If you've dated me (or are dating me), and think anything in here is about you, it probably isn't. Or it probably isn't only about you. Or maybe it is really just about you, but we dated awhile ago and I'm pretty sure you don't read this blog. I've tried to provide multiple examples here, some of which are real and some of which are made up, and hope I haven't mortally offended anyone. If I have (especially if you are dating me now), please let me know! (Um, and if you are dating me now, I think you're pretty darn cute the way you are. Just sayin'. Anything more would go against my iron-clad rule against blogging about current, personal stuff involving other people in my life who might potentially mind, without their permission.)
Okay, enough caveats.
Popular wisdom declares that it's not a good idea to ask the person you're dating (or married to) to change. First of all, it's unlikely to work. (Anyone whose parents have been having the same arguments about balancing checkbooks, being on time, not recycling the newspaper before the other person is done reading it, etc., for 30+ years know this empirically.) Second of all, if you're asking someone to change, then maybe s/he isn't the person for you.
In my not-very-vast dating experience, these issues--changing, not changing--have come up the most around issues of personal appearance. I have been asked to change certain things about the way that I dress or do my hair. I almost never ask a guy to change the way that he dresses, even if I would be more attracted to him if he did. I just don't feel comfortable.
I don't know if I've mentioned this here before, but about two years ago, I was talking to a married-for-30-years Israeli-American woman about the trials and tribulations of dating in
In retrospect, I think it is, at least the wearing makeup and only skirts parts. (I freely admit that I should learn to be better at clothing shopping and clothing wearing, but also that if, when I die, the worst thing people have to say about me is, "She wasn't so good at clothing shopping and sometimes her shirts were wrinkled," I will be a blessed woman, indeed.)
For me, the idea that I would be marriageable if I did those things and not marriageable if I didn't, is reason enough to stay single. Maybe at some point, I will get an extra dose of fashion sense, start liking wearing makeup more than 2x/month (max), and wear skirts more. But it has to be because I want to, not because I want some guy to fall in love with me. I don't want to end up with someone around whom I can never wear sweat pants or be shleppy. (I did date someone once who said that seeing me in sweatpants--ever--would be a major, and possibly permanent, turn-off. I was like, "Even to sleep?" and he said that one could sleep in nicer things than sweatpants. Sure, but why would one want to? It was a good thing that that ended.)
While I sometimes really feel like looking nice even if it makes me slightly uncomfortable, overall, I place a premium on being comfortable. It doesn't seem fair to me that I should have to put on makeup just because some guy likes it, if it's going to make me uncomfortable. Likewise, I sometimes wish guys I went out with wouldn't show up on the first date wearing a raggedy, stretched-out-at-the-neck t-shirt, but I don't think I can say anything about it. If that's what makes them happy, who I am to ask someone to please start wearing shirts with collars?
Short of asking someone to change outright, can we state personal preferences in the hopes that the person we are dating will like us enough to make the changes for us? I think this most often takes the form of, "I like you better when you..." or "I like it better when..." There are better and worse ways to frame these kinds of statements, obviously. Or can we make observations about a person's state, and suggest that they might be happier if they did x, y, and z, if x, y, and z also happen to be our personal preferences?
I have difficulty knowing which of the following statements are reasonable and which are "dump that chump or chick"-worthy. Anyone have thoughts? Should everyone just keep their mouth shut about these things, or is it okay to state preferences and either expect or not expect the other party to heed them?
- "You have such nice hair--why do you put gel into it? It looks a little greasy that way."
- "I wish you would wear tighter, more revealing clothing. I'm much more attracted to women who dress that way."
- "My God, pleated jeans and pleated khakis--both--are a terrible idea. You would look much better in flat-front pants."
- "Please wear makeup more often."
- "I much prefer you clean-shaven to scruffy."
- "I love it when you wear your hair down."
- "You'd look cuter in a kipa than a baseball cap."
- "Please don't cut your hair short. I love it long."
