six feet of dirt like every human who ever came before us. And why shouldn’t we change? Why is change so bad? And why are people so keen on telling everyone else to be inflexible and immovable in their relationships?
“Don’t change,” they say. Subtext: “Let your lover bend to your will, your needs, your caprices.”
What sort of person refuses to change when they’re in a relationship? The person who is either going to end up leaving that relationship or be destroyed by it. People who can change are the people who can adapt and find happiness in any situation. The also have what it takes to grow with someone else. The people who can’t are put on medication to make sure they can stay one mood all the time in all situations.
Have you ever taken a walk in nature and seen what happens to areas that do not change? They fester. Water becomes stagnant. Blood drinkers appear: mosquitoes, ticks, and other nasty biters. Animals get sick and die because their food and drink gets poisoned. Carrion eaters show up. The place smells foul, of death. Things rot. It’s only when floods or rain showers come in and wash all that rot away that healthy things can begin to grow again in such spaces. What makes humans believe they are so far removed from nature? Everything in nature is meant to change. EVERYTHING.
People who refuse to change in their relationships, because of their relationships or in relation to others end up like these static places. If you get into a relationship you should change. You will change. If you don’t, you’re not in a relationship: you’re inflexibly inflicting your damage on someone else. Relationships—real relationships anyway—should help us to become better. To grow and be more than we could be on our own. They should unlock potentials in us that would otherwise remain inaccessible. Relationships should show us contrast because it’s through contrast we learn very valuable things.
We get into relationships to begin with because we feel an absence of something. If we didn’t we wouldn’t need to have lovers. Every one of us falls in love because we want someone else to accept us, cherish us and act as a mirror of who we are. Relationships should help us to become aware of something bigger than just ourselves. If they don’t they aren’t relationships. They are self-centered indulgences.
The current trend of encouraging people to be inflexible in their relationships and consider only their own needs is the very sort of advice that’s leading to such a high break up rate. The fact is: if we never change, never grow, we might as well walk around scribbling adolescent wisdom into each others’ yearbooks: ”I like you as you are. So, don’t you ever grow or be different than you are at this moment. Because that makes me uncomfortable.”
Which, if you think about it, is really the gist of it.
So, love. Grow. Change. Get messy and see what the hell this thing really is we call life. Become bigger and better then you ever could on your own. Watch what kind of power unity with another can give you. See what else you can become. Otherwise, what’s the point?