Spare Change

I recently had the privilege of hearing Elizabeth Boyle give a talk on how to write a romance novel. One of the ideas she presented was that people change in four predictable steps: Denial, Resistance, Exploration, and Acceptance.

Elizabeth first came upon these steps in some Corporate America charm school class intended to bring unconventional employees into the behavioral fold. Rather than become a conventional employee, Elizabeth heard this information as a description of a romance hero or heroine’s character arc in a well written novel.

I think that’s pretty clever, to connect these seemingly unrelated dots, and better yet, the four steps are simple and intuitively applicable. Nobody likes to admit a cherished dream, self-image, career plan, or relationship needs an overhaul or trip to the rubbish heap. We minimize, deny, rationalize, avoid, and just plain refuse to deal with realities that hurt.

When the weight of evidence is overwhelming, we’ll entertain—purely theoretically—that some other approach might be worth a glance, and so forth.

But then I tried to find a situation in my life where I underwent a significant change by traveling this arc, I came up empty handed. I didn’t resist giving up on a hard sciences career—I dropped calculus and was relieved to turn my back once and for all on esoteric math.

I didn’t fight against putting away my musical skills—I was done, done, done with that.

I didn’t rail against the concept of marriage only to gradually accept the idea that I’d met Mr. Right. Himself proposed and I said yes.


In my experience, which is of course limited, I’ve found I’m more likely to change a little at a time, and in a context where I have love and support. I’ve gradually stopped overfunctioning in nineteen directions at once, as I’ve trusted more to friends and family to be there for me when I stumble. I’ve slowly, slowly come to terms with many of the body issues that plague the American female, mostly as a function of being around people who regard me highly, and without respect to my appearance.

What makes us change for the better? Is there a nice, tidy progression of steps—or maybe one for changes that require we give something up rather than simply acquire something new? I would think, as a child welfare attorney, this question of how we turn toward the light would be well studied…but it isn’t.

Not unless you consider the model suggested over and over again—to the tune of a billion dollar industry—by the modern romance novel: We change for the better when somebody loves us, and we love them, so much, that we find the courage to risk our very self-concept in an effort to safeguard that person’s wellbeing.

I say we change for the better because of love and courage, not because life paints us into a corner where change is the only sensible course.

What do you say? To one commenter below, I’ll send a signed copy of Cathy Maxwell’s “The Seduction of Scandal.”


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9 comments on “Spare Change

  1. Hi Grace, love your blog. My opinion about change and changing is quite different with you. Sometimes, in a lot of time we were forced to change because life paints us into a corner where change is the only sensible thing to do. it is indeed true that love change us into a better person but love sometimes also the true force of nature that change us into what we don’t want to be.

    • I think you’re right, Aretha, in that for most of us, there probably isn’t one specific way to change. Some changes sneak up on us over years, some changes we go through in a kicking, screaming, rush. In either case, I’d rather have the support of people I love when I’m dealing with life’s shifting sands.

  2. Grace, I believe that BOTH of you are right. I think it depends on the person as to what initiates the change for them. I think a person with a healthy ego looks for and explores change and how it will effect them and then decides which ‘road’ to take.
    For me, I had to be painted into a corner before opting to change. The first change was the hardest (divorce) the next a little easier, then each subsequent change became easier and easier until I saw change as a very positive event.
    Looking back the divorce was the best thing that could have happened to me and the choices and changes that I made after that increased my self worth and confidence to continue to grow.
    Great question! Thank you!!

    • Maybe you’re suggesting that we get better at changing over time, if we’re paying attention, and I’d have to agree. The first time I had to pick up and move on, it was a major drama full of anxiety. Now I look around my dear little property, and know that some day, I’ll move on from this too, and there’s only a little worry associated with that thought.

    • Let us split a hair: I think we change behaviors sometimes because we have to: Exercise or die. Sell the motorcycle or have it be repossessed. But do we change as people “because we have to?” Do we become less judgmental, more determined, kinder, etc, because we have to? Or is that the sphere were love of somebody, from somebody, becomes a necessary ingredient?

  3. What a challenge! How do those questions come to you? On the way to or back from work?

    I am definitely convinced that one should not change for the sake of someone else who is trying to change you – because then he/she does not really love you. If you change due to love, thent it will be because YOU YOURSELF want to do that (reciting my favourite of Faust: “If you can’t feel it, you will not hunt it down.”), or it just happens with you due to that love.

    For me usually it is that just many things measure up to a point where I can’t bear it anymore – breaking the camel’s back, and then I decide to do something about it. And it can be because of the love to my children or husband or family but not necessarily so.

    As for changes: doesn’t a new haircut just feel great and somehow makes you feel changed to the better???

    • Conny, there’s a lot in your comment I could respond to, but, no, a new haircut, a new dress, a new handbag have never had much effect on my mood. I suspect this is another reaction on my part to the fact that my mother is World Class shopper, so I wasn’t going to Do That.
      A new Mary Balogh romance? A new Loretta Chase, Carolyn Jewel, or JR Ward…. big grin, bouncy step, and much improved mood.