Evan Marc Katz recently wrote a thought provoking post called, Can he Really Be A Good Guy Who Just Got Scared And Bolted, Or Am I Right To Wonder About The Strength Of His Character? In it, a woman named Dee Ann described a guy she dated for a month that she had an awesome connection with. The guy disappeared, no explanation, no contact, poof. Two months go by and the guy contacted Dee Ann out of the blue, apologied profusely and stated that stress caused him to disappear. They eventually start dating again. She wrote to Evan seeking advice and wondered about her man’s integrity.
I was really surprised, because the gist of EMK’s advice was that people don’t change and Dee Ann should consider moving on. I disagreed and I had a really strong reaction to the post. I’ve written before that I think people are adaptable and capable of making huge changes in short amounts of time. For me, the bottom line is humans learn and grow, people want to change, and every single person is capable of improving themselves. Most of the time we just don’t know how. The idea that people can change is why there is a multi-billion dollar personal development industry, a multi-billion dollar fitness industry, and why people seek dating advice online, because they want to figure stuff out, stop making mistakes, and get better.
Besides that, I find the thought that people don’t change depressingly pessimistic, and I hear it all the time about guys especially. I mean, we do dumb stuff, but we’re not freaking animals. If Dee Ann takes the hater’s advice and ditches the dude, I think it moves us one step closer to the notion that our mistake-prone boyfriends and girlfriends are disposable objects. Your guy made a mistake? Ditch him, get back on Match.com, find a better boyfriend. Find a perfect boyfriend! Well, guess what: there are no perfect boyfriends. We’ve all fucked up at some point. Ladies, you’re not going to escape unscathed either, because you have all made mistakes, too. Every single one of us gets a chance at redemption.
One of the commenters on EMK’s post suggested testing his character in some way to ascertain if he’s really interested. I think that’s a great idea. Firstly, I would sit the guy down and give him a stern talking-to. Then, I would create some kind of test to gauge his interest and reveal his thoughts and feelings. If he passes the test and you get a good read on his character, stick it out. Here are several ideas:
1. Tell him that you’re going to date other people for a certain time period, say 2-3 months, during which he can only have a platonic friendship with you. If the mutual interest still exists at the end of the stretch, and he’s being cool, then trying dating again. Alternatively, you can leave out the dating-other-people part and simply tell the other person they have to be a good friend (no sex) for 2-3 months to pass the test. I call this the Purgatory Test, and it will drive most guys nuts. Sounds rough, but hey, the dude blew it so he needs to take his licks. How he reacts will be highly character revealing.
2. The offender is required to read a good relationships book (or books) and write a thoughtful book report on it. Then the person has to present it to you. Sounds totally gay, but you know what? I’d wager you can’t read 5 Love Languages and Eat, Pray, Love without having a couple of lights come on. This is particularly effective if the person doesn’t normally read. Yeah, that’s right, I said write a book report.
4. The person has to perform volunteer hours at the institution of your choice. This is pretty hardcore and I would suggest doing it together. Plenty of opportunity for growth here.
5. The person has to join a gym and exercise 6 days per week for 1 month straight. This is only effective for folks who don’t normally go to the gym.
There are five ideas for breaking someone out of their comfort zone and spurring change. What else can you think of? If you’re going to try a creative solution, be sure that the crime fits the punishment. I say instead of ditching perfectly good people who makes mistakes and do dumb stuff, which we all do, find a creative solution and help the both of you out.