Of course you can change a man

I am, for good or ill, often ridiculously literal. And this tendency makes me kind of irritated by expressions that get thrown around a lot. Sometimes I have to sit and pick at them like burrs until they stop bothering me.

There seems to be a lot of debate about change in the world of cliche. “People change,” but “you can’t change a man,” but “everything changes,” but “people don’t really change who they are,” and “a leopard can’t change its spots,” though no one actually gives a rip about leopards anyway.

The draw of many a romance is grounded in our desire to change men. Whether or not the old bodice-rippers appealed to you personally, the appeal of many of those books was in seeing a brutish man brought to his knees (or maybe to one knee) by the grace of the one woman who could get through to him. Beauty and the Beast, classic for good reason.

One of literature’s most sigh-making moments, when Darcy admits his faults to Lizzie, and tells her how she affected change on him…

“I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child, I was taught what was right; but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. (…) Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous.”

At some point recently I was made to read the definition of “catalyst.”

noun 1. Chemistry . a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected. (Dictionary.com)

For some reason, that got me thinking about people, well, characters, and this whole change thing again, because that’s so much like the heroines I read as a kid. (I submit to you that I was probably more warped by reading constant example of man’s inhumanity to man in “classics” than I was by reading romance novels.) The ones who only had to be what they already were to change a man from someone who wanted to use them to someone compelled to care for them, and to save his soul in the process.

To this day I find that idea of “be who you are” very compelling.

I guess the point of these musings was that sometimes I think the “fix a man” concept is seen as a bad way to go now. You can’t change a man. We’ve got to stop encouraging women to delude themselves into thinking they can change men. It’s irresponsible!

Sometimes responsibility is such a drag. Sometimes I just want to read a swoon-worthy escapist fantasy. I ADORE characters who are changed by love. Slap a warning label on it if you must.

CAUTION: Professional shero on fictional course. 
Do Not Attempt.

But I digress. While big change is difficult and has to come from within, the fact is that we change each other all the time. We are in a constant state of becoming, and our relationships shape that because the people we encounter inspire feelings and thoughts that lead to new decisions and patterns. We are catalysts for changes in others, big and small, in countless interactions, intimate, casual, intellectual, memorable and completely forgettable.

Remember that in your attitude when you’re out and about, because that’s what that whole “be the change” deal is about, yeah?

Anyway, don’t get bogged down on that “you can’t change a man” tripe. Don’t be afraid to show characters inspiring each other to be more than what they are, because it’s one of the great beauties stories have to offer us.


Filed under writing

12 responses to “Of course you can change a man

  1. I wonder if the woman is really changing the man or breaking into the facade and showing who he REALLY is. If he has a wall erected (many men do), then maybe she is drawing out the real man he is. Or maybe not…I don’t really know the answer.

    My husband was a totally different person when I met him. He did some drugs, drank too much, lived a dangerous lifestyle. Now he’s a deacon at our church. He told my mom one time that if it hadn’t been for me, he would have kept going down a dangerous road. So, yeah, sometimes a woman can change a man. My husband is a totally different person than when we met. But again…did I CHANGE him or unlock the good person that was already inside?

    This post really made me think….

  2. Maybe it depends on what your definition of change is. If a person choses display and cultivate a “good” side of their personality where they had been acting in a “badder” role, I would call that a change. Because, in my mind, if you exclude everything that’s already there, you exclude everything, because we’re all everything and all possibilities at all times.

    • I see your point. At the same time, there are bad behaviors that I HOPE some of us aren’t capable of. So are we all really everything and all possibilities? I just don’t know the answer. Very thought provoking!

  3. One of the life lessons I learned is you can only change yourself. And if your man needs to change, you can provide the right climate for it, but it’s his willingness and desire to be different that actually gets the deed done. Acceptance of one as one is, is the foundation; encouragement (not demands and expectations) to be so much more, to be super-fantastic, is the framework; but only the one needing to change can build anything upon either.

    That’s what I try to bring to my romances: that lesson of accountability for both parties – one to change destructive behaviors, and one to provide a supportive climate for that evolution.

  4. I think that’s a good lesson to bring. What I meant was that although change occurs from within, it is often provoked from without, and I definitely like to think of that inspiration as part of the change. Part of what I was trying to say was that people can change and that it’s not unrealistic to write characters who inspire changes in one another, nor do I think we should give up on the notion of inspiring each other. In any case, I don’t disagree with what you said.

    • Oh, I’m not disagreeing at all. 🙂 Just adding another layer to your thought, maybe. I tend to wander through my comments and usually forget to explain why I’m making the point I’m making. No one changes without an outside catalyst. Internal decision; external influence.

  5. Hi, Susan, That was well said. I never set out to change my husband, but now I notice he doesn’t do the things I complained loudly about. I don’t have my heroines set out to change their men either in my romantic suspense novels. They are too busy trying to resist the hero’s charms or too busy trying to escape danger.
    Carolyn Rae Author (facebook)

  6. I like your comparison of a catalyst– she expedites a natural change, that may or may not have happened anyway. It’s not like she’s transforming him into something he could never have otherwise become. And that’s a big deal: realizing that the man in question always had the makings of a good man.

    What always bugs me about men changing in romance, though, is when it’s instant and drastic. He confesses his love, or they have sex, and instantly he goes from this dark, brooding loner to a guy who’s cheerful, cuddly, affectionate, and very prone to laughter– especially (for some reason) chuckling– when he’s barely so much as cracked a smile for the entire rest of the book. Those are the ones that irk me. Not because they change a man, but because they seem to body-swap him entirely.

  7. Interesting post! Trying to make someone change is not practical in most cases. Why do you think people always force change on others?