For many months, I've been thinking about transformation. About the emphasis we put on it in story-telling, in ideas of love and of self and reinvention.
I've always carried ideas of myself emerging in a wholly different (and, needless to say, better) manifestation. There's a before and after Jane in my head. And the real Jane, the Jane I am, is reproached by the idea of this other, better person. She's a Jane who isn't socially awkward, who is beautiful, but also good and popular and doesn't struggle with the bends in her brain the way I do.
I started letting all that go in the last few years. Maybe it's just maturity. But I've worked at it too... Understanding how polarizing these ideas are. Finding a middle ground. Being honest about what I really want to change and making sure those goals were real and true. But also acceptance... letting myself acknowledge that there are some things I don't really want to change (otherwise, why wouldn't I be doing it) And what I mostly needed to do was let go of this strange "shoulding" - that I ought to be transformed.
One of the areas that always seemed transformative to me was love. I never imagined my same life if I fell in love; it seemed to necessitate that I was closer to the "after" version I had in my head. Love became part of the emergence fantasy. But it scared me too... the idea of my identity being so connected to another, so changed by another. I was unsure how much I really wanted to be changed by love, by another person or for another person. I wanted to be more steadfast than that. Ideas of love as transformative conflicted with who I really am in myself.
The idea of transformation in love is integral to our story-telling structure. The Alfie is reformed, the Funny Face becomes beautiful. Love stories often work through a lesson learned... to earn love you overcome some foible or flaw, whether it's superficial or psychological. You become a better person and then you're ready for and deserving of love. Or you fall in love and become that better version of yourself, through love.
It all seems like bullshit. But I struggle to think of love stories where the person is single and alone just because that's the way it is; where it's not a symptom of something he or she needs to change and where finding love is beautiful, but not transformative.
Even movies like Beginners (which I loved) have this idea of transformation built into them. Christopher Plummer's character literally comes out. His son's transformation is less ostensive. But he learns to give up certain ideas of what relationships must be and his notions of love undergo a paradigm shift.
And it seems, in a way, the opposite of stories of friendship. Friends don't transform us, they accept us. In stories, we're never undeserving or wholly incapable of friendship, it's never something we need to soul-search and reinvent ourselves to earn. So, why does romantic love so often involve or necessitate transformation? And is this just because it makes a better story?
Perhaps love stories about two people finding each other and not altering in fundamental ways, just gently moulding to make each other fit, simply don't make good enough stories. Maybe we all crave transformation, to be made wholly different, and so a love story as a vehicle for that transformation becomes a potent mix.
I like the idea that all kinds of relationships help us grow and change over time, that we learn from each other. But I'm suspicious of the message that love entails or results in transformation. I don't want to be wholly changed - I'm not sure I believe I can be either.
More generally, I'm disturbed by how few stories are ones of being rather than becoming. And by how much that's articulated in women's magazines and blogs is this idea of transformation, becoming better, looking more beautiful and so forth. (Again, I'm not saying that working to change the things you want to change is bad. I think we all juggle our own balance of self-acceptance with wanting change.) But I keep thinking of that Bluets quote... wondering how much we ever really transform ourselves.
And when you've worked hard at letting go of those ideas of transformation, of there being some "after" version of yourself waiting to emerge, what do your love stories look like? Can we tell a good story without change?
As much as we constantly talk about change, reinvention, turning over a new leaf, growing and learning, I'm also sure there's a lot of staying the same. And I think we all need to learn and grow, (I'm not advocating static apathy or complacency!) But, I'm not sure we can or need to transform ourselves... and I'm not sure transformation is what stands between us and love, or happiness of any kind.
And that makes me wonder about the stories we tell and the truth of them and how all of this is supposed to make us feel.