Photo Credit: 3 Little Birds Photography
I’ve been in one serious relationship in my life. It lasted nearly 4 years, starting right after I turned 19 and ending right before my 23rd birthday. 4 out of my 24 years I spent with one person. 1/6 of my life so far. So many of my life experiences and my memories are tied to him. And there are definitely a lot of happy memories, with some not so happy ones mixed in.
Our relationship, like any other, wasn’t perfect. I don’t often talk about it in my writing, because I know I can only tell one side of the story and I never, ever want it to seem like I’m bashing my ex or painting him as the bad guy and me as the good guy. Obviously, a relationship is more complicated than that. He made me so happy for a long time and taught me so much about myself and about relationships.
Over the course of four years, we grew separately but together. And we also grew apart. And I can’t speak for him but I have a hunch he might agree with this – we both knew it wasn’t going to work out long-term way before it was actually over. While I believe he’s a wonderful person and I have so, so many happy memories with him, we just weren’t the right people for each other.
I made a lot of mistakes – we both did – but my biggest mistake that led me to the hardest lesson I had to learn was this: I tried so hard to change him into the person I wanted him to be.
I tried to mold him and force him to fit into this box of what I wanted my partner to be like. I nagged about his habits and his job and friends I didn’t like. I got frustrated when he didn’t see things my way and adapt to my style of thinking. At the time, I truly and honestly thought that I was trying to help him become the best version of himself. But in hindsight, its so obvious to me that I was actually trying to help him become the best version of who I wanted him to be, regardless of his passions and his personality and his life goals. I wasn’t supporting him or loving him for who he was. And it wasn’t until we had been broken up for awhile and I was reflecting that I could see just how wrong I had been.
When we first started dating, it was easy to ignore the things I didn’t like. We had so much fun together, and I was feeling all these intense emotions I hadn’t experienced before, and it wasn’t that serious yet. As time went on and we got deeper into it, we moved in together and discussed things like marriage and children, it became harder to ignore the little things. And then they seemed to become big things. I tried for a long time to get him to change and to quit doing the things I didn’t like and be more like the person I wanted him to be. And in some ways, but to a lesser extent, I also tried to change myself to be more like the person he wanted me to be.
I had to learn a tough lesson that you can’t force a person to change, and its wrong to try. And, you can’t change who you are to fit into someone else’s life. It’s been one of the hardest, yet most important lessons of my adult life.
I’m not trying to say that my ex had “bad” qualities or he was a bad partner – I’m just saying that I need different qualities in a life partner. And instead of accepting that he wasn’t the one for me, I hung on for too long and tried too hard to change him, which obviously did not work and ultimately led to our mutual unhappiness.
For someone to change, they have to want to change. It has to come from them. And it can’t be to make another person happy. You can’t pretend to like sports if you really hate them just to impress someone. You can’t pretend to be into running and fitness if you really aren’t just to get someone’s attention. You can’t compromise your beliefs and your visions of your future and your ideal qualities you desire in a partner just to hold on to a relationship that you don’t want to lose.
I’ve seen this play out in other aspects of my life as well. It applies to relationships with family and friends, too – not just romantic relationships. In the past couple of years, I’ve gotten into fitness, healthy eating, and personal development (specifically podcasts and ‘self-help’ type books). This type of stuff really excites me, and sometimes I can get pushy with trying to ‘help’ friends and family. But, I’ve realized that I can’t change people if they don’t want to change. I can’t make someone like lifting if it’s not something they enjoy. I can’t make someone read the awesome book I want them to read if that’s not their cup of tea. I can’t make someone start drinking protein shakes and green smoothies if they don’t like them.
I also can’t change myself or compromise who I am to fit into someone else’s box. I’ve struggled with this over the past year or so of casual dating. I find myself trying to conform to or agree with the opinions of the person I’m on a date with. When I like someone, I think “I wonder what so-and-so would think of this” whenever I post a picture or a blog or wear a certain outfit or whatever. I struggle with being who I am, unapologetically, and believing that the right person will like me for me. I’m constantly reminding myself that I am enough exactly the way that I am.
With dating now, I’m better about reading red flags. I now know that if we have certain fundamental differences – such as in beliefs about raising children, or vastly different priorities in life, or future goals that don’t mesh, or major differences in political beliefs – that a long-term relationship probably isn’t in the cards. I now know that I want someone who I don’t feel the need to change for, and that I cannot change someone to fit into my box of the ideal partner.
I know that I should say I wouldn’t change anything about my past because it has taught me valuable lessons and I wouldn’t be the same person I am today – but honestly, there are a few things I would want to change. I would want to go back and not make my ex feel like I was trying to force him into a box he did not want to fit into and he should not have to fit into. I would be more honest with myself and more cognizant of the red flags. And I would not try to change myself to be someone I didn’t like and wasn’t comfortable with. But – hindsight is 20/20 and the reality is that I can’t change the past, I can only make different choices in the future. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.
As always, thanks for reading and I would appreciate if you would hit the share button. I’m grateful for every view, like, comment, and share and the constant support means more to me than anyone will ever know.