I’ve heard it said before that a mistake that many people make when they fall in love is that they fall in love with the potential of who the person could be rather than fall in love with who the person actually is. Well, to an extent, I agree. I agree that people look to another’s potential as a marker for pursuing and remaining in a relationship. However, I don’t believe that people fall in love with, or, are in love with potential. I say this because potential doesn’t exist. Potential isn’t real. Potential is some made up entity you have created with your imagination to create the perfect person for you. So in essence, when one has fallen in love with potential, one has failed to actually fall in love with the person. You’ve simply decided that your created image is better than the reality.
I have been guilty of this on occasion. I married my ex husband totally ignoring the reality of who he is. I knew who he was and what he was about. I knew that he wasn’t who I wanted. However, I believed in this version of him that I created in my head. And I hoped like hell that one day soon he would grow to meet that image. I found myself pissed 9 years later, when he was no more that man than he had been on the day we met. I felt betrayed. Now, on the one hand, I can say that he did try for a time to pretend to be that man. But as we all know, pretending only goes so far. And even with his efforts, I still saw through the veneer. Yet I chose to look beyond what I saw and hold tight to my image. Once I divorced him, I grieved. Funny thing is that I never grieved the end of our marriage. I celebrated that. I considered that among one of the best things I could have ever done for myself. No, I grieved for the man I never met. The man he never was, but whom I always hoped he would become. And none of that was his fault. He was who he was. He was clear on that even through his consistently inconsistent behavior. It was I who failed to accept him at face value. And while I may not like the sound of it, I failed to accept it simply because I liked my version of him better.
Several years after my divorce, I partnered briefly with a man who I’d known back in high school. Ours was a most unexpected coupling. I’d never expected to fall in love—and definitely not with him. He was the last man I would have ever considered as a romantic partner. The thing is, he was probably one of the last men I should have ever partnered with. He was a recent widower. I knew he wasn’t ready for a new relationship. To add even more fuel to this already lit fire, he was incredibly insecure. He was the kind of guy who pretended to be a “nice” guy, but deep down he wasn’t. So he would say things that I intuitively felt were meant to break my self-esteem. I saw that, but I wouldn’t accept it. Why? Because I was so focused on the potential of what could be. I told myself that once he healed, things would be great. He was just hurting and needed some compassion and love. Well, I could have given compassion and love. I just could have (and probably should have) given it from a distance. But I was so busy ignoring who he was because I preferred the image of who he could be.
For a time, I fell into the woe is me trap. Why can’t I find a good man? What’s wrong with me? But I had to do what my father would have told me to do; which is to take a good, long look at myself in the mirror. And so I did. I recognized that I failed to accept teach man as he was. I have a good heart. I don’t say that in a bragging manner. I just do. And my good heart sees beneath the surface in everyone. I see the good in everyone. I can’t fathom another person being a terrible. After all, no one person is completely good, nor completely bad. Even when I intuitively sense something is off with a person—and believe me, I do, as my intuition is very strong—I ignore it. I choose to create a better version in my head and go with my creation. It’s nicer. Neater. Better. I’m the type of person who you can stab directly in the heart (literally), and with my dying breath I’ll tell you how it’s ok because deep down I know you didn’t mean to do it because you really are a good person. Extreme examples aside, the only thing I have ever done when I’ve chosen to do that is cause myself issues. Now, I am able to say that I appreciate both men for the soul lessons they provided me. But I recognize that I could have saved myself so much heartache had I given up the false hope of potential. I also recognize that my choice to love their potential says much more about me than it does either man.
When one chooses to remain with another simply because of potential, one is failing to see, accept, and subsequently choose the person as they are and where they are in the present. The man has no job? That’s ok. He can get one. We’ll send him to ICDC College and get him a job. My baby gon’ get it together. Well that’s love from a parenting aspect, and not from a partner aspect. Let me put it to you like this. I have the potential to be a killer or a billionaire. At the moment, I am neither. To choose to either avoid or get in a relationship with me based on either sounds, well kind of dumb, right? Well, I’m sorry to have to tell you that it’s the same thing for potential. I know. I had to break it down for myself too.
It can seem tricky because on the one hand, everyone has the potential for growth, and a person’s status in life today is not necessarily indicative of where their path may lead. However, I think there is a bit of a marker, and it’s pretty simple. It’s about vision. Ask yourself, does the person have a vision for him or herself? Once you ask and answer that, go a little deeper. If he or she has a vision, what is the vision? Now don’t stop there. You’ve got to go even deeper. Now you need to ask if they have created goals AND taken steps to actualize those goals to create their vision? Now notice that I didn’t say ask what your vision is for that person. I didn’t say ask that because your vision for someone else does not matter. You can’t love, hang on to, or encourage another enough to maximize their potential. That person has to want it and do the work for him or herself. If they don’t, then there is nothing you can do for them. We’ve heard that you can lead a horse to pasture, but you can’t make him drink. Well the same is true for human beings. We can influence, encourage, and desire things for others. But we can’t do the heavy lifting for them. You can absolutely serve as another’s muse–their catalyst that sparks the desire for change. It’s happened before, and it will happen again. Marie-Thérèse Walter served as Pablo Picasso’s muse during his surrealist period. However inspired he was by his favorite model at that time, he still needed to choose to pick up the paint brush, paint, and canvas and start painting. He couldn’t have stood in front of an audience and simply said, “Here lies my muse. She makes me want to paint.” If he had, he’d probably be known as the crazy artist everyone laughed at instead of being known for his famous works of art. Do you see where I’m going with this?
If you find yourself in love with potential. Stop. Do not, I repeat, do not pass go. Do not collect $200. In the words of Ghost’s very own Oda mae Brown, as played by Whoopi Goldberg, “You in danger, girl.” Of course I say this fully understanding that there are no guarantees and there are some things that one can truly feel. But I caution you to remember that you can’t take a person to their potential. Trust that person enough to do it for themselves. Trust yourself enough to know that there is room for the person you want–even if it doesn’t come from the potential one.