The Reevaluation

She’s bitching right now about him. That jerk.

Sometimes it’s a sad lament, as she discusses how things used to be good, but now he’s so different and she doesn’t know what happened to them. Sometimes it’s just pure anger mainlined straight from the heart, an acidic stream of vitriol as she catalogues this guy’s many flaws, most of which concern his sexual inadequacy.

These complaints all have one thing in common, though: If you were a stranger eavesdropping on the conversation, you’d swear that they were talking about an ex-boyfriend. They’re so distressed and angry about this guy that you would not think that they were still together.

But sadly, this is not the case. This is their current partner.

And really, they don’t seem to like them much at all.

These people need to reevaluate. (And they’re not just women. This is a people thing, not a girl thing.)

One of the things that frequently happens when two people live together is that they change. This is normal, and to be expected. As you discover the things that make you happy, you pursue them; as you discover the things that make you miserable, hopefully you learn to avoid them. This is how you grow.

Over three years, you’ve probably discarded one or two habits that used to make your partner happy, and probably picked up one or two new habits that irritate them. This is status quo.

Furthermore, every relationship begins with a lie. I’m not saying it’s a conscious lie, but most relationships start out with one or two whoppers that go something like this:

“Yes, I have this bad habit – but once I’m with you, I’ll change that!”
“Well, I really like you except for that habit, so I’ll downplay the fact that a potential problem exists.”

Usually, the habit involves slothfulness – yes, I’m messy, but I’ll be better with you to guide me. Yes, I’m lazy, but with you in my life, I’ll get a better job. Yes, I’m antisocial, but I’ll go out more because you do – or acceptance – No, your roleplaying won’t bother me. I want you to have a good time!

It’s not supposed to be a lie (even though it is) – both of you genuinely believe this, because you both mean it. The person with the bad habit wants to change, and the person who’s dating them wants to believe the best of their partner. (And to be fair, most relationships have a couple of promises that do work out – you get a little more responsible, and a little more empathetic.)

But core faults generally don’t change. If someone doesn’t like people, eventually they’re going to get worn out and want to stay at home more than you will. If someone’s possessive by nature, eventually they’re going to start complaining when you go out.

(And in my experience, the people who pick their relationships worst are the ones who completely suppress their instincts on those buried habits. “Well, yes, he snapped at me at that party and called me a bitch… But he was just having a bad day!”

(No, darling – that’s the way he is now, when he’s on his best behavior. Two years from now when he’s not working to impress you, he might start in with more verbal abuse, or even go to the hand. Look at what your partner is doing now, and stop making excuses for them. Extrapolate where it will lead when he has less control, and stop imagining circumstances where he’ll get better.)

After a couple of years of dating, you’re now looking at a new person. Not only have they picked up new habits that may or may not annoy you, but some of their old habits – the ones that they kept tightly-wrapped at the beginning of this relationship – have resurfaced with a vengeance.

You’re not looking at the woman you married. She never really existed, anyway. You’re looking at what’s there now.

Can you love that?

Most of these bitter rants are predicated on what this person used to do. They had so much more time before they got this new job. They were so less dependent when they lived in Seattle. They were so much more sexually interested in them three years ago.

Here’s the question you need to ask:

Can you love them for what they are now?

Not what they used to be. Not what you want them to be. If you strip away all memories and hope, is there a person that you would want to be with…. Or is the reason you’re there based only promise of how they might change in the future?

If the answer is “No, I wouldn’t want to be with this person as they are right now,” then fucking go. It’s not going to get any better. It’s not anyone’s fault – after all, you choose to be with someone, and you misread them dramatically – but just admit that there’s not much of a reason to stay, and shuffle on.

If the answer is, “There’s some stuff there that I like, but there’s a lot of shit that just drives me crazy,” then stop bitching to me and seriously get to work on your partner. Too many people go around to their friends to talk shit about their boyfriend/girlfriend behind their back.

If you wouldn’t say it to his (or her) face, I don’t want to hear it. This is you using me to avoid the issues.

(And no, I don’t believe in “going off to rant.” Yes, there are times you need to vent… But in my experience, the people who need to vent the most use their friends as sympathy sponges. Generally, it takes two people to fuck up a relationship, and many people conveniently omit their own selfish actions and indiscretions when they’re bitching to their friends – or worse yet, frame their horrid actions in a way so that their friends will tell them that what they’re doing is right.

(If you wouldn’t say it to your partner’s face, then don’t go behind their back. Keep it all out front where you can be kept honest, or keep it to yourself.)

I think that every three years or so, there should be a ceremony of reevaluation – a small, quiet place where you get together and ask Who are you now, and do I like you? Forget the promises of yesterday and whatever ephemeral benefits tomorrow might bring; do you like who you’re with now, and can you accept that their flaws might never change?

You don’t have to like their flaws. But you do have to look at it, and go, “On the whole, even if they drive me crazy, it’s worth it to be here. I love them for who they are.”

Take a look next to you. See who you’re with.

I hope you find someone you can love. Even if they’re not the person you wanted them to be.

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