We’ve all been there before – you meet someone who seems to have it all on paper. They’re charming, attractive, have similar interests as you, and seem to ‘get’ you in a way no one else does. As you get to know them more, you also start to see glimpses of their potential. If they just applied themselves a little bit more, stopped certain bad habits, or made some life changes, they could truly thrive and be an amazing partner.
So you make excuses for their shortcomings and focus on their potential. You imagine all the ways they could grow and improve to become the perfect person and partner. You fall in love not with who they are, but who they could become.
I’m here to tell you this is a big mistake. While it’s human nature to focus on potential, you should not pursue a serious relationship with someone based predominantly on who you think they could become. Why? Here are a few key reasons:
- It’s unfair to your partner. When you fall in love with someone’s potential, you don’t love them for who they actually are. This can make a partner feel unseen, unheard, and unloved. Would you want to be with someone who was constantly trying to change or “fix” you?
- Potential is just that – potential. There’s no guarantee it will ever be fulfilled. Pining for someone’s potential keeps you stuck in fantasy-land instead of reality.
- You may stay in an unhappy relationship too long. Over-focusing on potential can lead you to make excuses and downplay red flags. “If only he stops drinking, our relationship will be great” or “As soon as she gets that promotion, she’ll be much happier.”
- Resentment can build. If you feel like you’re always waiting and hoping for your partner to improve, you’ll likely start feeling bitter and resentful. This poisonous mindset damages relationships.
- Self-work is needed. The tendency to fall for potential often signals that you need to work on your own self-esteem and standards in relationships. Otherwise, you may pursue partners that are emotionally unavailable, unpredictable, or even toxic.
The next time you catch yourself falling for someone’s potential, pump the brakes. Focus on the reality of who they are now, flaws and all. Accept and love them as they are, or move on. Latching onto fantasies and pipe dreams about changing someone is a surefire path to heartbreak. You deserve someone who already is the person you’re looking for.