One time in my life, I did a silly thing. Just one. I found myself interested in dating a guy I had been 'just friends' with for years. Over the years he had wanted to date, but I wasn’t feeling it then. Suddenly I began to reconsider and I let him know I’d be open to it.
In classic RomCom turn of events, he informed me he was no longer interested. Since I was young and cocky, I knew better. Friend Zone guy wasn’t going to turn me down.
I had this brilliant idea to shock him into seeing me in a new light--a more romantic light, if you will.
It was New Year’s Eve, and there was to be a big party at Provo’s first, finest, and only night club, SPARK (RIP), that we would both be attending.
On a whim, I drove (this is embarrassing) SIX HOURS round trip that day to have my favorite person dye my hair from its complete and totally natural state of bright blonde, to a dark, dark brunette.
When I showed up at the party with as much casual chill as I could muster, with my new hair and fancy dress, I found him standing on a very loud, dark balcony. I approached him and we talked for a few minutes.
At no time did he mention the makeover I had undergone for this very moment. Not even an eyebrow raise or the slightest flinch. Our conversation was businesslike and boring and I couldn’t leave fast enough.
We said our goodbyes, and I left the party confused and ready to drop it. I had given it a shot, it failed miserably, hair color doesn’t change hearts, I hate boys, blondes have more fun and I'm never leaving the house again.
A few minutes later I received a text from him asking if I was coming to the party…
Not only had he not noticed my hair color, he hadn't noticed...ME.
We had just talked for ten minutes face-to-face and he had no idea who he was talking to. Really cool, Kate.
We had a good laugh about this over text, and I only saw him a couple of times after that. The whole thing had jolted me from the trance I was in:
Never again would I change myself for another person. I was ready to face the future as an unapologetic blonde.
And then comes... marriage.
Whether or not I should have been putting so much stock into my hair color is debatable (is it though?). But what troubled me most was the fact that I was willing to change something that at the time, was a part of my identity.
What if the desired effect had been achieved and he gave dating a chance? What other, more essential, parts of myself would I have been willing to give up when I felt distance coming between us, dissatisfaction cropping up?
What doubts about my truest self would arise when I felt I wasn’t enough for him?
I would like to be able to say that I never again did something dumb to win another’s approval, but I can’t. What I’ve hopefully done is made it to a place where I am trying to win the right people’s approval, for the right reasons, and in the right ways.
Which begs the question: How much are we required to change for the sake of our partner? Is our partner expected to accept us no matter how we act, what we embrace, or how we change?
Although this flies in the face of my generation's view on "being yourself," I believe I should always be accepted for WHO I am, but I do not think I should always be accepted for HOW I am.
Who I am is someone who will always struggle with spontaneity and overthinking everything. My husband could work with the How and slooowly encourage me to think a little less before acting on the small stuff, and toward trying new things that, by loving me, he has learned I would enjoy.
How I am is pure banana-nut-cracker-Kool-aid-crazy when I'm hungry, and I wreak havoc on the whole family if I don’t eat. It's my responsibility to improve my eating habits to promote peace for everyone. If my husband reminds me to eat, he's not the bad guy trying to "change" me. Hangry is not Who I am.
If, on the other hand, he demanded I change how concerned I am with the well-being of a friend, or the overarching principles that guide the way I parent, or what topics I enjoy studying, that would beg the question of whether or not he is embracing my Who.
Who is one’s truest self, the gifts and challenges one was given in this life. It cannot be added to nor from it taken away.
Its value will never change, and it is infinite. Things may shift; weaknesses may become strengths, gifts may be muted or expanded. But the same components are always there.
How is what one chooses to do with those gifts and challenges, and it can be adjusted at any time. The How is the exhibition of the Who.
When we are honestly and actively working toward refining ourselves to the purest version of who we really are, we should be willing and ready to change the How whenever it is getting in the way.
If it's getting in the way of our progress or the progress of our marriage, it is also getting in the way of the best expression of our Who.
Other words we use interchangeably but that make an enormous difference are, “LOVE me for who I am” versus “ACCEPT me for who I am.”