- "I wish you would wear high heels without socks/stockings. It's so sexy."
- "I love it when you look relaxed and less preppy. Please stop wearing sweater vests."
- "This is not a religious thing. I am just much more attracted to women who wear skirts than to women who wear pants. It's okay with me if you wear pants, though--I'll try to get over it."
- "I am much more attracted to men who wear white, button-down shirts than to men who wear polo shirts."
- "I am much more attracted to men who wear button-down shirts than to men who wear oversized t-shirts."
- "You would look so hot with blond highlights in your hair."
- "You should wear green more often. It makes your eyes look awesome."
I tend towards the "praise the behavior you like rather than punishing the behavior you don't" school of thought in general, and I guess I try to apply that to this issue as well. I respond much better to praise than to disparagement, and I figure that other people must, as well. But, really, I think that the method of delivery is separable from whether the thought out to be shared or kept secret. Is it just my imagination or my particular idiosyncrasy, or are men better at making these kinds of statements?
Back to the issue at hand: What's fair to ask or say? Given that I try to dress better than usual when I think it might make a difference to someone else (employer, colleague, client, date), can I ask/suggest/hint that a guy dress nicer for me the way I try to for him? Does doing so make me some sort of superficial ditz? What if he's already dressing nicer and I unintentionally insult him?
And how much is it about the asker vs. the askee? "I am much more attracted to you when you wear makeup" sounds pretty innocuous unless you phrase it as, "I need women to wear makeup to be attractive to me." Thinking about it this way makes it seem like "You change or I leave," which I don't think is always the case. But maybe it is. When someone told me that I wasn't pretty enough for him and that he was embarrassed to introduce me to his friends because of this (after months of dating; I'm sure he has his own version of what he said), I was, thank the very good Lord, at a point in my life where I realized that wasn't about me at all, but about his (sadly mistaken) perception of beauty.
But that's what this is all about, isn't it? Our differing perceptions of beauty and attractiveness? That's part of what makes me hesitant to share these thoughts sometimes. Our perceptions of physical attractiveness sometimes seem so arbitrary to me. And if they aren't arbitrary, then they seem like they're lifted straight out of the advertisements that assault us daily. Maybe his hair really does look good with gel in it, or maybe he really does look good in pleated pants, and I just don't see it because I expect something else or because I randomly, arbitrarily, find that look distasteful. And, if that's the case, I should change rather than he.
I was talking to my paternal grandmother over a year ago about what kinds of differences with a spouse are okay and which are too vast to overcome, and if one should bail if a relationships feels like hard work. She claimed that she and my grandfather mostly agreed on things, and that things were different when everyone married someone from roughly their neighborhood/background/socioeconomic situation. My father remembers them disagreeing more than my grandmother does, so some rose-colored-glasses-wearing may be going on here. Another interesting thing: She and my great-aunt were married to two brothers, who have both since passed away. She claimed that marriage is easy and is not really hard work, and my great-aunt claimed that marriage is very hard work, indeed. I am inclined to agree with my great-aunt, who also dispensed some fascinating wisdom about her married life. She said that she and my great-uncle spent six months discussing long-term relationships, marriage, whether they were suited for each other, how each of them was and how they would work together, before deciding to get married. Over the ensuing decades, they found out that nothing that each had said about him/herself was really true (because they didn't know themselves well enough, not because any deceit was going on), but that their marriage was great anyway--just not as they had predicted. Which goes to show that no matter how much you talk, you are unlikely to predict how you will be in ten or twenty years, or how you will be with a spouse, and I guess you just hope that it works out anyway. I dunno. That's sort of what I'm asking here.
The more I think about two distinct, adult individuals building a common life together, the more outlandish the whole enterprise seems. Obviously, both sides need to make compromises for it to work, but what kinds of compromises? What compromises are reasonable? Which are unnecessary? How does anyone ever end up having kids and not destroying them with the inherent contradictions and differences between the parents?
And will you please put on a clean shirt? Thanks!