Show, Don’t Tell: Can People Who’ve Hurt You Really Change?

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There’s a widely-accepted belief that people don’t change.  I’d like to amend that thinking.  In my opinion, people who go out of their way to make you believe they’ve changed, haven’t changed.  Better yet, men you used to date who return like a phoenix rising from the ashes, swearing up and down that they are new and improved sentient beings, a.k.a., suddenly Brother Do-Rights, haven’t changed.  Want to know why? Allow me to explain by putting my film school education to use.

There’s a simple tenet I learned while accruing Monopoly-like levels of post-graduate debt: show, don’t tell.  In a visual storytelling medium like film and television, you want to show the audience action, as opposed to having a character statically deliver said action in a never-ending monologue, or in a back and forth between two or more characters. The same logic applies to people who feel the need to prove to you that they have changed.

My ex is one of those people.  We have remained friendly over the years, but he has always expressed a desire for a certain intimacy I no longer care to have with him.  I have told him this more times than I care to remember, and it has caused tension and unnecessary stress.  It is an oft-discussed issue in our so-called friendship.  I say so-called because a real friend would respect my wishes and leave it at that. Maybe there is a little truth to the whole women and men can’t be friends thing.  Or, to be specific, women and men who used to be in a relationship can’t be friends.  At least in this scenario.

There are many reasons we did not work out as a couple.  Chiefly among them, he is not reliable.  It’s awfully hard to trust someone who cannot keep their word for things big and small.  And yet, he has gone out of his way to tell me that he has changed, despite evidence to the contrary.  Case in point, his penchant to up and disappear for weeks and months on end, only to return via text or a phone call out of the blue as if we had just seen each other yesterday.  I’ve spoken to him about this annoying habit of his and he always assures me that it’s something he will no longer do.  But just as we get in each other’s good graces again, we get into an all-too-familiar cycle that involves those old habits.

He often professes his love and apologizes profusely for the mistakes he made in the recent and distant past.  And I tell him I appreciate his apology. But, at this point, I am not interested in having anything more than a friendship.  Regardless of whether or not we have a conversation in which he attempts to rekindle our old flame, he plays Houdini far too often.

Clearly, we both have issues to contend with here.  There’s no reason for me to entertain his incessant comings and goings, but the writer in me is always looking for a reason.  The why of it all.  Every time he resurfaces, I think I’ll have an opportunity to solve the mystery, to finally clear up all the questions I have about the way he operates. Figure out why we couldn’t work. Maybe he thinks the time that passes during one of his disappearing acts will be substantial enough to convince me that he has indeed changed.  Whatever the case, what we have going on, this familiar situation that we have both become too comfortable with, is unhealthy.  I finally realize that despite me telling him I don’t want a romantic relationship, I am giving him a false sense of hope that I will one day change my mind because I have accepted his half-hearted return time and again.

In the end, we’re holding each other back. History has told us that we’re never going to get the answers and ending we want.  In our scenario, I’m not going to change the way I feel, and he’s not going to change the way he acts.

Which brings me back to the beginning.  Change is clearly possible, but it requires an awareness.  An awareness of a problem that needs to be fixed along with the desire to fix said problem, backed by solutions.  I acknowledge that I need to change the way I interact with my ex.  As in, we no longer need to have contact. Not even the sporadic kind.  The type of change my ex has been alluding to is about characteristics, traits, and habits.  It’s the kind of change you see in a person’s actions. People who have made big, lasting, significant changes in their life don’t go around telling everyone and their mother.  They don’t need to.  The change is observed – particularly in how they treat others and themselves.  Simply put, people who have changed don’t have to call attention to themselves.  To me, that screams inauthenticity.  So when someone goes out of their way to tell me that they have changed, particularly an ex, I know better than to simply take their word for it.


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