Picture this (adopts Sophia from Golden Girls voice), Dublin, 2000. It’s a few days before Christmas and I’m making my way to the arrivals hall with all of my baggage (literally and figuratively…) after getting off a flight from Miami. My parents thought I was just coming home for Christmas in between semesters, but I was actually moving back and getting myself as far away as possible from what I’d slowly come to realise was an abusive relationship creeping up on me.
My relief at being home quickly dissipated when within minutes of arriving, my mother told me that my ex had been in touch with her, apologising, saying how mean I’d been to him, how much he’d changed (oxymoron right there), and that he wanted to get back together with me. I felt panic grip my insides and the dark cloud I thought I’d left behind me in Fort Lauderdale was back.
Hours later he showed up in an ill fitting leather jacket, with a large bunch of flowers, and an overwhelming need to win me over. In theory you’d like to believe you’d be happy when your ex ‘comes crawling back’ after treating you badly and he was ticking boxes with flowers, apologies and engagement references, but I just couldn’t muster up happiness. Instead I felt afraid. He apologised repeatedly but really it meant “Hurry the eff up and accept my apologies so that I can stop feeling out of control.” He pitched me a life where I could have a “little car” and a “little job” and go and do a “little course”, and we could be so happy together.
But do you know what was odd though? During that visit and over the course of five weeks when he pursued me and harangued me about taking him back until I stopped sleeping, he was never once able to tell or consistently show me exactly what was different. Oh he felt bad that I had felt bad about him treating me bad, but in truth he was a Future Faking wrong footed man.
“How do I know if they’ve changed?” is a question I’ve been asked thousands of times. Too Good To Be True Exes will have you saying “They say they’ll even go to counselling” or “They say they’ll never hurt me again and that things are going to be different this time”.
When someone comes back to you claiming that they’ve changed, that they’ve missed you, are sorry, full of regret, that they’re never going to do or be whatever again and yada yada yada, they should be able to tell you what is different.
What is different in their thinking and actions now that they’re saying that they’ve changed and want to get back together? What problems have they identified that they’ve addressed that can have them claiming they’ve changed?
Anyone can claim they’ve changed but it takes someone of action to show it.
When they come back saying they will change, they’re asking you to take a punt on something that hasn’t happened yet. And it can’t have because the truth is, if someone treated you badly and really had changed, they’d have the good grace to leave you be.
What amazes me, is that the great majority of people when confronted with these claims, don’t take enough time and energy to find out what’s been happening since you broke up.
Where have they been? What have they been doing? Who have they been doing? How did they come to these realisations? What help have they had so far if professional help has been needed and would they still be doing it irrespective of whether you were around? Have they said they’ll change before? If so, what’s so different this time? – Make a list.
What they won’t say is “Well…after we broke up, I quickly got onto a dating site and started collecting attention, followed by an attempt at a relationship. That hasn’t worked out and I suddenly realised that I miss the familiarity of that someone that loves and believes in me no matter what I do to them.”
They’re definitely not going to say “To be honest, I was kind of surprised by how you cut me out of your life and even told me all about myself. I suddenly wondered if I’d misjudged you/our relationship. I also hate being out of control. This whole situation makes me think I look like an assclown. If you take me back, then obviously I’m not.”
Being out of control, something that many unavailable people equate with desire, feeling lonely, fear that you’re not an option, rejection from elsewhere, the problems they had with you following them elsewhere and creating problems, are just some of the reasons why they may find themselves claiming that they’ve changed when they haven’t.
Just like someone can overestimate their interest or capacity for a relationship, the desire or capacity to change can also be overestimated. Sometimes they’ve been Future Faking the possibility of changing over and over again down the years to their family, co-workers, friends, and exes – you just don’t know it. You’re just someone else believing in them and buying into the pipe dream that they’re going to have to disappoint when you expect it to be delivered on.
If you do know it and are thinking “Things will be different this time” and ‘this time’ is the third time (most people love giving out second chances) and beyond, it’s a sign that you’re still holding that defibrillator on your flatlining relationship while wearing rose tinted glasses and the fur coat of denial.
This isn’t to say that people can’t and don’t change – hell I have, as have many other people, but we do it because of our own motivations and the change takes place regardless. There has to be major consequences to not changing and often that doesn’t equate to not being with you. Why? Because if you’ve put up with all sorts of inappropriate, boundary busting stuff from them, they know you’ll take ’em as is. If you haven’t moved on and left them in the dust while also being receptive, it says “I’m hopeful that you’re ready to make me the exception to your rule of shady behaviour. I’m up for negotiation.”
This is why It’s absolutely critical that when they come back claiming that they’ve changed, that you don’t prompt them or put words in their mouth. Actions speak louder than words but if someone’s going to come squawking about change, they’d better match.
Do not fill in the blanks. Make no assumptions. Let them explain. For all you know, you could assume they mean the thing you’ve been on their arse like Zorro about for a gazillion years and they could have latched onto something minuscule as a way to get their foot through the door.
If they have an issue that requires professional help, they should have been doing that for a few months at least before they come rolling up for a chance.
Hard as it may be to hear, some people say that they’ve changed because they know it’s a conversation and even leg opener. Claiming change will end silence or even calm down anger. They know that they have to front like they have changed to get your attention and gain your trust. If you’re receptive, your imagination is up and away Betting On Potential. Or you’re naked.
Before you sell yourself in on a new deal, do your homework and make sure you had something good enough in the first place to warrant returning to. If you don’t, it’s like allowing the dodgy door to door salesman that sold you the busted vacuum cleaner to come back and sell you another one. Anyone who has previously sold you a dodgy relationship is only back to sell you another one. Instead of being curious, close the door on their foot or just don’t answer.
If you have a habit of having partners claiming that they’ve changed, have dealt with Future Faking, and being a Florence Nightingale, check out my book and ebook Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl in my bookshop.