Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?


I really dug Honey’s post, When is Enough, Enough, because she touched on a number of points that are relevant to my life. Really, they’re relevant to all daters and LTR folks out there. Here are three points:

Investing in relationships and wasting time. My take here is that all relationships are worthy experiences, and experience is a good thing. It’s a good investment even though you break up, and you’re gonna have breakups. I wrote an extensive post on relationship experience here.

Overlooking bad behavior. I’m certainly guilty of bad behavior in some of my relationships and also overlooking bad behavior and trying to stick it out. I like to think I’m past this now. Generally, I did this because I was comfortable and didn’t want to go find another chick, not because I was worried about the investment level. I believe in the clean break rule, but I also want to caution against breaking away too soon.

People can change. This is what I want to sink my teeth into.

The majority of the time, I agree completely with Honey, if you’re in a bad relationship, one or both of the partners won’t change. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. This sucks, but it’s absolutely true, because people are lazy and undisciplined, and once you get comfortable, it’s game over. You’ll keep repeating the same patterns and habits, just like Honey said.

However, it’s worth pointing out that humans are the most adaptable, dynamic creatures on Earth, and that we’re capable of making radical changes in a short amount of time. We have to in order to survive. I want to throw out a few examples of when people change:

As you can see, people are capable of making changes, but it usually requires extraordinary circumstances to bring about those changes, sometimes even life threatening. I call these extraordinary events change agents, and change agents are a tough way to go about changing your life. I mean, it’s just dumb to wait to have a heart attack before getting motivated to exercise. It’s dumb to wait until a divorce to realize you need to grow your emotional self and your attractiveness. We should be able to get to those point in other ways. But how?

My way was to study and practice social artistry (ie pickup). Pickup is great, because when done properly, it removes your ego, teaches you to be disciplined and embrace hard work, and gives you the tools to criticize yourself and make adjustments. That’s what happens when you approach 1000 women and get rejected 900 times. You become outcome independent and you start to analyze your interactions for flaws and areas to improve. You realize you’re going to make mistakes, it’s all a process of learning, and that you’re going to fuck it up.

I don’t know another system for getting those tools, but I can recommend a) accepting blunt, even harsh, criticism, b) dating a lot for the experience, and c) reading cutting edge advice.

So I do believe that people can change, but it takes a lot of hard work and a willingness to do so.

  • Honey

    I like what you have to say here, Lance, especially about being outcome independent with particular individuals/interactions. I would like to reiterate that people don’t change for other people (except in the two examples above where there are children involved). When embracing change, you have to realize that the only person you can change is YOU.

    Great post!

    Honeys last blog post..Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?

  • Hot Alpha Female

    Whoa lance great post and I’m totally relating to everything you just said there.

    Like you said people can change!! I’m an absolute believer in this. But in order for them it has to be a so called MUST. Something in their mind has to happen where they reach a threshold and they decide to make a change. Where not changing would be more painful than changing. That is basic human psychology.

    The one thing that i love about pick up artists who are more developed is after they get all the crazy sex out of the system, they usually end up much more rounded and well developed guys with a somewhat more (I said more) mature aspect on dating and life experiences.

    In essence, learning pick up or anything to do with dating, is a learning about yourself.

    Hot Alpha Female

    Hot Alpha Females last blog post..I Can’t Pretend To Like You Anymore!

  • cheekie

    I agree, and I think the absolute key is willingness.
    You have to want it for yourself, no one else, not even a significant other can make you change.
    You just have to respect and love the other person enough to believe that you do indeed have some behaviours/problems that might need to be worked on.
    Too many women (and sometimes men, but not as often) try to change their partner. Make them wear the ‘right’ clothes, ‘right’ car, blah blah.
    They convince their guy that spending time with the boys is ‘bad’ so the guy stops.

    But it always bites us in the arse, because of this constant and dare I say stereotypical behaviour, men are hesitant these days to change anything about themselves. Even if it is something detrimental (drinking too much, smoking, drugs…whatever).
    The immediate response is a defensive one.

