When I Stopped Changing to Please Him

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Every once in a while, Dad texts me…

Gin, “Just the Way You Are” came on the radio. Always think of you. Love you!

In 1977, Billy Joel’s breakout hit “Just the Way You Are” appealed to my thirteen-year-old naive romantic self. ‘Isn’t it nice he loves her for being her?’ I interpreted the song. I loved the song so much, that with my own money earned babysitting and bussing tables, it was the first album I bought myself. The Stranger LP became a family favorite.

It was also about that time that I had my first “boyfriend,” Bill. I soon learned this super cute boy wasn’t shy but just boring. After that, when I listened to song’s lyrics:

I don’t want clever conversation

I never want to work that hard

I decided that I never wanted to be with a guy that thought clever conversation would be hard work.

Nine years later in college, when my to-be husband said to me “don’t change your hair. I like it this way,” I was reminded of these lyrics:

Don’t go trying some new fashion

Don’t change the color of your hair

I grew out my short, permed mop top hair style (what can I say, it was the 80s), and started to hate Billy Joel’s song. It no longer seemed romantic. It was stifling. I wondered, do all men really think like Billy Joel, believing they were entitled to request their lovers to not change?

Over the years, every time I grew my hair, cut it off, got highlights, or went blond, my husband said, “don’t change your hair.” I did it anyway. Then he’d get used to the new style, and would once again request not to change it.

Except when he stopped noticing. Then I stopped changing.

I made sure my hair was sleekly styled exactly the way he liked it. I brought home several dresses from the store so he could choose the one he liked. One Saturday, my daughter asked while I put on make-up, “why are you getting all pretty?”

“I like to look nice for your dad.” But the truth was, I fantasized that if I wore the perfect outfit with my hair and makeup done the way he liked, and said or did something tantalizing, perhaps I could rouse and arouse him back to me.

One weekend, he said, “Let’s get mani/pedis together.” I was excited, envisioning us sitting side-by-side holding hands while our feet were massaged, wittily bantering. Except he sat several chairs away, his eyes glued to his phone. Our empty-nest weekends felt like two toddlers in parallel play—side-by-side but not engaged with each other.

When the marriage ended, I began to realize how much time I had devoted to accommodating him and not pleasing myself. I slowly began to uncover that thirteen-year-old self that wanted clever conversation, and that twenty-two-year-old that wore her hair any way she wanted. My friends remarked that I looked different. I wore my hair naturally in loose waves. I ditched his favorite outfits for colorful boho dresses. For the first time since college, I accepted last minute invitations to Greenwich Village clubs to watch cover bands and didn’t worry about what I was wearing, heading out in sneakers, leggings, and a tee shirt, my hair in a sloppy bun. It was liberating. I forgot how much I liked that Ginny from long ago.

Now, despite cringing a bit when I receive those texts from Dad mentioning that Billy Joel song, I smile knowing his texts have little to do with the lyrics. Dad loves me just the way I am, no matter how much I’ve changed.


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