Dear Fuck-Up: Can people change?

This week, a Fuck-Up takes on men with very shady pasts.

Dear Fuck-Up: Can people change?

This week, a Fuck-Up takes on men with very shady pasts.

Brandy Jensen, The Outline’s social media editor, has made a lot of mistakes in her life. Has she learned from them and become a wiser person as a result? Hahaha oh gosh no. But it does leave her uniquely qualified to tell you what not to do — because she’s probably done it.

Dear Fuck-Up,

I’m badly in need of advice — any would be much appreciated!!

Here’s what's going on: I’ve been dating a guy for a few months and it’s going way better than any relationship I’ve had in a long time. He's kind, fun, artistic, has many of the same interests as me, doesn’t leave me guessing about whether he likes me or not, etc.

He’s been open with me about his past: he is divorced, he says partly because his ex refused to get help for serious depression, and he couldn’t handle it anymore. After that breakup, he was with a woman for a year who said he went too far while they were both drunk. He says he doesn’t remember what happened, but that if this ex says he did something, it’s possible that an incident (perhaps sexual assault) occurred. He then dated another woman for a few months after and broke up with her when she told people he raped her — he denies this, adding she is unstable etc. He was subsequently kicked out of his band and banned from a bar due to his reputation as an abuser. He quit his job and moved to the city where I live. He says he’s worked a lot on himself in the past few years. All this looks bad, I know.

And then recently, a friend of a friend, let’s call her Lisa, told me she heard he’s manipulative, a good liar, and emotionally and physically abusive. Lisa said he’s done counselling, but doesn’t take it seriously and “knows all the right things to say.” She says they were friends but she cut ties with him because she felt like he was using her to look good (she does a lot of work with mental health). She accuses him of contributing to her nervous breakdown. I don’t know what to make of all that.

He treats me so well and I don’t want to lose him, and I haven’t noticed any red flags myself — aside from his past, which of course gives me pause. I’m not sure if I'm being naive, though.

Should I give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s learned from his past mistakes, or GTFO?

Can People Who Do Bad Things Change?

Dear Change,

Do you live in New York? Or anywhere in the tri-state area? If so please get in touch directly because I am coming over immediately to sit with you while you firmly cut off all contact with this man, block him on all social media platforms, and possibly change your locks.

Please do not think I’m being glib here. I’m entirely serious when I say that you need to get out. Now.

You want to know if people can change. That’s something I think about all the time. I mean, the entire premise of this column is that I’ve made a ton of mistakes in my life. On occasion those mistakes have hurt other people and I’d like to think that I can be forgiven for that. Hopefully I’m less of a fuck-up now than I was 10 years ago, and I’ll be even less of one 10 years hence. But beyond my own selfish reasons for thinking redemption is possible, it’s also something I need to embrace in order to live in a dogshit world that gives so many people so many excuses to be worse than they are.

However, “can bad people change?” is an abstract question of moral philosophy. What you’re really asking is “has this bad man changed?” The answer is absolutely fucking not.

How can I know that when I haven’t peered deep into his soul? Well, to start with, he’s not giving you much indication he really thinks he need to change at all. Sure he’s “worked on himself a lot” (Lord save us from the men who are “working on themselves”) but please notice he’s also telling you a yarn in which he’s been at the mercy of a string of women who all happen to be, coincidentally, mentally unwell. Poor guy! Depressed ex-wives and unstable ex-girlfriends and maybe just a bit of (perhaps sexual assault.) That he already has you hedging enough on his behalf to put sexual assault in a parenthetical is cause for alarm.

And look, I get it, I truly do. My taste in bad men tends toward the withholding and emotionally distant and generally the damage they cause is through thoughtlessness or the basic inability to imagine feelings outside of their own. But one time I met a guy who was the opposite of that. From the outset he knew what he wanted and he wanted me. He also had a troubled past that he was very upfront about and at the time I considered that mature and refreshing. I know now that strategic candor is a favorite tool of liars. None of my friends liked him, and they all expressed concerns to me but of course that only drove me to defending him further. Bad men — the real pieces of shit — have a way of wrapping you up in their own redemption. So I distinctly remember thinking, while lying at the bottom of the stairs he had just thrown me down, that I couldn’t possibly tell my friends about this because that would mean I’d been a fool and a mark.

So in addition to breaking up with this guy I’m going to urge you to tell your closest friends exactly why you are doing it. There’s going to come a time in the future after an awful date with someone new, or a string of nights with no dates at all, that you’ll begin to doubt me. You will start to think that you’ve committed the sin women are told we’re so prone to — being overwrought and unreasonable. It’s important that people who care about you know how bad he is so that when this happens they will talk you down, or the idea of even telling them you’re considering taking him back overwhelms the urge. Hell, I’ll give you my number. Whatever it takes to get this guy out of your life.

This man is not kind and he is not fun. I’ll grant you he’s probably artistic.

A Fuck-up

Have a question for A Fuck-up? Email