    You cannot change anyone else. Ever.
    You may for a short period of time, but it always comes back.
    All you can do is be yourself, and if a behaviour is really detrimental, find a way to help or fix it. If it can be fixed.
    Many people change because the timing is right, and they do indeed meet someone that will help them to be the better person that they ALREADY want to be. But you cannot force it. A good relationship will show a mirror to you, and will help you see what you need to do to be a better, healthier person.

    what’s that old joke, ‘ a woman marries a man hoping she will change him, a man marries a woman hoping she will never change’???

    (p.s. I know some guys who have tried to do this to women too, so I am not trying to be a hypocrite talking about a stereotype and proliferating it…it’s just more common)

  • lisaq

    Change definitely comes from within. And, you’re right Lance, it usually takes something traumatic to make it happen. Sometimes though, we just realize that we are never to going to find what we want in life unless we figure crap out and make changes in our lives.

    The thing is change is uncomfortable and sometimes difficult as we have to be able to face our own harsh realities and be willing to do something about them. A lot of people can’t handle that. They don’t realize how worth the journey it is to deal with it and come out better and happier on the other side.

    They end up dropping out of the race or talking the talk without walking the walk neither of which will get them nowhere fast.

    lisaqs last blog post..Online Dating Finally Comes Through!

  • Holly Hoffman

    What you’re pointing out, though, is that the person who needs to change wants to and does the work. When we get stuck in these craptastic relationships (and we all have at some point), it’s usually one person wanting to change the other. It’s one thing to want to change, it’s another to want to change someone else.

    There are all sorts of ways we’ll try to change someone else’s behavior – we’ll act distant to try to pull them back in, we’ll cheat to make them jealous, we’ll get into fights over their habit of leaving dirty socks all over the gawddam house. What we have to realize is that the person has to be willing to change.

    The time to walk is when they don’t want to change. I can’t change you, you don’t want to change. Thus, I can accept you as you are, or I can decide to find someone else that I can accept as they are. Too many of us are guilty of the Tweak – “If he’d just pay more attention to me/compliment me/pick up his socks, he’d be perfect.” Then we try to tweak it to perfection. Doesn’t happen.

    You have two options: acceptance & change. Accept the person as they are, or change your situation for yourself. [Note: Offer them the opportunity to change first, then leave. Running out on a 4-year relationship without telling the bastard you just couldn’t stand the dirty socks anymore is not kosher.]

    Holly Hoffmans last blog post..You’re Not the Brand I Thought You Were, Starbucks

  • Honey

    I agree, Holly. When I was teaching persuasive argument in my college writing courses, I’d tell my students, “People are inherently lazy. Therefore, to convince them to take action, you must convince them not that your position is morally superior, but that they have more to lose by doing nothing than they do by taking action.” And it’s SO TRUE.

    Honeys last blog post..Can You Teach An Old Dog New Tricks?

  • Cathouse Teri

    Excellent post. Love it.

    And yes, an old dog can learn new tricks. But you can’t teach them to him.

    That’s the real issue. People want to be able to change their partners. And they want their partners to want to change. But people only change for their own reasons. You cannot impress yours on them. Whether it’s a heart attack or an improved relationship that motivates them. It’s their own thing.

    It’s best just to remember that you are the only one you can control. You can control how you let others affect you, but you cannot control them. In any way, shape or form.

    Cathouse Teris last blog post..HELLBOY II

  • cheekie

    Hey Honey, great point and example.
    I’d really like to see some expansion on that whole
    ‘they have more to lose by doing nothing than they do by taking action.’
    What would be the argument given? If it is non confrontational, can you suggest ways in which someone might ‘convince’ someone of your position in the way you describe?

    Seriously, I think that that would be a great post, as we all understand the concept (s) we talk about, but practical advice and direction would clarify for some, I believe.

    What do ya think???