A few weeks ago, I was conversing with Suzanne, who has reached an age when she can look back on her romances and begin to see some themes and patterns. She remarked, “I’m certain now that I’m attracted to jerks.”
“How has knowing that changed you?”, I asked.
“It hasn’t changed me much at all”, she replied, “I’m still attracted to jerks.”
“Why is that, Suzanne? You have enough experience of jerks to know exceptionally well they will only screw you over.”
“Yes, but they’re exciting.”, she laughed.
I grinned. “Do you think you can change them, then? Is that it? Do you feel you can find an exciting jerk and turn him into someone who won’t screw you over?”
“Oh no! I used to think that — years ago. But I’ve learned. You can’t turn a jerk into a decent man.”
“So what have you done with all this knowledge of yourself and jerks?”
“Well, it’s why I don’t date anymore. I know if I did, I’d bring home a jerk. And I have kids — I have to be responsible. So, I just don’t date.”
There was no self-pity in her voice. She wasn’t begging me to feel sorry for her. In fact, I don’t think Suzanne has ever spent much time feeling sorry for herself. Instead, she spoke factually and plainly, one adult to another.
It seems to me that many women — and not just women — live in denial of the almost absolute fact that you cannot fundamentally change another person. They think they can take a jerk and turn him into a decent man. Or take a philanderer and turn him into a loyal mate. Or make a lazy man industrious. It’s a common mistake. Yet, outside of fantasy, it almost never works.
Of course, the wisest thing is to recognize the fact you cannot change someone — and to recognize it at the youngest possible age — then work hard to find someone who already has the traits you want in your mate.
I was cheered by my conversation with Suzanne in large part because she revealed she’s wiser these days than to expect to change someone. That might be the first step towards her deciding she doesn’t like jerks after all. And, while in one sense, I think it’s her own business whether she dates jerks or not — I’d love her all the same regardless of what folly she engages in — I can’t help but wish her the best. The best are not jerks, but decent men.