“Don’t change who you are for someone else.” How many times have we heard this saying? Don’t change for a boy (or a girl, or anyone). Don’t change yourself just so that you won’t be alone. Don’t change so that someone will love you. It’s an important message, and one that most of us need to hear at some point in our lives. Our natural insecurities can make us feel that we are unworthy of love, that if we can only change ourselves to be more beautiful, more interesting, more…something, we’ll finally find the relationships we want. And so we are told, again and again, by well-meaning parents, sisters, friends, and lifestyle gurus, that we should never have to change ourselves for another person. If someone really loves you, that person will love you exactly as you are. To change for someone else is, in a sense, to betray yourself. This is what we’re told.
The things is, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes changing yourself is good for a relationship—in fact, often it’s absolutely necessary. Relationships are based on compromise because, despite rom-com fantasies, there is no such thing as a “perfect fit” between people. There are some “almost-there” fits and “pretty darn close” fits, but you’re never going to find someone who just so happens to conform exactly to the life you’ve established as a single person. There will be awkward angles and sharp edges between you and your partner that have to be pared down, shaped, and molded so that you can fit together as a strong, seamless unit. Many of these changes will happen naturally throughout the course of your relationship; others will be harder adjustments, transitions that require a lot of work from both of you.
This is a tricky subject to write about because there is a fine line between good change—change that makes you and your partner happier and stronger as a couple—and self-effacement. There are things you shouldn’t change about yourself, and there are reasons for which you should not change. You should never let yourself believe things like, “If only I were different, this person would love me.” That line of thinking is destructive and ineffective; your partner should love you for your core self because that core—your soul, your essence, whatever you want to call it—isn’t going to change. But what can change—and what often needs to change—is how you interact with your partner and how you think about yourself in the world. Here are eleven completely acceptable ways that you shouldn’t judge yourself for changing in a relationship:
1. Your interests and hobbies
Obviously you shouldn’t feel pressured to drop all of your interests and adopt new ones when you get into a relationship. But it’s only natural that the more time you spend with someone, the more invested you could reasonably become in the stuff that person likes. Hold on to your previous hobbies, but be willing to explore the things that appeal to your partner. You might just discover new books/shows/movies/sports/whatever that you absolutely love.
2. Health habits
When you’re in a relationship—especially a long-term relationship—you might find that you start taking care of your body in a different way. Maybe you stop smoking, or start exercising more, or start eating better. Those are all inherently good things. When you sign up to be with someone, especially in a long-term way, your health affects that person’s life and vice versa. So why not try to take better care of yourself?
3. Where you live
Look, I’m not saying you should pick up and haul your cookies across the country (or even further) for every cute face you jump into bed with. I’m not even saying you should feel obligated to move for someone you’re deeply in love with and can see a future with, if moving isn’t ultimately the best choice for your whole life, and not just your relationship. But if you are in a long-distance relationship, and it feels like a positive, proactive choice for you to do so, making the relationship work might mean moving to a new place. A major geographic leap can really alter your sense of identity, but that’s a fair trade for getting to be with the one you love.
4. Bad habits
We all have them. Someone who loves you should accept your faults, but that doesn’t mean you get a free pass to be a jerk. If your partner is punctual, and you are always tragically late, make an effort to better suit your partner’s needs. Sometimes another person can offer just the right impetus to help us disrupt bad behavioral patterns.
5. Your clothes
If you have a strong sense of how you like to look, then by all means, don’t change. If you’re happy with how you dress, and it feels like an honest reflection of your personality and your wardrobe makes you feel in Beast Mode every day, then definitely don’t let anyone tell you to change your appearance to suit their preferences. But if you end up changing how you dress, in a way that feels positive, don’t hate on yourself for it. Many people, male and female, either don’t care about fashion at all or they’re just sort of stumped by it. If your partner has great taste, take advantage of it! What do you have to lose? *Cough* Kim and Kanye *Cough*
6. Your hair and grooming habits
Again, you shouldn’t have to change your appearance for the person you love. Clearly he or she already finds you attractive, or you wouldn’t have gotten into this whole relationship thing in the first place. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be influenced by your partner’s opinion. Let’s say you’re a dude and you want to grow out a handlebar mustache, but your S.O. hates the feeling of being kissed by a giant lip ferret. Is the ‘stache a price you’re willing to pay to stay in the relationship? You decide.
7. Domestic routines
If you are going to have your S.O. in your home a lot—or perhaps even living with you—your domestic habits will have to change. If, for example, you’re a total neat freak and your partner really isn’t, then you might just have to learn to tolerate a little clutter (just like they might have to learn to pick up their goddamn dirty clothes off the bathroom floor, I mean, honestly, it’s not even that hard).
8. Your social habits
If you and your partner are a bit mismatched socially—let’s say you’re an introvert and s/he’s a social butterfly—then it’s OK, and maybe even necessary, that you both change the way you approach social situations. Maybe you have to make yourself get out there and interact more, and your S.O. has to be willing to stay in more often.
9. The way you argue
Any relationship is bound to have disagreements, and you may find that the ways in which you’ve solved conflicts in the past simply don’t work in your current relationship. For example, what if you’re hot tempered and direct, but your partner shuts down at the first sign of a confrontation? You’ll both have to figure out how to approach arguments in a healthy way. (Are you starting to notice that a lot of what haters would call “changing who you are for someone else” is really just “having the ability to compromise and adjust in order to make a relationship work”? Yeah, that’s not a coincidence.)
10. Your vision of the future
You may have envisioned your future the same way your whole life, and then—BAM!—you found yourself in a relationship someone great, and your idea of what you wanted for the long haul—in terms of your career, family, everything—shifted dramatically. That’s OK! You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your dreams for love, but that doesn’t mean that your dreams can’t be open to new possibilities. The heart wants what the heart wants, people! And sometimes what the heart wants isn’t at all what it wanted yesterday.
11. Your ideal vision of love
Most of us carry around certain ideas of what a “perfect love” would mean for us, but until we’re able to create lifelike androids that we can program to our specifications, the people we’re with IRL are unlikely to live up to those ideals. So don’t get hung up on what you thought you wanted; take time to appreciate the amazing love that you actually have. Your conception of love will change, but it will become more real and, perhaps, even better than it was before.