Written by Stefanie Baltasar, SFU Student
Asking for forgiveness takes strength. But deserving that forgiveness? That’s even harder. Sure, you can spend a night thinking about the mistakes you made, and realize that you actually do need to apologize. However, it is entirely up to the other person whether they forgive you or not. Begging, crying, pleading — all tactics that the other person can see through. What matters isn’t asking for forgiveness, but what you do to earn it.
Those people in movies who claim they’ve changed — without showing any damn character development — are the ones you scream at the main character to avoid. You facepalm so hard when the protagonist actually says “I forgive you.” This usually happens so that the protagonist says “yes” to the wrong person to drive the right person to speak up.
For example, look at The Ugly Truth (2009) starring Katherine Heigl and Gerald Butler. Butler’s character, Mike Chadway, is trying to help Heigl’s character, Abby Richter, change for the sake of another guy. Naturally, their characters hate each other at first. Mike realizes his feelings before Abby, who doesn’t realize hers until after she tries dating the other guy. They get together at the end after fixing up all the misunderstandings.
There are other times when Person B, usually a male teenager or young adult, just won’t take “no” for an answer. Maybe all those hero movies where the main character never gives up and gets rewarded for it made this trope what it is. Person B just cannot believe they aren’t the hero of their own story, so they will keep hounding and hounding Person A to say, “I forgive you,” because isn’t that what’s supposed to happen?
In those hero movies where the main character doesn’t give up, it’s about that hero not giving up on themselves. They fight for other people, of course, but ultimately it’s all about them becoming better than they were before. The problem is that this trope, on the other hand, is about wearing another person down.
This trope, with some sad motherfucker weeping about how they’ve changed is in a way the antithesis to the hero movie trope of not giving up. It’s the difference between saying “I’ve changed” and saying “I’ve changed for you,” because the former is about self-improvement, while the latter is about dependence. I find it a bit wishy-washy to change for another person, because, let’s face it, that’s not going to lead to a permanent state of being.
There is no point in changing for the sake of another person if you aren’t also changing for self-improvement. That’s nothing more than a blatant appeal to someone else to get into their good graces. Sad boys aren’t thinking about avoiding making the same mistakes, or owning up to them. No, they’re thinking about how to get back into the girl’s pants or skirts.
In season 1, episode 13 of 13 Reasons Why, Justin Foley corners Jessica Davis as she’s about to get in her car and leave a coffee shop to beg for her forgiveness. A friend of Foley’s had sexually assaulted her at a party, and he had allowed it to happen instead of helping her. He spins some elaborate story about walking around the entire city, only to end up on a rooftop, crying. He then tearfully says that in the course of one night, he’s become a changed man. This is a classic example of a sad boy changing not for himself but for a girl, so she can forgive him and take him back. Thankfully, Jessica saw through his bullshit, got in her car, and drove away.
Even worse is the message such a trope broadcasts. Sure, you can be determined to reach your goal. Such determination is praiseworthy and should be applauded. But when your goal is another person and you’re not respecting their desires, that’s not praiseworthy — that’s slap-worthy. Sad “I’ve changed” boys can’t keep forcing kisses onto a girl they want to win back because they thinks she “wants” it.
If the girl doesn’t want to admit her “true” emotions, there’s probably a damn good reason. The guy they stopped interacting with was most likely being a dumb asshole who wasn’t showing them any fucking respect. When you can’t accept “no” for an answer, that’s not hero-worthy determination, that’s just plain disrespect. That’s akin to saying “I know what’s best for you, and it’s me.” What person enjoys being told that?