Have you ever dated someone for their potential? By which I mean, have you been with anyone romantically who has some pretty important red flags that you’re avidly pushing to the side because that person could be so much better if they only tried?
Maybe you reason that they’re smart and capable enough to get a job, but no one’s believed in them yet. Or you say if they only tried harder, they could get back on the straight and narrow. If they only had more confidence, they could stop self-sabotaging. If only they had someone to cheer them on, they could take over the world.
I’ve dated more potential than I have actual people. I’d zero in on the good things about the person, and willfully ignore all the things I didn’t like. I’d stay in complete denial because, well — it was the only way for me to actually stay. Because if I looked at who these people really were, I’d be forced to admit that it would never work out.
Here are some of the most important things you should know about dating someone’s potential:
You can’t change them, nor should you really want to.
While dating is an invitation to grow together, at the core of your connection has to be the premise that you fundamentally like the person you’re with. You don’t have to like everything about them, nor like them all the time, but for the most part, you want to enjoy the person you’re choosing to spend your time and energy on.
Otherwise, I mean — what’s the point? Plus, if the person you fell for suddenly changed everything about themselves to appease you, would they even still be that person you fell for?
You’re not in a position to know what’s best for them.
Just because you know someone, doesn’t mean you reside in their head, with full knowledge of all their intrinsic motivations, past traumas, histories and ambitions. Just because something makes sense for you, doesn’t mean it works for someone else.
The truth is, what you think you see in someone else says more about your own life and experiences than it says about theirs. You project your insecurities, unmet needs, and expectations onto others when they’re really just about you.
You’re with them for everything they’re not.
Potential is unique in that it’s often something you value in someone else that they do not currently embody in their own life. But they could. And staying with someone for all the things they could be only acts to keep you stuck in a situation in which you no longer fit.
People have to forge their own paths, make their own mistakes, and learn from the consequences of their actions. And this kind of love is conditional. It’s like saying I’ll only be satisfied with you when you make six figures — and how great does that feel on the receiving end?
You’re distracting yourself from larger issues.
Everyone has redeeming qualities, and the thing with potential is that it’s limitless. There’s always more to find, loftier goals to set, higher standards to achieve. But it’s much easier to focus your energy on fixing someone else’s problems than it is dealing with your own.
And sometimes you get stuck on your partner’s potential because you fundamentally take issue with who they are. If you let go of who they could be, you’d be unsatisfied with the reality of your relationship, and that’s a painful thing to admit.
You think settling for this is the best you can get.
There are always compromises to make in relationships, but sometimes you settle for a lot less than you want or deserve because you lack self-esteem and think you’re lucky to have it. It’s much easier to turn a blind eye to someone’s red flags when you don’t realize you can find another person who’s better suited for you.
So by focusing on someone’s potential, you’re “looking on the bright side” and making the best out of the situation that’s… not so great in the end. It reinforces the sense of denial and makes it that much harder to leave. Just because someone’s not terrible, doesn’t imply they’re overly great, either.
Someone can be a good person, but can be no good for you. And so that’s why it’s important to discern, take your time, be mindful of your choices, and see people for all the things they bring to the table, not disregarding the things they’re hiding, or only focusing on the things they could be.
Culled from Medium