I Was Wrong: I Couldn’t Change Him So I Changed Me Instead

i was wrong

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” — Andy Warhol

Toward the end of last year, this quote reverberated on a loop in my head. Without going into the nitty-gritty–because the past is in the past and I would have turned the tangible equivalent of 2015 into a pyre, set it aflame and sent it out to sea if I could have—let’s just say I was stuck. Stuck in a relationship with a well-intentioned person who seemed to want to change, want to be better, but just couldn’t pull the trigger. He wanted a better job but didn’t know what career direction to go in or what he felt qualified enough for. When he applied for something new or took on a project, I threw support and encouragement at him–editing cover letters, sending leads his way–but my enthusiasm couldn’t breed any in him. His batting average for following through remained low. I felt like I was pushing or pulling him in the direction he said he wanted to go in while he was standing still. I put a lot of unmatched work into making things work, until I realized that wanting to change–or wanting someone else to change–is not enough to make it happen. Eventually, I had no choice but to terminate the relationship, so I did. We had failed. I had failed.

After the requisite “refusing to shower for days and crying into a bag of white cheddar popcorn in bed watching Netflix and frantically checking his Twitter account” phase subsided (to everyone’s relief), I had a revelation. This was the kind of revelation that stopped me in my tracks and appeared like an actual light bulb over my head: No more. No more talkers. No more promises that were empty, delayed or otherwise not carried out. No more surrounding myself with people who couldn’t follow through with that they wanted. No more self-sabotagers. This wasn’t just about him–it was about everyone in my life who was always complaining about their city, their job, their significant other, what have you, but refusing to make any moves to change their situation. Life’s too short, and I was just so damn over it. No more standing still.

Once I had this epiphany, it bled into other parts of my life outside of my relationship. I noticed I had some friends and other people in my life who had wishy-washy tendencies as well–people who said all the right things or made promises but, in the end, weren’t there when things got messy. Friendships aren’t just about being around for the fun stuff–and if they were only interested in fair-weather friend status, then I didn’t need to surround myself with them.

Luckily, I have a slew of close friends who are doers, and who helped pick me up when I was feeling broken and distraught post-breakup. I threw myself even more into my work, I became more proactive about making plans with people in various friend circles, and did whatever I could to distract myself from the hopeless heartbreak spiral that tried to pull me in whenever I had a moment to sit and think.

Soon, as the haze began to lift, I noticed something; spending more time around these friends was not only a helpful and needed distraction from the shambles that were my love life, but it brought into focus for me just how amazing, creative and inspiring they all are. Some are artists and designers, some are writers, one runs an Etsy shop as a side hustle when she’s not working her daytime desk gig, some are their own boss, some are just smart as hell, or make me laugh until I cry. The more quality time I spent with these people, the more inspired and motivated I became. Someone would talk about a project, idea or desire, and a few weeks later they’d be launching a podcast, announcing a new job title or learning a new skill. I’d hear a friend say, “I’d love to visit Iceland,” and a few weeks or so later I’d see their Facebook post looking for recommendations of where to eat and visit when they fly to Reykjavík in the summer. Someone was always taking a risk, and I fed off of the constant progression–not in a competitive way, but in a Nike swoosh just do it way. I started pitching to more publications, and I eventually quit my job to freelance full-time so I too could continue to progress.

I was wrong to think that wanting someone to change was enough. Really, people have to want to change themselves. It wasn’t that I got into the relationship thinking he was a project I could perfect, or that something was inherently wrong with him, it was that I saw his potential, and I wanted to believe I could help him be the person he told me time and again that he wanted to be. I was wrong.

It wasn’t until after the relationship ended that I realized what an unhealthy dynamic that creates. I don’t want to imagine what things I would have accomplished by now had I not been putting so much effort into trying to force someone else’s hand while bending and shrinking my own life to fit better into theirs. Now, I try to focus my energy on relationships–romantic and otherwise–that leave me feeling refreshed and inspired instead of drained, and ones not spent with either of us sitting around wishing for the life we could have, but going out and living it instead.

Illustration by Paige Vickers

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