I’m in a Relationship With a Great Guy Who Just Won’t Change. What Should I Do?

couple looking at each other

I’ve been in a relationship with a really great guy for over a year. He’s warm, thoughtful, considerate, loving, and completely accepting. But there is one problem, he overthinks everything and often tells me he’s “getting ready” to do something, though I’ll never see action of what it is he’s getting ready to do.

For example:  He lost his job in August due to the company closing. Since that time, he’s put in applications and turned down job offers because the pay wasn’t in line with what he thinks he’s worth. He knows he needs to have more income than what unemployment offers, though due to his lack of bills he can actually live on unemployment alone, he just will not get ahead. And for the last three weeks, he’s been “getting ready” to put in more applications anywhere in order to work; although, once again, no action has been taken to do this nor can he tell me when he thinks he might do it.

This happens in many areas, not just with his job, but I should add that he can make decisions. It doesn’t take him three hours to decide where to have dinner. But the big decisions, like his job, or school, or where to live, he will seem paralyzed by and spend what I personally consider an inordinate amount of time contemplating before moving forward.

I really enjoy him, and there are so many good points, but this prolonged process of “getting ready” to do things wears on me. I wonder if this is something I should just learn to deal with? Am I being unreasonable or expecting someone to be too much like me? Or should I expect more?


Dear Shari,

You’re screwed.

It’s the unfortunate and immutable truth about people. THEY DON’T CHANGE, no matter how much you want it, no matter how much it would be good for them.

Wait, I should rephrase that.

If you’re looking for a man who will make the big decisions in a manner that satisfies you, then keep looking. Your boyfriend has given you an important glimpse into his soul, and you are right to be alarmed by the way he’s handling this situation.

This doesn’t negate his many good qualities. Just read this blog every week and you’ll know how lucky you are to have found a guy who is warm, thoughtful, considerate, loving and accepting. But a person who is always “getting ready” will never stop “getting ready”. It’s the unfortunate and immutable truth about people. THEY DON’T CHANGE, no matter how much you want it, no matter how much it would be good for them.

Look around. You’ll see. Overweight people making New Years Resolutions to slim down, only to lapse back into old comfortable habits. Why? Because they would rather eat things that taste good and watch TV than consume bland salads and use the treadmill for 45 minutes a day. As a result of this decision, they will never, ever, ever lose weight. This doesn’t mean that they are bad people or stupid people or weak people. It just means that they’re people. And people do what they want, presuming there’s nothing stopping them from doing so.

Take a man who has dated a woman for three months without committing to her. Is he indecisive? Is he scared? Is he confused? No! He just doesn’t want her as a girlfriend. If he did, he would say, “I want you to be my girlfriend.” It’s no more complex than that. He has no incentive to change, so he doesn’t change. This explains pretty much all behavior.

I was a Hollywood screenwriter during my twenties. And although I didn’t make it beyond a few freelance jobs, awards, and random accolades, I knew that I was, in fact, a real writer. Why? Because I WROTE prolifically. 15 sitcoms and 13 screenplays in 10 years. My philosophy was that if I failed, it certainly wasn’t going to be because I didn’t try hard enough. Contrast that with other writers I knew, some of whom tinkered with their work for years, and still never completed a first draft. We could make the argument that they were perfectionists, that they were picky, that they were afraid of rejection, but none of that matters. By not finishing any screenplays, they were making their dream of writing for a living completely impossible. And they have no one to blame but themselves.

Your boyfriend is a writer who doesn’t write. A fat person who won’t lose weight. He would rather passively continue on his wayward path than get tough and affect a real change. And yet, if you express anything but abject support for him, you will be perceived as cold or selfish. Don’t get me wrong: losing a job is rough. It beats up on a man’s ego like nothing else in the world. But it’s within his power to do something different, and his paralysis is just a mechanism that justifies his laziness.

He has no incentive to change, so he doesn’t change. This explains pretty much all behavior.

So understand, I couldn’t be more sympathetic to you. I’m a believer in change, a believer in action. I think that your boyfriend would be ashamed if he ever read an Ayn Rand book because it would illustrate his very insignificance as a contributor to the planet. But I also have to point out that his passive nature goes hand in hand with his other good qualities – loving, accepting, considerate, etc.

To parallel this with my own life: I am far more Type A than my wife, who has spent the past 14 years at the same company, and literally spent three weeks going through 5000 songs on my iPod just to choose a wedding song. Does her deliberate and conservative nature drive me a little nuts at times? Sure. However, I’ve never been more loved and accepted by anyone in the world – and that became more important than a having a partner who was identical to me.

As a woman who may be counting on her man to provide a measure of financial security, I couldn’t tell you whether it’s smart to stick with this guy. But I will say this: your boyfriend is not going to change. Not for you. Not for him. Not for anyone. This is who he is. You just have to ask yourself how you’d feel if you were married, had two kids, and a mortgage, and he still refused to get a job.

I think your course of action, at that point, would be crystal clear.

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  1. 21

    I agree with the Datective, but I think Sheri needs to realize that this is about her and what she wants, and not about the guy and who he currently is.

    No one can tell her what her expectations should be, or whether her feelings are “reasonable”. To ask for same is to ironically mirror her partner’s experience.

