One of biggest challenges in dating — as in life — is knowing when you need to change. If you face rejection more than you would like, attract the wrong people, or have just dated for years and years without finding what you want, do you need to change in the hope that your dating life will also change and you’ll meet the right person? Or do you need to stick to your guns and accept who you are, in the hope that you’ll eventually meet the person who “gets” you?
The answer, unfortunately, is not that simple.
To Change or Not to Change?
In my books, my blog, and pretty much all dating advice, change is a constant theme. Yet, so is understanding who we are, deep down. When it comes to change, you need to know when to change and when to honor who you are. However, this isn’t always easy. Let’s go with an example:
I have a very popular article about dating when you’re an “attractive introvert” (AI). AI’s are often mistaken as uninterested, snobbish, or even rude because they’re both introverted (and thus harder to read) AND attractive (everyone assumes they’re taken or have lots of options). I offer up a few brief tips for the AI to help change others’ perceptions. Recently, someone left this comment:
Speaking as a male AI, this is terrible advice. It basically tells introverts to get over it, which is all anyone ever seems to say. I don’t mean to be rude, I’m just saying, I’d like to see at least one piece of advice that doesn’t recommend we change ourselves, even if only temporarily, in order to fit in.
A second comment followed:
i agree with you, everything you read about introverts and dating revolves around “throwing yourselves out there” or the dreaded “you have to get out of your comfort zone”…both of these things are the equivalent of telling an extrovert to “spend all weekend alone in your home”..its the same thing..
These responses do a great job illustrating the “change or be yourself?” quandary. They also do a great job illustrating a common fallacy about change.
Changing Behavior vs. Changing Who You Are
The problem with the change quandary is that many people confuse changing behaviors or habits with changing who you are as a person. In the AI example above, I had recommended behavioral changes to consider: smiling, saying hello to someone first, opening body language… all with the design of making the AI appear approachable instead of “snobbish” or “unfriendly.” Never did I say that the AI needed to talk to everyone in the room, learn to entertain or make jokes, become chatty and expressive, or do anything out of character for an introvert. I advised readers to consider changing certain behaviors, not changing their introverted natures.
However, knowing the difference between changing your behavior and changing who you are can be tricky. Here are a few examples to illustrate the difference:
- Being introverted is who you are. You don’t need to become outgoing, talkative, or crowd-seeking. However, making no eye contact, never making the approach, and never going out because you “hate it” are habits or behaviors you can change.
- Who you’re attracted to is part of who you are. The specific traits you seek in dating (height, age, race, etc) are behaviors you choose.
- Being unready for a serious relationship is who you are (at least at that time). Dating someone who wants a serious relationship (or marriage) is a behavior you choose.
- Being non-monogamous is who you are (at least at that time in your life). Cheating, lying, or manipulating are habits you choose.
- Your style of dress is part of who you are. The specific clothes you choose is a changeable behavior.
- Having a naturally loud, strong personality is who you are. Being obnoxious, bossy, or bullying are behaviors you choose.
- You can’t change the fact that you suffer from a mental disorder such as anxiety, depression, or addiction. You CAN change how you deal with those challenges, in the form of treatment and other lifestyle changes.
You can’t change fundamental aspects of your personality or needs. Nor should you try. But you can change how you manifest those traits or needs in the form of behavior.
Why Should I Have to Change?
Of course, things often come down to this question. Even if you know there are things you can change to improve your dating life, why should you have to?
The truth is, you don’t have to. It’s your life and you can do what you want. But if you want something in your life to change–if you want a better life, more dates, to meet the right person, to be happier–guess what? You need to make changes. Even in the case of the Attractive Introvert, who’s a quality person whom OTHERS judge unfairly, the AI still needs to change.
Why, you ask? If others are the problem, why should the AI have to change? Because that’s how change works. If you want something to change, including other people, you have to change first. The AI puts out the wrong vibes. If they want less judgment from others, they have to learn to send the right message. They have to change.
Both of the user comments above come from people who seek advice for introverts (here and elsewhere), but don’t like the advice they get because it involves change. One said, “I’d like to see at least one piece of advice that doesn’t recommend we change ourselves.” You won’t find that advice because there’s no advice that will elicit change without you having to change first. But note that he said “change ourselves.” He’s doing what I see many people do: assuming that any change means changing who you are, rather than changing habits you’ve developed. And there’s a reason why people do this, why they lump all change into negative category where one must sell their soul to achieve success.
Change is Hard
When people resist advice or change, or assume changing means selling out on who they are, they do so because they’re afraid of change. They assume they can’t make the changes, or that they’ll lose some valuable part of themselves if they change. Most won’t admit this fear, but the fact is that change is scary for all humans. We like our comfort zone, the place where things are predictable.
Changing behavior means getting out of that comfort zone and doing something that isn’t typical for you, that isn’t a well-worn habit. We sometimes form these behavioral habits without thinking, whereas others form consciously. Either way, they’re often self-protective in nature. The introvert avoids going out to meet new people because it’s overstimulating. The shy person avoids speaking up to avoid a flood of anxiety. The commitmentphobe avoids marriage to avoid the pain of potential marital failure and suffering. The middle-aged man chases much younger women who are wrong for him to avoid getting into another passionless marriage. We avoid change because we fear becoming even more unhappy. As they say, the misery you know is better than the misery you don’t know.
Note the second user comment above: he laments any advice about “getting out of your comfort zone” and likens it to asking an extrovert to stay at home alone all weekend. The thought of stepping out of his comfort zone is abhorrent to him, because somewhere inside him is some fear of what might happen if he does.
In my experience, when people say “I shouldn’t have to change who I am,” what they really mean is “Change scares the hell out of me.” The more they resist change, the more terrified they are. But the inarguable truth is that if you want change in your life, you have to change.
However, change and “getting out of your comfort zone” are also very misunderstood. People avoid it because they don’t know the right way to do it. There are small steps and big ones. Small is good; big, however, can be too terrifying and can catapult you right back into your comfort zone. I’ll talk about this more next time.
Remember, if you want your dating life to change, you have to change first. Consider habits or behaviors you’ve developed, and tweaks you can make to them. If the tweaks work, great. If they don’t, try something else. Yes, it will be scary at first. It’s supposed to be. But once they work, you’ll never look back.