More often than not, romantic relationships don’t work out. This isn’t a bad thing. People grow and change. How many of us think we would be better off if we stayed with our first partners? When we date, isn’t the point to figure out what we want in a significant other and a relationship and what we don’t?
I dated a lot in high school and in college. As a teenager, the boys I found attractive played sports and didn’t care about school as much as I did. The young men I dated in college, for the most part, still acted like boys and spent most of their time drinking and having fun. I partied a lot, too, and was far from perfect, trust me, but I was ambitious and spent much of my time planning for and working toward my future.
I wanted to help the people I dated become their best selves. I remember having a discussion about college with a guy I was seeing in high school. At the time, I wanted to become a lawyer. I ended up changing my mind and going into journalism, but either way, when I was young I knew I wanted to attend a four-year university, at a minimum. My teenage self thought to become successful professionally, you’d have to go to college. (I’ve since learned there are many other paths to success, and college is not for everyone.)
This boyfriend didn’t want to go to college, however. I couldn’t believe it. How could he not want to get a degree? Wasn’t that what we were supposed to do? To my chagrin, this boyfriend didn’t seem to care much about school, in general. During class, I tried to make sure he paid attention, and I never missed an opportunity to tell him why I thought he should or would change his mind about post-secondary education. He didn’t.
After that boyfriend and I broke up, I had similar challenges with other people I dated. The guys weren’t ambitious enough, or they didn’t care about doing their part to make the world a better place. They weren’t interested in politics or the news. They didn’t seem to take anything seriously or, even worse, had big dreams but did very little to work toward making them a reality. Often I realized I had little in common with the person I was dating other than shared friends and a mutual physical attraction. I enjoyed spending time with these significant others, but there was always something missing.
To try to fix this problem, I became a motivational speaker of sorts, constantly trying to goad these young men to do what I thought was best for them. Sometimes, the people I dated would make an effort to do the things I wanted. Sometimes they didn’t. I dated someone who was unemployed and not enrolled in college for quite some time. I think he pretended to apply to jobs and schools just to get me off of his back. In each of these relationships, one of us would finally realize it wasn’t working and call it quits.
Each time after the end of a relationship, I felt sorry for hurt I caused. I wanted to be loved and accepted for who I was. I wanted to be in a relationship where my partner was proud of me. I should feel the same way about my partner. I didn’t want someone I cared about to feel like they weren’t good enough or needed to change for me. I wanted them to find someone to love them for who they were and not want to change them. I felt they deserved that. It took me a while to realize it’s better to let someone go than to try to make them who I want them to be.
My husband and I joke that if we met each other in high school we would not have hit it off. In fact, he says I probably would have thought he was a dork. I hung out with jocks and he was interested in photography. He was already working as a photojournalist for the newspaper I would later meet him at after I graduated from college and became a reporter. Although I’m still a writer, he has changed his career path. Ironically, he’s in law school. He’ll become a lawyer, like I used to want to be.
On paper, you’d think my husband sounds exactly like what I wanted my prior partners to be, but he’s not. (He’s better!) Some of the things I love most about my husband, I never imagined I would want in a significant other. But once we fell in love, I fell in love with all of him, just as he is.
I am sorry for trying to “fix” my past boyfriends. I meant well, but I was wrong. The one thing I learned from my failed relationships is that you can’t change someone. Now I know if you are with the right person for you, you won’t want to — you will love and accept them for who they are. That’s how it should be.
[Image via FOX]