I’ve been thinking about men who change for the love of a woman. You know the trope– the underdog/bad boy/loser who falls in love and in an effort to deserve the affections of his hearts desire he becomes a better man. The characters on that list could fill a book (… and I would love them all). It’s an interesting concept, compelling, perhaps even a good one. It happens in real life, upon occasion, so it’s not totally unfounded. But what exactly is so attractive about it? Is it our connection with the long told story of the woman who falls in love with the wrong man and desperately wants to reform him (but of course she wouldn’t love him if she was really successful), but now the tables are turned– he wants to be a better man, and she wants him when he is? Is it just about the vanity of wanting someone to love us enough that they want to be “the kind of person she deserves”?

What is especially interesting is that you don’t see female characters becoming better women for the love of a man. More often than not, when a woman changes for a man it is for the worst, or has disastrous consequences. I can’t help but think of the romance between Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh) and Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington), where time and again Cristina made changes to please Burke (Including a hilarious shaving of her eyebrows- though that was to satisfy his mother), the end result of which was him leaving her at the altar. Notably, the reason Burke gives for leaving is because she changed for him.

Dr. Preston Burke:  I’m up there waiting for you to come down the aisle and I know you don’t want to come. I know you don’t want to come, but you’ll come anyway because you love me. And if I loved you, if I loved *you*, not the woman I am trying to make you be; not the woman that I hope you’ll become; but you, if I did, I wouldn’t be up there waiting for you. I would be letting you go.

You’d be hard pressed to find a Changed For the Love of a Woman saga where she turns him away because he changed for her. Somehow men changing for women is ultimately men changing for the better, but women changing for men is women sacrificing who they are. It’s an interesting double standard.

Firstly, why must men change for women at all? Why aren’t they good enough as they are, or why aren’t they changing for the simple fact of being better for themselves? Secondly, why are women a tool for making men better? Certainly changes need catalysts, but it’s hard not to think of this in connection with the male characters who become stronger men because a women they love is killed, raped, or victimized in some other way (see 50% of comic origin stories)– the men become better, while the women stay the same or, more often, end up worse off.
And (if we’re treating this as a good thing) why can’t women become better women for love? (That speaks most specifically to romantic love, as women often change out of love for their family- though usually more subtly)

It says a lot about the way we think of and portray romance and personal growth.

Really, what’s best is when characters (people) grow and change together. But that’s a topic for another time.