Can A Man Change?

THERE’S THE joke about the woman who’s getting married and she’s frantic that she won’t remember what to do. “It’s simple,” says her bridesmaid for the umpteenth time. “You walk up the aisle. You stand at the altar. You sing the first hymn.” So the bride creates a little mantra for herself. It goes, “Aisle, altar, hymn. Aisle, altar, hymn. Aisle, altar, hymn.” Of course, if you say that out loud it starts to sound like, “I’ll alter him.” In other words, she’ll do what many women have attempted to do, which is to change her man in some way. To civilise him. To make him more sensitive, more responsible, more something. Few have succeeded. What they’ve ended up saying instead is, “Why is he so … uuunnhh?” — where “uuunnhh” is an expression of frustration, if not exasperation, and a catch-all for the ways in which the man is too one-dimensional.

Of course, a woman is not responsible for a man’s development. Let’s get that straight. He should sort himself out. And men can develop. They develop maturity, which is different from change. Maturity results in what we’ll call integration, and which we’ll define as being less one-dimensional, or less one-sided. In other words, being less forceful about “who he is” and “putting his stamp on things”, and more willing to be what the situation needs him to be—more flexible without seeing that as a loss of self or a loss of face. He may even demonstrate some of the behaviours of the man that “she” hoped to turn him into. Except, he won’t be that man. He’ll be his own man. And thank goodness, because when women get the man they want, they very often don’t want him. And that’s not a joke.

Of course, a woman is not responsible for a man’s development. Let’s get that straight. He should sort himself out.

What the Man Matrix will make clear is that while a man can move forward along the maturity axis (though not every man will do so), a man is less likely to move up or down the other axis, which will be introduced later on as the solidity axis.

For now, what’s important to recognise, according to the Man Matrix model, is that when it comes to choosing a man, a woman can’t have her cake and eat it. She can’t have a man the way he is, and the way she wants him to be. Instead, she has to assume that a man is likely to have one core set of characteristics and that set comes as a package deal. If certain things are present, then certain other things are less likely to be present.

For example, if a man is eternally fun-loving, optimistic and full of ideas, he’s less likely to be the one who pays attention to details or who takes admin too seriously. That’s very often the package. If you’re that guy and there’s a woman who likes your fun-loving side, but also wants you to be mister-cross-the-t’s-and-dot-the-i’s, then you’d be well advised to ask her to get clear on which core set of characteristics she wants most, or what “missing” set she’s willing to tolerate, and choose based on that. If she can’t live with someone who has little or no attention to detail and doesn’t care for admin, then she shouldn’t choose you as the fun-loving guy and think she’ll mould you to also have those other characteristics, and thereby make you perfect. She can choose you as the fun-loving guy if she doesn’t mind, or can at least live with, your lack of attention to detail. And remember, that’s just an example.

Of course, that doesn’t mean she can’t ask you to develop yourself to become a more well-rounded and integrated human being—to develop that attention to detail, in other words. It won’t become your main thing, but at least you won’t get so many penalties for submitting your tax returns late; at least she won’t one day find herself without insurance on the day that she bumps her car because you failed to add her to your policy when you said you would! The difference, as mentioned, is that you’ll get there by maturity, and not by change. The difference will become clear as you learn more about the Man Matrix.

By definition, maturity takes time. It takes a whole lifetime. You can’t accelerate maturity, just as you can’t pull on a plant to make it grow faster. In fact, that’s often the problem, isn’t it? Many women complain that the men they’re with are like boys, at least in terms of their emotional awareness and ability to communicate meaningfully. This is often a perfectly valid criticism.

Men develop maturity, which is different from change. Maturity results in what we’ll call integration, and which we’ll define as being less one-dimensional, or less one-sided.

The Man Matrix will explain why this happens. Essentially, there are four stages of maturity that each man must go through. They correlate to approximate age ranges, and each one has a particular psychological theme. For example, in the first stage, which runs from about age 16 until around 25, the theme is “rebelling”. In the second stage, which runs from approximately 26 until 35, the theme is “complying”. These will be explained in more detail later. The problem often comes in the third stage, when the man faces what’s become known as the “midlife crisis”.