    CasualEncountersBlog´s last blog post…Wibblings

  2. 22

    I do appreciate everyone’s thoughtful insights – thank you! This letter was written while I was in the middle of deciding what to do, and as Casual Encounters mentions, yes, I did know this was about me, and this is exactly what I told my boyfriend. I didn’t want to ask him to change, I’ve already been on that end of a relationship and it’s painful, to say the least, when things that are just you become unacceptable to the person you’re with and they can’t accept you and want you to change.

    Naturally, there is MUCH more to this relationship than what I wrote. The job issue is the biggest, which is why I made it an example, but the procrastination permeated everything, including infringing on the time he spent with me, and returning phone calls, or e-mails. There was also a lack of motivation that meant a two year degree which is gateway to a better job was taking six years to complete (and it’s still not done), and a lack of self control that found him losing jobs because he didn’t get to sleep on time and overslept his alarm day after day.

    After a year and a half of this I had to ask myself if I could be okay in the long run with someone who could regularly become too busy at just about anything and forget an obligation to me until the last minute, or had no self motivation, and little self control and discipline. I realized these things were deal breakers and as wonderful as he is in other areas, I had to tell him there can be nothing romantic between us. I did tell him that this was about me, not him. There are certain basic things I need to have to sustain a romantic relationship and while we have this great friendship, with the lack of those other things, a great friendship is all we could have. He seemed relieved when I brought it up, having already come to that conclusion but as is just him, he had been getting ready to bring it up, just hadn’t gotten there yet. So we’ve decided to remain friends.

    I’m a regular reader of Evan’s Blog and have always liked the honesty that not just he displays, but in the comments by his readers. So thanks again.

  3. 23

    Thanks for the update, Shari. Glad things seem to have turned out well for you.

  4. 24

    Just curious, Shari. Have you really remained friends with the guy? Like, do you still see him and hang out and stuff? Or is it more of a “I bear you no overt ill-will and would probably say hi if we bumped into each other in the street” sort of friendship?

    casualencounters.com/blog´s last blog post…Casual Encounters Web TV Show, Episode 2

  5. 25

    Casual E,

    Our relationship is long distance, one of the reasons his lack of a job, thus lack of money, thus lack of resources so we could see each other, bothered me so much. We never could just bump into each other, or hang out, we always had to schedule time to be together. At this point, because he’s still out of work, any face to face time will have to wait because I can’t afford to pick up the tab. But we still e-mail, text, and talk on the phone. There’s no romantic overtones any longer. Will this continue? Hard to say. We might eventually fizzle out, or it could become like another relationship I had where it just wasn’t going to work and we remained friends. To this day, four years later, we still spend time together. It’s just with a different set of feelings.

  6. 26

    Uh, actually, people do change! Just not for other people.

  7. 27

    Truth, truth behold, maybe you speak the truth, but, truth being, relationships are not always about the truth…..

  8. 28

    If the guy procrastinated at EVERYTHING (as in the post on Feb 20th 2009 at 04:13 am) then he either had major depression or didn’t love the woman he’s dating. And a third (!) possibility: he did love her (maybe even quite a lot), but his depression was just too awful and probably connected to other personality issues (past traumas, introversion or some similar interpersonal inhibition, as in: “procrastination permeated everything, including infringing on the time he spent with me, and returning phone calls, or e-mails”). Maybe the solution could have been to admit these psychological ills and get proper treatment or advice/counselling.

    sil´s last blog post…Review and wishlist for Media Player Classic 6.4.x.x

  9. 29
    Sara Malamud

    ”You do not change what you do not  acknowledge” says Dr Phil. Nobody but him can help himself. So if it bothers you, move on. Maybe he is happy the way he is and he just needs a woman who also  procrastinates! Do not waste time playing Florence Nightingale. Unless you enjoy it ?!

  10. 30
    Debbie Maez

    Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to mention that I’ve really loved surfing around your blog posts. After all I will be subscribing on your rss feed and I am hoping you write again soon!

  11. 31

    I think it is unrealistic for any of us to go into a relationship and NOT to expect to have to change. Relationships involve a process of adaptation to each other and this “you knew I was like this when you met me” line is such a cop out. In my major relationships I have made huge changes at times, to facilitate the relationship – I moved to a different country, had to change career, speak a different language make entirely new friends… Equally my partner at that time had to make big changes to his life to adapt to having a wife who was from another culture. I think adapting to each other and taking responsibility for the shared life you have together and making it work are basic components in a relationship. Anyone who is not prepared to adapt as life goes on is going to have problems in ALL areas of their life, not just in relationships – your partner may “love you as you are”   – at least for a while, but your employer, bank manager or the members of your tennis league may not if you constantly expect everyone just to fit in around you. Change and adaptation are the key to a successful life in every respect – anyone who is not prepared to adapt should not even bother getting into relationships in the first place!

  12. 32

    Women are being brainwashed, and mighty so. It’s ok to be with an unemployed man who sits on his ass and collects the dole money, because he is a “great guy”. I wonder if the situation was reversed, and it was a woman, sitting on her ass, doing nothing, no cooking, cleaning, working, would she be a great person? No, it’s not OK to live with a man who sits in his ass and expects you to clean, cook, work an take him out while he “thinks”. I bet he is older than you, too. Why do you waste your life on an old lazy loser? Dump him and move on.

    1. 32.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      Did you read what I wrote? I told her to dump him. Where’s the brainwashing?

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