I Can’t Make You Love Me–If You Don’t

That’s the title of one of my favorite songs; a soulfully beautiful breakup song by Bonnie Raitt.

I’m not alone; one commenter on the song says, “I personally consider this the best song of the 90s.”

My favorite detail: the very first notes on the track are a brushstroke and two taps on the snare drum, followed by a big, mellow electronic piano-cum-bass drum chord. The mics on the drums reveal a warm small-room echo—this is live, real, unprocessed music by a pro—singing about reality. Like the song.

Songfacts says the song

…was written by the songwriting team of Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. Reid got the idea from a newspaper article about a guy who got drunk and shot up his girlfriend’s car. When the judge sentenced him and asked him what he had learned, he said, "You can’t make a woman love you if she don’t."

Never mind my taste in music. Red and Shamblin had an ear for one of those micro-moments that serve as metaphor for larger truths. You can’t make a woman love you if she don’t.

Ain’t it the truth.

And ain’t it a metaphor. You can’t make a man love you if he don’t, either. You can’t make your child do what you want, if they won’t. You can’t make your ex- do what you’d like, if they won’t. You can’t make an alcoholic stop drinking, if he won’t.

You can’t make someone trust you, if they don’t. You can’t make a person change, if they won’t. You can’t make an organization change, if it won’t. You can’t make someone buy from you, if they won’t.

You can’t make someone like you, if they don’t. You can’t make someone want what you want, if they don’t (even a great song). You can’t make someone believe what you believe, if they don’t.

There are pretty much only two things you can do. One is to give up the attachment to those outcomes. The other is to change yourself.

Because you can do all those things—to yourself.

You can make yourself love someone; as Steven Covey reminded us in Seven Habits, love is a verb, not a passive state of consciousness.

You can make yourself happy—or not. You can make yourself trust someone—or not. You can live in the moment—or not. You can stop drinking, or eating, or smoking—or not.

Like the man in court found out, trying to make other people do things they won’t is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

Pain is inevitable—but suffering is optional. You don’t have to take the poison. There are other girls, other guys, other days, other organizations.

Detach from the outcome.

Then go create yourself a new one.

6 replies
  1. David Heath
    David Heath says:

    I work as a trainer and have a very similar creed.  "Fake it until you make it." 

    For this, I mean that if you can’t do something, pretend.  If you keep pretending long enough, you’ll be doing it.

    In particular, some days you arrived at work and just feel too lousy to teach. But you have paying customers, so the show must go on.  PRETEND to be bright and happy and chirpy.  In no time at all, you are.  The bad mood / flu / whatever are banished.

    So, as you say, you can’t change other people, but you can sure take control of yourself.

  2. Stuart Cross
    Stuart Cross says:

    I don’t know the Bonnie Rait song, but I agree totally with the gist, and with the thought that we can change ourselves. As one of my favourite songs is called (don’t know who did the original, but I’ve got a version by Nick Lowe), "Only a Fool Breaks His Own Heart"

  3. Sandra
    Sandra says:

    My personal motto is the Hawaiian Huna’s "MAKIA energy follows attention". If I focus on the man who does not love me, the job that does not fulfil me… the concept of lack (and misery) will grow. For my own life as well as for my clients I have found the powerful energy of my "inner director". She takes care of what is going on at my life’s movie set. Awareness personalized so to say. This makes it easier to become conscious quickly whenever I focus on the "not" side of life.  The act of changing viewpoint and direction of activity gives me the might of creating and directing instead of "being directed by" …others, fate, company and so on.


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  1. […] I can’t make you love me, if you don’t. […]

  2. […] Bonnie Raitt’s achingly beautiful “I Can’t Make You Love Me – If You Don’t,” for a Top-40 version of the same […]

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