A New Me With Every Relationship
Many people, including myself, like to believe we are unable and unwilling to change for anybody else. We rarely talk about how we have transformed for, and as a result of, our romantic encounters. In reality, each of us have, in the past, made our personalities malleable to cater to the likes and dislikes of another person.
The process of altering is so gradual that I didn’t even notice I had changed parts of myself until after the end of my nearly four-year relationship with Connor*. Post breakup, my sense of self was an eclectic pool of my likes, pet peeves, and desires, but it was littered with things I had forced myself to happily tolerate in order to make him like me more. Suddenly, I was vastly unsure if I really did enjoy country music with bursting banjo lines, The Princess Bride, or college football.
I had latched onto these because they were his existing interests, and I hadn’t even hesitated to question the intent of my actions. But I’m not alone in pursuing this default strategy for connecting with someone else.
Freshman writing, literature, and publishing major Brynn Rhodes jumped on the rap bandwagon once she discovered how much one of her high school boyfriends enjoyed the genre. “I would listen to it in the car and try to memorize everything, just so he would be impressed by me,” she says. And Sabine Waldeck, a freshman journalism major, watered down her partying to be accepted by her ex. “In the beginning, I didn’t go out to party as much as I used to because I knew that he didn’t,” says Waldeck.
All of our intentions are harmless. We don’t deliberately choose to introduce these falsehoods into the relationship. The problem really lies in the fact that we all adopt personas to please our partners, so we aren’t presenting our genuine selves. Instead, we offer up these separate entities we have created that are more accessible and convenient to our partners—identities created to be liked and accepted.
Waldeck viewed this in her most recent relationship. “When I would talk about things that I’m into, he would act a little bit more excited about them than I think was warranted,” she says. “He would be like, ‘I also love the Sims,’ but I could tell he didn’t really know what I was talking about.” His fabricated interest was an effort to gain her attention and affection.
Once I finally recognized the fact that I had changed for Connor, I ran from the interests I had picked up for him. I thought that I could only be in a place where I loved everything he did to the extent he did, or I was myself again and liked none of it. It was a conclusion void of complexity and vulnerability. It was easy. But the existence of people in our lives is not so clear cut.
Neuroscientists at Stanford University have theorized that people are physically unable to invent faces. Therefore, everyone in our dreams is someone we have encountered before in real life. It’s evidence that the impact of the people we meet is eternal. If this is true and all relationships—big and small—are really immortal connections, then Connor and the things I learned to love for him are now forever a part of me.
Rhodes recently came to this realization as well. “I listen to rap all the time now,” she says. “It did resonate [after our relationship]. I didn’t really think that he was the foundation until now, but he really was.”
The lasting effect isn’t always so strong. Sometimes, the intensity of our love for these things diminishes, but stays ever present. Waldeck agrees: “We all play up how much we like stuff based on the partner’s interest. But, we just don’t like them to that extent afterwards.”
It is impossible for any of us to rewind and “un-change” these things that we injected into our personalities, so instead they linger around within us in small bits and pieces. I may not be a Princess Bride fanatic now, quoting lines in conversation to get that slightest nod of appreciation from him, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a newfound respect for the cinematic classic.
After these people leave our lives, it’s understandable that, at first, a lot of us try to disassociate with these interests entirely, like I did with Connor initially. Listening to that music, watching those movies, or doing anything that they loved takes us back to the heat of the moment and reminds us of them. It hurts.
But now that these passions are an integral part of ourselves, we must give them another significance that is unique to us. “You just have to find a different meaning for it,” says Rhodes. And for when the next person inevitably comes along, we should make sure we only attach to the interests of theirs that actually appeal to us and vow to remain more true to who we are.
Illustration by Nick Sugrue