We’ve all been there before. You’re out on a date with a new love interest and everything is going perfectly. The weather is sublime. The food is delicious. Conversation is flowing and the energy between the two of you is electric. 

And then in a blink of an eye your internal music screeches to a stop.

Maybe your date made a surprising confession, like having been arrested or incarcerated in the past. Or maybe you asked them about their romantic history and they admitted to cheating on their former partner.  Whatever it was that they said now has your heart racing and eyes darting towards the door.

Admittedly, some confessions will be unacceptable. No matter how much she’s said she’s changed, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to go out on another date with someone who has been convicted of running an identity fraud ring.  But except in rare cases, judgment should be suspended until you know them a little better. Let me explain why.

Everyone has done something in the past that they don’t want held against them.  I’ve been on this earth 42 years and have as yet to meet a person who at one point or another in their life hasn’t made some serious mistakes.  But it’s not really fair to hold something someone did 5, 10, or 20 years ago against them today. And even more recent transgressions can be forgiven if ​the person has worked on themselves properly.

I’ve heard it said time and time again: “The greatest indicator of a person’s future behavior is their past behavior. However, people can and do change for the better.  Of course, many claim that they’ve changed when they really haven’t.  So how can you tell if a person has really left a negative behavior behind?  That depends on the answers to two questions: 

Are they a mensch? And can they articulate how they changed?

I know it’s odd to use a Yiddish term on a Black website.  But this is a word that describes the character of a person who has the fundamental quality needed for a healthy relationship in one, guttural syllable.  A mensch is a person of integrity, someone who strives to do the right thing.  A mensch is a person who places personal growth and development at the forefront of their lives.  Their main drive isn’t the desire for success or money; it’s to become the best person they can be in all areas of their life.   

So what does this have to do with whether a person has learned from their mistakes or not? A person motivated by personal growth first is more likely to learn from them and are better equipped to not making the same ones twice. People whose main focus is on the acquisition of material things or popularity don’t usually place character development too high on their list of priorities. This isn’t to say that successful people don’t prioritize spiritual or personal growth. Some do and some don’t, however the intention driving their professional success is what determines whether or not a person is capable of success in all aspects of their lives.    

For example, say someone cheated on their former spouse. Just because they cheated on them doesn’t mean they’ll cheat on you however it is an indicator of a propensity towards a specific type of behavior. Cheating, like any other behavior, is something that a person will stop engaging in when they understand and address the core issues that drive their actions. Someone who isn’t motivated by personal growth will take shortcuts. They may buy you expensive gifts, give you the password to their email, or leave their cell phone unlocked. But these actions don’t mean they’re sorry for cheating…they’re sorry for getting caught.   

In order to feel comfortable that a person has overcome a specific behavior (such as cheating, binge drinking, physical fighting), they need to no longer engage in said behavior and be able to clearly articulate:

  • How the behavior harmed THEM in addition to the person they have harmed.  Be leery of someone who can only say how sorry they are for hurting the other person.  They’ve got to understand how their behavior impacted themselves, too, for true change comes only when one gets that any harm we do to another causes equal harm to ourselves, spiritually or emotionally speaking.
  • What specific emotional/spiritual work they’ve done to address their behavior. Going to church or praying it away isn’t enough.  There has to have been consistent action outside of their comfort zone that forces them to confront their issues.
  • Describe their “contingency” plan or how they’ve been able to manage peer pressure or putting themselves in situations where they’d be tempted to slip into old habits. 
  • No longer condones the specific behavior in other people. If you’ve truly changed your ways, you won’t agree when someone else does the same thing.

Unless a person can express these four things, it is practically guaranteed that they will do it again. Of course, we can’t ever be 100% certain about how a person will conduct themselves, but in my experience being able to communicate these points, along with consistently good choices, is a pretty good indicator that a person has learned and grown from their mistakes.

A lot of people say that they’ve changed…that they are working on becoming better versions of themselves.   But personal development only happens when you actually put the time in to grow. So unless a person is actually doing something on a regular basis to improve themselves, they’re simply sharing with you who they someday HOPE to be.  Someone whose main goal is comfort will consistently put their comfort ahead of doing the right thing.  Which means that the next time they are lonely and you’re not around, they’ll be dialing up their ex. 

The bottom line is instead of focusing on a person’s past mistakes, look deeper into who they really are at their core today.