Love is what we commit to when we join ourselves with another person. We promise to love them. You can look up in a myriad of places what love is. I’m willing to bet that you won’t find a definition of love that includes coercion or even requests for the other to change.
Love applies to the Who. The Who gets to be loved, at all times, in all places, by our One-and-Only.
Acceptance is a little trickier. Accepting someone for Who they are is a given. A human being deserves respect and rights simply for existing. So acceptance is rather best applied to the How.
Accepting someone for How they are means saying, the way you are behaving right now in this moment is completely fine with me. And that is something I don’t think we are entitled to have at all times and in all places with our One-and-Only.
So, how much of each?
I have a couple of clues as to what the answer might be.
One comes from my friend, Cara (Maskcara if you like beauty), whom I'll paraphrase because I couldn't find the picture. A few years ago she posted a photo of her husband on one of the husband-tribute days and said something like,
“I wouldn’t change one thing about you. Not one thing.”
I remember this simple statement really jolting me at the time. I thought, is this how I would describe my husband in this moment?
Knowing Cara and how content with life and marriage she is, I knew regardless of how I would answer the question, I would be wise to get to a place where my attitude was that simple: I don't want to change a single thing about him.
I found that focusing on my Love for his Who more than my Acceptance of his How would allow me to brush off the unimportant with ease. When I do that, then naturally the how's- the little things in his actions, rather than bother me, become a manifestation of the who I love so much.
That required changing a few things on the inside of me, but all the better. Marriage is the ultimate heart transformer, and a new heart is what I’m after.
The second clue came from my Dad. I read a birthday card he had given to my Mom that she had displayed on a shelf (a shelf in her room so I can’t say it was for public consumption, but I asked my Dad before publishing this so we’re good).
In it, he thanks my Mom for being great, etc. etc. Then he says, by way of complimenting her on being an excellent wife,
“My life is such that I envy no man.”
It struck me how much that statement said about my Dad, even as it praises my Mom. My Mom is an excellent human being and a great partner, and over the years I’ve observed countless ways she has shown her love to my Dad and enriched his life.
But let’s look at this from the outside: Mom is a relatively standard human. Of course I find her extraordinary, but for all intents and purposes, she’s basically 'normal', whatever that is.
Many 'normal' human beings marry other normals, and they don’t feel about their life the way my Dad feels about his. They envy, they wish, they blame. Often, they expect their spouse to have made their life great.
The reason my Dad doesn’t envy any man, isn’t only because of the greatness of my Mom. It’s because he makes a choice every day to Love her for Who she is, and adjusts himself on the inside to better accept her for how she is in return.
A person who believes it is their spouse’s duty to make them have a life free of desire for more, is going to be unhappy even when married to the 'perfect' person.
With that said, it would be selfish and silly to think we shouldn’t change at all during the course of our marriage. Improvement is a gift we can give our spouse if done right, and it’s important that we know what things would help our partner’s life be that much better. It’s not a sign of a bad marriage to talk about things we desire.
Changing because of someone is very different than changing for someone. Because of our love for them, we should be willing to find ways to adjust our how to make them most happy.
It’s the difference between changing to show love rather than changing to be loved. We should never have to fight for the latter, but we should always be working on the former.
If I believe being in an intimate, lifelong relationship with one person gives me license to act however I feel like acting and the other person is only to nod and smile in the name of “loving me for who I am,” I am confusing Love with Acceptance, and the Who for the How.
In marriage, the challenge isn’t how much love to give, or how many tries to get it right*; the answer to both is “endless”.
The challenge is learning to love completely and without expectation, while also acknowledging our acceptance limits and need for How adjustments to make the fit a little better, the home a bit more peaceful.
My husband always says, “A weakness is just a strength turned up two notches too high.” When we know we are loved for Who we are, our spouse can help us to see the How and encourage that dial to be turned where it needs to be for our greatest strengths, our Who and our hair color, to shine.
*Unless there is any kind of abuse going on, in which case, this advice does not apply.
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