Marge: Well most women will tell you that you're a fool to think you can change a man, but those women are quitters!
Marge: When I first met your father, he was loud, crude, and piggish. But I worked hard on him, and now he's a whole new person.
Alice is a Love Martyr
for Bob. The world can plainly see that Bob is an utter loser — he's selfish, greedy, and completely spineless — but not Alice. To her, Bob's faults are minor and no cause for concern, for she can Change Him. The power and strength of her love will send him through a metamorphosis that will remake him into her perfect man. You wait. You'll see.
Of course, she's probably wrong.
In cases where Alice does effect a change, then you have Love Redeems
rather than this trope. In a long story arc it can zig-zag: first, I Can Change My Beloved, then switch to Love Redeems... and then, if the authors are cruel, switch back
so that the redemption was just an act or a temporary phase
. Poor Alice.
While there are a lot of male examples, this trope is usually female, and one of the main reasons why All Girls Want Bad Boys
. Usually Played for Drama
. Sometimes played for Fetish Fuel
as a component in Bastard Boyfriend
, or, hypothetically (but rarely seen), in its Distaff Counterpart Bastard Girlfriend
Compare Destructive Romance
. Contrast Love Redeems
and Reformed Rakes
, where this mindset actually works
. Also compare/contrast Draco in Leather Pants
where this mindset works because the one who has the mentality is the author!
This trope does carry some Unfortunate Implications
, especially if handled badly, since more than a few times, the character approached their Love Interest because they're physically attractive, and when their personality starts to show up, it's dismissed as an annoying detail that can be easily fixed, making the character look superficial.
If the specific point of the Love Interest
that needs changing is their wardrobe, it's I Want My Beloved to Be Fashionable
Anime and Manga
- This is a staple of the shoujo and josei mangas where the lead is a Bastard Boyfriend.
- Infamously used in the ending of the Hot Gimmick manga; our protagonist Hatsumi, despite all evidence to the contrary, decides to marry the Jerkass love interest Ryuuki because maybe she can change him once they're together. (This is true only for the Manga: In the novelization, Hatsumi considers this trope, realizes it's bull, and goes for a slightly less awful love interest instead: Shinogu.)
- In example, Kurumi Akino from Haou Airen thinks she can pull this in regards to Hakuron, the dude who practically kidnapped her and brought her to Hong Kong to be his mistress. (Then again the poor girl is trapped in the SAR and has no real way out, considering Hakuron is a high-ranked Triads leader.) In any way, it does NOT go well.
- In Code Geass, Shirley thinks it's her duty to reform Lelouch because he's a "failure as a person". Since she only sees the Brilliant, but Lazy Rich Idiot with No Day Job persona he maintains at school, and has no idea what a Magnificent Bastard Anti-Hero he is in his other life, this particular aspect to her romance is either Played for Laughs or for tragic Irony.
- According to Word of God from Bob Kane, the point behind the relationship between Batman and Catwoman is that Batman partly thinks he can reform her. And in some continuities (such as Earth-2 of Pre-Crisis), he's actually right.
- To a lesser extent, this is also true of his other big love, Talia Al Ghul. Though in that case, it can flip as to who's trying to change who.
- The BBC documentary The Human Animal proposes a reason this trope exists in simple biological terms. The short of it is that the dangerous aspects of the target are sexual advertisements. According to the documentary, on a biological level, women are looking for signs of protective prowess (a partner who will help protect and rear offspring). Displays of aggressive behaviour are then read as signs of this prowess (cultural signs of this vary greatly, but the intended messages are the same). Once partnered up, however, the female will actively work to prevent the male from displaying further (which is this trope), so as to prevent the male from gathering further attention from the opposite sex. There's a lot more to human courtship, of course, mostly because unlike other primates alive today, sex among humans lasts more than 8 seconds.
- In the Sherlock Holmes story Valley of Fear, Ettie falls prey to this. More justified than usual; her beloved starts out as a relatively decent guy with a Dark and Troubled Past (certainly better than the brutish Romantic False Lead she started with), and she fights the influence of the criminals that own their town when they start sucking him in. It actually works out for her, but only because he was a deep-cover agent the whole time.
- In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen enters into her marriage with Arthur looking forward to changing and redeeming him, only to find that it's not that easy. She ends up thoroughly miserable, and in fact leaves him (an unspeakable move at the time) to rescue their son from his influence. This is also played straight in the same book: her friend is miserable in her marriage, but her husband is willing to change, and with a few points from both his wife and Helen, he shapes up into a very considerate partner.
- In P. G. Wodehouse's Hot Water, Beatrice thinks she can turn Packy into a man of culture. A common trait of certain Wodehouse fiancees — who always turn out to be the wrong woman.
- Diana Ladris attempts this in PLAGUE (book four of the GONE series). And fails miserably, finally giving up and giving Caine the middle finger.
