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Is She Trying To Change You?


If you face constant criticism about your job, looks or lifestyle, here’s how to deal with it.

By Bob Strauss

uys, have you ever played the Lifetime Movie Network game? Every time a new divorcée reassures her best friend, “Don’t worry, I’m sure I’ll be OK in the house all by myself,” score yourself 10 points. A male coworker leering, “Go ahead and tell. Who’s going to believe you?” is worth 20. And if the
“Changing” a guy is an impossible goal for any long-term relationship.
clueless heroine announces, with a solipsistic radiance worthy of Scarlett O’Hara, “I know I can change him! I just know it!” well, jackpot — you may as well switch channels and figure out another way to amuse yourself.

By now, pretty much every woman in America knows that “changing” a guy is an impossible goal for any long-term relationship. But few people ever examine the other side of the equation — the hapless guys who are constantly being nudged, cajoled, and “improved” by their partners. How’s a self-respecting man supposed to, well, maintain his self-esteem while preserving his relationship at the same time? Here are a few tips.

Remember: There are legitimate criticisms, and then there are efforts to control you.
If your girlfriend wants to give you a makeover, it’s not a rejection of who you are as a person. She probably just wants to buy you some new clothes. Tina Tessina, author of The 10 Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make Before 40, says that “wearing a different shirt is not the same thing as giving up your independence. In this instance, your girlfriend’s not trying to change you, she’s just trying to help you fit in and save herself from a lot of comments like, ‘Why are you going out with such a slob?’” On the other hand, if she’s laying down constant criticism for your not having a high-six-figure income, you may be in an unsustainable relationship with someone who’s never going to be happy.

Look at things from her point of view.
Sure, you’re proud of the 15 to 20 hours a week you spend blogging Heroes-themed epic verse poetry, but even you have to admit that it doesn’t bring in much money. So if your girlfriend gently hints that the lyricism and insight you bring to your TV-inspired iambic pentameter might be better applied to a paying job, take her suggestion in stride and look for some freelance work. You can always post your online creations later.

Call her bluff.
A well-meaning observation, like “I really think you’d look handsome in a suit and tie instead of a Family Guy T-shirt and torn jeans” can be a prelude to one of two things: a useless, circular argument, or a trip to the mall to at least look at, if not actually buy, a whole new wardrobe. If your girlfriend’s taste happens to be out of your budget range, perhaps (with a bit of cajoling) she’ll put her money where her mouth is and help to subsidize your brand-new look.

Suggest your own improvements.
This can be done in two ways; one dangerous, the other, slightly less so. The relatively harmless option: next time your girlfriend hints that your abs could be a bit tighter and your biceps a bit, well, bigger, suggest that the two of you sign up for the local gym together and get back into shape as a couple. What you don’t want to do (no matter how tempting!) is toss back a casual observation playing on her own
Find a compromise that works for both of you without capitulating entirely.
physical insecurities; that’s not “suggesting improvements” — it’s just mean, intentionally confrontational and will only make the situation worse.

Change laterally.
If you present it the right way, an imperceptible shift in your dress/occupation/table manners can forestall genuine attempts at change, at least until your significant other catches on. Something along the lines of, “I know you’re not happy with my blogging epic verse about Heroes, so guess what? I’ve switched over to Fringe, which has much better ratings and will double my readership overnight!” (Will your girlfriend fall for this? Probably not, but you may at least earn a laugh if she has a sense of humor.) If it’s something you’re not willing to change, find a compromise that works for both of you without capitulating entirely.

Redirect the conversation.
Hey, it worked when you were a kid and your folks kept nagging you to clean up your room! If your girlfriend mentions her stockbroker cousin who’d be glad to take you on as a trainee, show her that newspaper article you just read about the current recession. If she asks (not for the first time) why you don’t talk to your brother more often, take the opportunity to ask about her sister. The result: you’ll have a pleasant, polite, adult conversation, and then you can spend the rest of the evening playing Halo in peace.

Don’t dismiss her concerns.
Sadly, this is how a lot of relationships begin to go off the rails: the woman takes an active, well-meaning interest in improving her mate’s health, looks and financial well-being, and her partner periodically, and passive-aggressively, pretends to agree, all the time doing nothing to change the situation. This isn’t fair to you, and it certainly isn’t fair to her. If you’ve decided that you’re never going to change, no matter what, ‘fess up and let her know sooner rather than later. If the only version of you she can live with is one that doesn’t exist (yet), it might be time to reexamine the relationship and whether you two have a future together. You’ll both be much happier in the long run, whether it’s together or (more likely) going your separate ways.


Bob Strauss is a freelance writer and children’s book author who lives in New York City. He’s also written the Dinosaur guide on About.com, the online information network owned by the New York Times.
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