Ask Jono: Can You Change a Guy?
One late night as I was trying to finish an English paper, I got distracted and drifted over to the "Take a Study Break" section... uh oh. Well, I began reading a bunch of your advice columns and I realized you could help me out. You haven't answered a question like mine yet, I believe, and as I am in a bit of a predicament, I decided to give you a shot. You're welcome.
This story begins with the most-ever-used cliche "I have a crush..." BUT! This is not your typical story. This boy (whose name is Bradley, whose name is not actually Bradley), and I have known each other for a very long time—we have gone to the same schools off and on since elementary school. He used to be kind of a laughing stock when we were little because he has some issues with... hygiene. He has improved in many ways since then, but some of the issues have not improved. Now, in senior year, we have become much closer friends than ever before. I can tell he really likes me, and my best friend is always reminding me of this apparent fact. I think he is so sweet and mostly attractive. Even though I'm pretty sure he's never had a girlfriend before, I think he could be good boyfriend material—he's always respectful, he has a great sense of humor, he's very talented and creative, etc. Bradley is a very awkward boy, and that's okay, because I'm an awkward girl. I think it might take him 20 years to ask me out, and your other advice columns have helped me deal with that, but I don't want to fully lead him on yet. There are certain things about him that, however trivial, just irk me (i.e the way he drives and eats, his lips are weird, he can be somewhat lost-minded, etc). And I'm not sure I can get over the hygiene issue either. My ideal plan would be to get closer with him as a sort of trial run to see if I can stand him, but I know that's not possible. It would break his heart. I do not want to break Bradley's heart.
Please know that I write you in search of the best resolution, where he doesn't get hurt, and I don't pass up what could be a really great opportunity, because although this letter may convey that I don't really like him that much, I do! That is precisely why I am so conflicted.
Thank you for your help,
Can't Think of Any Catchy Pseudonyms, Oh Well.
Your pseudonym is fine, Sparkler, because I can abbreviate it CaTACPOW, which sounds like an android who is also an attack cat, in a comic book.
As for your question, you're right, this is a bit of a different one for me. Reading this from your dude's perspective (which I always inadvertently do), what you're describing is basically a dream come true. Antisocial dudes everywhere constantly fantasize being in this scenario. ("Yeah, I smell bad and I have weird lips and I get lost on the way to my own bathroom, but someday a girl will fall in love with me for who I really am! For some reason! *crams an entire taco sideways into his enormous fish-lipped mouth and then drives haphazardly into a mailman*)
I'm not making fun of your situation, though. I really think it's respectable that you're aware of all the bad stuff about this dude, but you like the good stuff about him enough that you want to give him a chance. And from the the moment you told me about his smelliness (or whatever "hygiene problems" means, which doesn't really matter), I was positive you were going to ask me how to change him, and I was all prepared to strut in and lecture you, like a boring moron, about how hard it is to change someone. And I fully intend to do that anyway, but it's great that your first thought was about how to protect his feelings, and not "how do I make this dude into a completely new dude who sucks less."
1.) Can Dudes Change?
Yes. Well, sort of. If you were 35 and you met a 35-year-old guy who smelled terrible and couldn't remember where he lived, then the answer would probably be "no." Technically, anybody can change, at any time, but after a certain point in life, what you've done for your whole life up until this point is basically who you are. But I'm bringing this up in your situation because every dude gets a pass up until high school (or possibly college). Before high school, whatever a kid does is irrelevant because he's just a kid. High school itself is awful, because the onset of Craziness Hormones makes you want to either play football or wear black and write poems about blood. Either way, you are biologically prone to smelling terrible. The point to this whole diatribe is that dudes tend to change a lot in the few years following high school—they adapt to adult levels of hygiene, and generally just become less goony overall. Usually. My point is that your dude will grow out of some of these issues himself, and it might even be possible to gently fix them for him. Note that I said "MIGHT BE." And "GENTLY."
2.) Doing a Trial Run
In your letter, you immediately discounted trying this, but I think it's possible. What you can't do is fling your arm over his shoulder and be like "Hey, sweetypants! How's it going, lovemuffin! Let's get extra married, hotface." And then later you conclude that his lips are stupid and you punch him in the face.
Instead of doing that, you can be subtle about it—enough to put yourself in a position where you know if his quirks are really a dealbreaker or not. It's clear you already hang around the guy a lot (or you wouldn't notice all his idiosyncrasies); would it be that different to shoehorn him into a semi-date situation? (I'm thinking, for example, of going to a movie with several other people, but making sure you sit next to this guy. Or eating lunch at his table and being very blase about it, like it's no big deal.) There are ways to spend time with someone, repeatedly, without signing a contract that says We Are Officially Dating For Srs. All you're trying to do is determine if putting up with his quirks actually bothers you that much, or if it's not a big deal. If you're with him for a few hours a day, and his eating like a goon doesn't cause you to have a heart attack, is it really that much of an obstacle? (For the record, couples only spend around two hours together anyway, most of which is spent watching TV.)
3.) Is He Boyfriend Material?
All of that stuff is just dodging the main question, though, which is: are you sure you like him? Is this worth it to you? At the end of your question, you assert that you genuinely like the guy, but usually, when people say "I like this boy!!" they don't mentally follow it up with "...except he has a dumb face and a weird butt and I hope he falls into a volcano!" If you truly do like almost everything about him, and the trivial things that bug you really are trivial, then you can ignore those things, or joke about them, or slyly try to change them (for example, by giving him a fancy bar of designer soap for his birthday, or by giving him a pair of Halloween wax lips to cover up his terrible lips). But if it's deeper than that—if this stuff drives you completely crazy as it is—then you shouldn't just date him and hope it works out in the end.
You can always nudge someone toward being less stupid, but you should never start a relationship based on the belief that the other person will change, because that's unfair to both of you. Get as close to him as you can in vaguely flirty situations without actually committing to anything, and listen to your heart—if you spend serious time with the guy and you find yourself thinking, "Aww, he's really sweet," despite his glaring problems, then go for it. But if the only thing your brain can think is "AARGH, HIS LIPS ARE LIKE EARTHWORMS," then you're not going to overcome those hangups, and this relationship probably isn't meant to be.