You’re not supposed to want to change someone. You’re supposed to accept your friends, your family, and your significant other as they are forever until the end of time. You’re not supposed to expect growth, or crave character development, or hope that things can be even better than they are. True love is acceptance without conditions. At least that’s what the world tells us.
According to TV shows, movies, and the “inspirational” quotes on your Facebook feed, you’re supposed to accept people as they are unconditionally, never pushing or pulling them to be something more. And then there’s the trope of the pushy girlfriend, who was just SO naïve to think she could change the man she fell in love with. But was she?
Is it really so silly to hope that someone will grow with you as a person, learn from their mistakes, and become a better person every day? Is it really such a naïve hope that someone will help you grow, show you the ways you can do better, and encourage you to be an even better version of yourself? Is unconditional love and acceptance REALLY the best thing you can give to someone?
I don’t think so.
We love to mock women for trying to change their partners, or for being so silly to think that they can be a catalyst for change in someone’s life. It’s not about trying to fundamentally change someone’s personality- what these women want is a partner that is willing to listen and actually change their harmful behaviors (that they may have not even been aware of before), and who is willing to grow WITH them. What sometimes happens instead is that one person will adapt to meet the other’s needs, while the other stays exactly the same.
This doesn’t just occur in romantic relationships. Breaking news: you’re allowed to let go of friends or family who won’t change their behavior or won’t grow with you. If you’re the type of person who wants to grow and change and be better, having people in your life who refuse to change their harmful actions or learn from mistakes are not going to help you get there.
So here’s the underlying unpopular opinion: unconditional love and blind acceptance are overrated. I recently read a book by Bell Hooks called “All About Love”, and while I don’t agree with everything in the book, I did find her statements about defining love to be pretty helpful. Here’s what she says:
"Imagine how much easier it would be for us to learn how to love if we began with a shared definition. The word "love" is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb. I spent years searching for a meaningful definition of the word "love," and was deeply relieved when I found one in psychiatrist M. Scott Peck's classic self-help book The Road Less Traveled, first published in 1978. Echoing the work of Erich Fromm, he defines love as "the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." Explaining further, he continues, "Love is as love does. Love is an act of will-namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love." Since the choice must be made to nurture growth, this definition counters the more widely accepted assumption that we love instinctually”
So there you have it. Maybe if we saw love (in all its forms; romantic, friendships, family…) as a living thing, as a thing that is defined by the desire to nurture someone’s growth as a person and by following through with the actions to make that happen, we would be more open to the idea that love can and SHOULD change you. And that it’s not crazy to genuinely hope that it will.