When People Show You Who They Are, Believe Them The First Time
Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” This is one of the hardest life lessons that I’ve ever tried to follow, but it is sage advice.
When someone really shows you and tells you who they are, take them at their word. If someone you are dating cheats on you, see it. When someone you love quits school because it’s not the right direction for them, hear them. When someone tells you that they have nothing left to give, believe them.
People know themselves far better than you know them. That is not to say that people can’t change down the road or that they don’t deserve a second chance, but it does mean that when they are saying “this is who I am right now,” you can’t expect them to be someone else.
That leaves you in an empowered position. When you look at someone for who they are and not who you want them to be, you can decide if this is a healthy or unhealthy force in your life. You deserve to have healthy surroundings. If someone tells you over and over, “I love you, but I’m not healthy,” you have some decisions to make.
I know what you’re thinking, “But people can change! They can be what I envision for them despite the red flags!” This is unequivocally true – BUT, they will not change for you. They will not change within your time frame and you both have lives to live. Whether you think it is the right thing or not, you have to give them the benefit of the doubt that if things change, they will come back to you.
Go live your life! If this person (friend, family, love) wants to be in your life, they will find the will to do the things that they have to in order to qualify for your definition of healthy. Just remember – that important life lesson is on them, not you.
If you find that your life has moved into a space that doesn’t include them any longer, wish them well. If you come back together and find that you mesh just right, invite them back in and continue the relationship. It is your path to navigate.
When I was in college, I met a man who I knew I was going to marry. I fell head over heels like I’d never imagined I could. It was the perfect story, the perfect guy, the perfect life ahead of us, everything.
I was 18, he was a bit older and it all just fit. Until he broke up with me to get another girl out of his system, but he swore he would be back. So I waited a few months, had a few minor romantic relationships, but always let these guys know that I was already kind of taken.
Soon after, my boyfriend came back and we continued on. Him whispering about the future that we were going to have while not really paying attention to me in public. That was okay, we were all friends – even if he wasn’t always that nice to me.
Until I found out he was cheating. This broke my heart, but still, I stayed because I knew he was the one – even if he said things that hurt me. We broke up four or five times this way but always got back together – because I KNEW he was the one. And then he graduated and we kind of parted ways.
I stayed at school that summer, spent a lot of time doing Improv with my acting troupe, a young adult working, living the normal college life. I also started dating someone else – a friend in our crowd. When the boyfriend found out, he wanted me back. But by then, I’d opened my eyes to the fact that this was a bad relationship.
This guy was so selfish and whether he cared about me or not (and I do believe he did in his own ridiculous way), he was not in a place where he could have given me a healthy relationship. It took me wiping the cobwebs out of my eyes to see what was truly happening and there wasn’t going to be a next time.
Years later this same guy apologized to me. I’m not sure I needed it by then, but it was extremely cathartic. The circle had completed and I now – after many years removed from it – see him as one of the best learning experiences of my life. He was a very tough lesson and I thank him for putting me through so much turmoil because I would not be where I am without those experiences. He was damaging and I endured a lot of bad things, but those things were invaluable.
I do not wish a relationship like this on you, but I do hope that you’ll look for the lessons from the bad times or the unhealthy experiences in your own life. We have all been through a lot of things with both the right people and the wrong ones.
And if I’d taken a moment to believe this man when he first told me that he wasn’t ready for my big dreams, I could have moved on with my life much more quickly. Instead, I learned that I’ll never go through something like that again – with anyone.
I don’t have a perfect navigator in this area, but I won’t allow that kind of uncertainty in my life again, in any capacity. My husband (a wonderful man who I was friends with in high school and started dating 10 years later) is one of the most calm and steady people I know. He has core values that match mine and appreciates my new ideas and excitement in life.
That said, I also know that if we hadn’t both gone out and learned our own lessons, our marriage would never have worked. We each need to take a page from Dr. Angelou and really listen. We owe that to ourselves.
Be your own person. Believe people when they show you who they are. Decide if they are going to help you or keep you from moving forward. Go with your gut. It truly is a person’s best friend.