- J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, finds this sort of thing (which usually leads into Draco in Leather Pants) a bit disturbing and unhealthy (source):
It amuses me. It honestly amuses me. People have been waxing lyrical [in letters] about Draco Malfoy, and I think that's the only time when it stopped amusing me and started almost worrying me. I'm trying to clearly distinguish between Tom Felton, who is a good looking young boy, and Draco, who, whatever he looks like, is not a nice man. Itís a romantic, but unhealthy, and unfortunately all too common delusion of ó delusion, there you go ó of girls, and you [nods to Melissa] will know this, that they are going to change someone. And that persists through many women's lives, till their death bed, and it is uncomfortable and unhealthy and it actually worried me a little bit, to see young girls swearing undying devotion to this really imperfect character, because there must be an element in there, that "I'd be the one who [changes him]." I mean, I understand the psychology of it, but it is pretty unhealthy. So, a couple of times I have written back, possibly quite sharply, saying [Laughter], "You want to rethink your priorities here."
- Ben Skywalker tries to reform Vestara Khai in the Fate of the Jedi series. It does not go well.
- Elena in regards to both of the Salvatore brothers on The Vampire Diaries.
- When Charlie's mother met his first serious Love Interest on Two and a Half Men, they squared off like a confrontation was about to take place. Instead, the mother simply asked desperately, "Can you fix him?" Exasperated, the girl confirmed, "I'm trying." True to her word, the entire episode was about her forcing Charlie to give up smoking and drinking, eat healthier, and incorporate exercise into his lifestyle. His Stalker with a Crush tells him that she would never try to change him because she actually loves him. The scenario backfires when Charlie finally takes a stand against his girlfriend- he puts his foot down in a fancy restaurant, getting the male clientele (similarly browbeaten) to back him up. The issue is dropped from then on.
- An episode of the Adam West Batman series has The Penguin fool a wealthy woman into falling in love with him just so he can earn her trust then rob her. After his scheme is exposed she is still in love and insists if she were to marry him she could reform him into a perfect man. Penguin's response? "Take me to prison!"
- In Degrassi there are the good girls, "cause girl" Emma and the Christian Darcy who only like bad boys so that they can make them good.
- Although the Official Couple of Robin Hood was (obviously) Robin and Marian, Marian struck up a friendship with Guy of Gisborne and would often encourage him to break ties with the evil Sheriff, stop killing innocent people, and become a better man. It was subverted throughout the show considering Guy would always be on his best behaviour around Marian whilst continuing to terrorize the peasants as soon as she was out of sight, but genuinely fell in love with her over the course of the first two seasons. However, when Marian makes it clear as to where she stands, telling him that it's either the Sheriff or her, Guy picks the Sheriff and murders her.
- Played with on The Big Bang Theory. Priya tries to change Leonard not because he's a "bad boy", (since he's the farthest thing from it), but because he's a geek. She makes him dress cooler, insists he get contacts (despite the fact they keep causing him physical harm), stop hanging put with his ex girl friend, and partake in more "normal" activities (ie. watching baseball vs World of Warcraft). We see the story unfold from Leonard and Penny's perspective, not Priya's, where her changes are shown as being somewhat controlling and unnecessary. Of course, once Priya moves back to India, Leonard starts hanging out with Penny again and goes back to his trademark hoodies, while he never stopped indulging in his geeky activities to begin with.
- In Once Upon a Time, Belle insists on staying with Mr. Gold/Rumplestiltskin not because she doesn't believe he's a monster, but because she knows he is and without her presence and influence to curb his more extreme tendencies, he tends to be a lot worse.
- Dexter starts having marriage trouble with Rita shortly after tying the knot. When a marriage counselor asks why Rita never brought up the issues she was having with Dexter before they got married, her excuse is she thought she could change him. Considering Dexter is husband number three, with the previous one being abusive, itís clear Rita has not learned anything.
- Becky Conner and her bad-boy husband Mark Healy on Roseanne. Mark is actually very similar to Becky's father Dan in his own youth (i.e., sometimes aggressive and delinquent, but never vicious and only rarely mean-spirited) and, while she and Mark occasionally clash over his "bad boy" behavior, the real sticking point is Mark's lack of intellectual achievement and intelligence overall, which is usually played for laughs. Becky first pressures Mark into enrolling in college, but fails. He finally agrees to enter a trade school, despite his preference to remain a mechanic (a job at which all the characters on the show agree he excels). She becomes distraught when he flunks out, leading her to contemplate divorce, even though she had always known he never was and never wanted to be the intellectual type she seemed to want to turn him into. Roseanne, who had always been against their marriage and was the source of most of the jabs at Mark's lack of intelligence, helps Becky to realize that her efforts to "change" Mark are both unrealistic and selfish and cause Mark to feel inadequate.
- Ironically, Roseanne frequently mentioned doing this with Dan. In an early episode, when talking with her girlfriends, she says, "A guy is a lump like a doughnut. So, first (picks off sprinkles) you gotta get rid of all the stuff his mom did to him. And then (rips it in half) you gotta get rid of all that macho crap that they pick up from beer commercials. And then there's my personal favorite, the male ego (takes off another chunk and eats it)." Any time someone asks how she got a great guy like Dan, she always said she didn't, she put a lot of work into him to get him there.
