Change our partners, change ourselves

Photo credit: Helen Suh

Photo credit: Helen Suh

There’s a recent trend in absolutism with two main ideas: It’s detestable to critique others, and it’s respectable to never let others change you. This second “stick to your guns” idea has some painful consequences for romantic love, not to mention its embedded conceitedness.

It’s surprising, because it’s in contrast to millennia of sentiment about embracing others’ influence. Why exactly is it so trendy now, and why don’t people want to be changed?

There’s some sort of culturally-supported narcissism about how our own ideas are the best and we especially ought to retain autonomy when getting involved in a relationship. The thing is, this lack of budging is disastrous in reality.

Plato first advanced the puzzle analogy: We are missing vital pieces only to be replaced by a partner. The dude invented Platonic love, plus he was the first systematic philosopher, so taking his word shouldn’t be difficult. Yet now it seems the idea of completing each other – that is, improving each other – has been replaced by the already-perfect ideology.

We understand humans aren’t perfect. Even self-destructive. However, focusing in on individuals, our philosophy gets fuzzy, even paradoxical, as we’re told we’re “perfect the way we are” yet “nobody’s perfect” (but you’re perfect to me). We probably believe some overlap of the two contraries.

The truth is that in the same way we study hard in the classroom, exercise rigorously in the gym and develop inner peace from life experience, our partner can work on us for overall improvement too.

In reality, some people are perfect and most others aren’t. Is this so hard to accept? If we maintain the notion of standards at all, then there must be at least one theoretical apogee, and there’s no reason to believe that an immaculate one cannot exist.

Of course, no individual can be wholly perfect because of our differing subjective preferences which, in turn, validates the changing of your partner.

Human improvement is not an oxymoron. It’s natural to change in a relationship.

So what determines good change? Society has a few expectations of desirable human characteristics – good-looking, intelligent, witty, humble – but these are, to an extent, subjective. Within the context of the relationship is where value judgments about personality are made.

I don’t mean to say good qualities are as simple as arbitrary standards might interpret them to be. A lean figure might be in fashion as a symbol of health, but there are plenty of fat people who are healthy.

Anyway, health isn’t very important unless you plan on living past 60, and if you do want to live past 60 … well, to each their own.

The point is that you’re not perfect the way you are, because John Doe can make a much better quesadilla than you. His mom also swing dances better than you. And John Doe’s dad is a monster in the sack.

Comparing yourself to others is the most efficient way to turn inspiration into action, action into change.

Partners have made me more sensitive, more laid back, more healthy, more free-spirited, better at communicating, better at sex and better at understanding what I want and need.

If I had the stubborn self-love so typical nowadays when I was first coming into relationships, I would be a completely different person. An entirely worse person. That’d be pretty difficult.

So, compromise in your relationships. Learn your partner’s tastes. Change your habits. The social milieu is subtly adjusting your entire personality anyway; why not take an active role in an interpersonal field?

William Rein can be reached at [email protected] or @toeshd on Twitter.