The “midlife crisis” is actually a positive, transformative phase, if negotiated in the right way. Its theme is “integration”, which was mentioned briefly above and is usually accompanied by a “softening” and “expanding” of a man’s personal style. The problem—or “crisis”—arises when the man doesn’t want to move forward, but wants to go back and relive those earlier stages again. He’ll do that by trying to play guitar, ride a motorcycle, do the Iron Man, find a younger woman, and so on—all the things for which men at this stage are renowned, and ridiculed. Women can have a similar problem, and may turn to diet, exercise and plastic surgery as their remedy.

Nobody wants to see an older man pretending to have all the virility and drive of a younger man and trying to prove it by showing that he can party just as hard. That’s probably not maturity. If you’re doing that, you probably haven’t achieved “integration”. Instead, you’re more likely to be trying to “go back”.

The problem of wanting to “go back” is made worse when men have not been allowed to complete the “rebelling” stage properly. Instead of accepting the imperative to mature, they want to complete what they didn’t finish—or sometimes didn’t even start. For example, a man who never grew his hair long and rode a motorcycle or sowed his wild oats during his college years—perhaps because he was still close to his parents and their strong religious beliefs—might decide to do a whole lot of that if, one day, he finds himself divorced and flush with cash.

We’ll probably see a lot more of this in the coming years as an increasingly liberal society asks men to leapfrog their “rebelling” stage—for fear that they might otherwise demonstrate “toxic masculinity”—and go straight to the “complying” stage. This may have the unintended consequence of hordes of middle-aged men suddenly riding Harleys. As mentioned, when women get the men they want, they often discover that they don’t want them. And once again, that’s not a joke.

Essentially, there are four stages of maturity that each man must go through. They correlate to approximate age ranges, and each one has a particular psychological theme.

So, even though a woman might want it, it’s not a good idea for a man to skip a stage. He’ll just need to go back and complete it again. This is another way in which women can’t have their man cake and eat it.

As you can see, it’s more about each man taking responsibility for advancing through the stages, instead of fighting the stages and perhaps even trying to go backwards through them. That inevitably means accepting that thing which we have come to fear so much: age. The path to maturity is one of accepting age and embracing the wisdom that can come with it, but which is not guaranteed.

The most important time when this issue arises is when you reach the grey stage—in other words, when you face your midlife transition. If you’ve been asked by life—or the people in your life—to soften a little, or to man up a bit, then this is the time when it might finally happen. However, it’s only likely to happen if you move forward instead of trying to “go back”.

If you resist, and stay stuck, or even try to “go back”—for example, by just doing more of what you’ve always done, only harder, faster, louder, better—then you’ll just be delaying the inevitable. You’ll be increasing the likelihood of more challenges in your life, as life tries to teach you the same lesson again and again until you get it. Conversely, you can take the lessons that life inevitably offers during this stage and surrender—because that’s what it is, a surrender—towards greater maturity.

Applied faithfully in this way, the Man Matrix is a tool that will give you a good sense of who you are, and what the challenges are that you need to overcome in order to answer the call to maturity.

As for women in relation to men—or anyone in relation to a particular man—it’s more about you taking responsibility for your choices and deciding on suitability, or fit, rather than trying to alter, or change, him. Knowing that you’re not going to change him, you have to be clear on what you want, and own it. For example, if being with someone who’s a good provider and protector is most important for you, then you may have to relax your demands for depth and sensitivity. And vice versa. So, the question you need to ask yourself becomes less, When will he change? or, How can I change him? and more, Is he right for me? and, once that’s answered, How can I support him to mature?

There are a few times in your engagements with a man when it might be appropriate to consider these questions. Some have to do with the phase of the relationship. Others have to do with where he is on his development journey. They’re both likely come up each time the relationship moves to a new phase, and each time the man reaches an age where he faces the transition to a new stage of maturity.

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