- Any of dozens of women on How I Met Your Mother who thought they could change Barney.
- Miley Cyrus complains about this in "Can't Be Tamed". She claims that every man has tried to change her before realising he can't.
- "Under My Thumb" by The Rolling Stones. The narrator is bragging about how as their relationship grew, his girlfriend (who had been something of a Tsundere) changed into someone much more submissive and sweet.
- "If Mr. Keuner loved someone" by Bertolt Brecht:
Questioner: What do you do when you love someone?
Mr. Keuner: I make a sketch of the person, and make sure that one comes to resemble the other.
Questioner: Which, the sketch?
Mr. Keuner: No, the person.
- The song "Marry the Man Today" ("and change his ways tomorrow!") from Guys and Dolls is all about this, and indeed it seems to work out well enough for Sarah.
- This is the whole point of The Taming of the Shrew. Though successful, whether the changes are actually for the better is up for debate.
- Appears in Neverwinter Nights 2 during the abortive romance arc with Neeshka, who develops quite a lot due to the player character's trust and love.
- A variant happens in Back to the Future: An alternate-timeline Emmett Brown is convinced to help restore the original timeline after his wife — a ruthless dictator of Hill Valley — attempts to brainwash him. However he finds himself having a change of heart when he learns that the original timeline had her as a bitter spinster. He then blames himself for influencing her behaviour and believes that he can change her retroactively through time travel by completely discouraging his younger self's scientific interests.
- In the first season of The Guild, Zaboo tries to pull this on the protagonist. (When it doesn't work out he instead tries to change himself, but that's a different story.)
- The Whateley Universe has Loophole getting warned by her advisor that Kodiak isn't going to be susceptible to being changed by her love, and most bad boys aren't. She eventually doesn't try it.
- Internet punching bag Christian Weston Chandler apparently thinks this is standard operating procedure in a relationship, because he wants to make a girl "a sweetheart from the ground up" (whatever the hell that even means). He doesn't appear to realize how intensely creepy this sounds to people who aren't him (which, admittedly, is about 95% of all his problems).
- Shows up in a big way on The Nostalgia Chick's top ten list of the hottest animated guys (drawn from the opinions of her fans), which posits that a guy you can change is in and of itself something attractive, related to the All Girls Want Bad Boys archetype. ("What do we like more than a big masculine crusader for justice? A project!" ) It got so bad that her poll turned out The Hunchback of Notre Dame villain Frollo as the tenth hottest animated guy, due almost entirely to the appeal of this trope.
- She has also railed against the Beauty and the Beast interquels for this: they make it so that Belle is trying to change the Beast, while she notes that in the original, she wouldn't give him the time of day until he took the initiative to start changing himself.
- Parodied on Family Guy in the episode "The Former Life of Brian". Brian tries to impress a recently-widowed mother (only referred to as "Jared's Mom") by putting on a magic show for her son, only to find out that she already has a boyfriend, Paul. They plan to base their whole relationship on this trope:
Paul: ...I'm a great guy! I'm unemployed, but that makes her feel useful in the relationship.
Jared's Mom: I'm gonna fix him!
Paul: Our relationship will do fine on that basis.
Jared's Mom: If he had his life together, I wouldn't be into it.
Paul: But I don't!
Brian: (exasperated) God, I am so sick of this crap!
- Inverted in Futurama. Romanticorp tested pickup lines on women using test dummies. One of the dummies used the line "My two favorite things are commitment and changing myself." The woman in the test chamber immediately started making out with the dummy.
- In The Simpsons, Marge did this with Homer, and insists it worked. See Page Quote.
- In Adventure Time Finn finds out to his dismay that his new love interest, Flame Princess, is evil due to coming from an Always Chaotic Evil race of flame people. He discusses the situation with her father, who concedes that if a really good guy (like Finn) liked her then she could possibly be changed to good (although she'd suffer penalties to her EXP for acting out of alignment). Of course, Flame Princess doesn't really ACT evil, she's just temperamental, naive and has traces of Blue and Orange Morality about when it is and isn't appropriate to burn things.
- Gender Flipped in Lloyd in Space. He dates Cindy, an alien girl with two heads. One head is nice, the other one is a complete bitch. He decides he'll try to change the mean head but when that doesn't work, he snaps and yells at both of them. Realising his own mistake, he apologises. Cindy's mean head still seems a bit like a jerk in subsequent episodes but she actually does mellow out a small bit.
- Trying this trope in real life can have disastrous results. Building a relationship with someone you do not see as "good enough" leads to turmoil and resistance from the partner. It can also lead to accepting abuse, whereas if you think you can change an abusive partner, you don't leave and free yourself from the situation. For examples of how badly trying this can go, just consult your nearest advice column.