Do People Change?

Many years ago, I dated someone whom I’ll call “Don”.  He drove a sporty coupe and worked at a grocery store.  Back then, I wore short shorts and had a somewhat catty relationship with his ex-girlfriend.  Don and I ate at cheap restaurants, spent many evenings at the movies and engaged in a lot of “experimental” activity.  We were young and in love and… you get the idea.

Nowadays Don is married with a bunch of kids.  He’s a medical professional and owns a vehicle with four doors.  I’m sure it’s been a really long time since he vomited tequila and macaroni and cheese on someone’s bedroom floor.   Blue eyes aside, he barely resembles the guy who affectionately referred to me as “Boo Boo”.

Did he change?

It would be so easy for me to say “yes”.  I think most would agree, it’s often difficult to recognize our ex as the same person who was our partner.  It’s easy to point to things s/he has or does and assert, “[My ex] didn’t do that/want that!  This is a different person!”

And in some respects, that’s true.  I used to be a lovesick teenager, and I’m not anymore.  There was a time when I wanted to have children, and I don’t anymore.  Once upon a time I uttered the vows of matrimony, and now I’m divorced.  That’s a lot of flip-flopping— yet, I still feel like the same person.  And I think my closest friends and family would agree:  I’m still me.

There’s a difference between doing and being.

What we do changes quite a bit as we adjust to new hobbies and the different roles we play in life.  The Student behaves much differently than The Parent.   The Karate Expert dresses in contrast to The Rock Climber.  Yet, the Student, Parent, Karate Expert and Rock Climber can all be the same person— even on the same day.

And that leads me to being.  It’s easy enough to change what we do but it’s much more difficult to alter who we are.  Thoughtful Introverts don’t suddenly morph into Impulsive Extroverts (at least, not on a permanent basis).  Although they might be caring parents, Warriors don’t become Nurturers at heart.  Such inherent qualities remain with us, regardless of the circumstances of our lives.

There’s also a difference between what we look at and what we see.

To further complicate matters, let’s not forget the filters that our circumstances provide.  How is a warrior perceived by another warrior vs. a nurturer?  Sensitive individuals might cling to brutal offensive tactics when they feel threatened.  If she cheats with you, she’s a goddess… if she cheats on you, she’s a whore.

It’s kinda confusing… but at the same time, it’s not.

Present-Day-Don doesn’t act like the guy I used to frolic with on his college campus.  However, under the surface, Don is still that humorous and highly intelligent individual who loved (loves?) Scattergories as much as I do.

All of this makes me think… it makes me think about the qualities (not the activities) that truly make humans compatible.  It makes me think about the lenses through which we view our partners and our exes.  It makes me wonder what it is we’re looking for when we’re disappointed by what we see in another.

Do you have any thoughts to share?  Reflections on personal experience?  Opinions about whether or not people change?  Please, comment…

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  1. That’s a good post Tara. I can only speak from a man’s perspective. I believe that men have seasons, meaning they go through phases of life. I too was once the tequila vomiting mac and cheese guy. Now however, I look back on that person almost with disappointment, almost disdain. That wasn’t the person I was it was simply a byproduct. All of those activities helped form the person that I am today which will not be who I am in ten years. I think it’s one of the reasons why relationships, particularly marriage, has become so unsuccessful. We tend to believe that the person we meet in our twenties will be the same person in their forties and we get disappointed and make remarks like “He/she isn’t the person I married”. Well no shit Sherlock, twenty years has gone under the bridge.

    I always find it interesting that the person who laments that the other has changed never admits they are someone different also. As far as they are concerned they are still the same person they were a decade ago…and we all know that is a delusion.

    This is a good post prompt. I’ll be throwing you some link cred’s when I send it out.

    • Thanks for the feedback.

      I agree that we all have “seasons”… And I’ve heard that we really need 3 partners in our lives: one to be young with, one to raise children with and one to grow old with. How wonderful if that were the same person, but in most cases it’s not.

  2. Of course we all change, it’s a necessary skill to adapt to our ever-changing world (which does seem to be changing more quickly all the time). I think that in healthy relationships, a couple grows and changes in ways that are compatible and beneficial to the unit. However, when one or both make choices that damage the unit or soley based on their own desires, the change can create more isolation and distance.

    I think core traits remain the same. Things like humor, sense of fun, integrity, etc. The traits we like early are likely to be the ones we like later, though the value and expression may vary in different seasons of life.

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