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5 Signs You May Be Dating ‘Potential’ Instead of a Person

Be warned by these five signs that you may be dating "potential" rather than an actual person.

“He’ll be so great in like, 3 years.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried looking into the crystal ball of my dating life. My predictions of a perfect relationship ended up looking like attempts to make pieces from two different puzzle sets fit together. 

I’ve always gone for guys who are “so sweet, but a little immature.” You know, the ones who have a good heart, but drink too much. The guys who could be so amazing, but aren’t right now. I would convince myself that if I invested enough, they’d undergo a metamorphosis from caterpillar to a boyfriend-material butterfly. 

I realized that I wasn’t dating men — I was dating “potential.” I was dating someone for their potential to be better, rather than who they currently are. 

This type of dating is related to “rescue dating” or “savior dating” — it’s when people take on a relationship the same way they take on a new project. A fixer-upper, if you will. Unsurprisingly, those types of relationships never worked out for me. 

As I’ve tried to make my way through dating like Chip and Joanna Gaines facing a house that needs work, I’ve learned to take notice when I feel like I’m putting on my hard hat and rolling up my sleeves. If you’re wondering if you’ve fallen into the same trap of dating “potential,” here are a few red flags to look out for. 

You often find yourself ‘teaching’

If you spend a lot of time correcting your S.O. and frequently having long, serious conversations about their behavior, something is awry. Yes, these types of conversations are important for couples to grow, but if they’re one-sided, the relationship will become unequal.  

By the same token, if you find yourself in the early phases of dating thinking, “He just needs to grow up a bit. If I keep dating him, maybe he’ll mature faster;” or, “She’s a little flakey, but if I date her, she’ll become more serious,” these are signs that you see your potential S.O. as a student, not an equal partner. 

You cannot be your boyfriend or girlfriend’s teacher in life. You cannot be their guide to your own relationship (believe me, I’ve tried.) If you see your S.O. as someone you need to instruct, you’ll lose the dynamic of mutuality. It isn’t fair and will create an unhealthy power dynamic — and ultimately breed resentment. 

You’re ignoring red flags 

By focusing on how to instruct them on how to be a better boyfriend/girlfriend, you might be ignoring glaring warning signs. Or if you do see red flags, you might simply view them as a part of the renovation process. 

I have been so blinded by potential that I’ve refused to recognize the most obvious red flags. I once dated someone I couldn’t even maintain a conversation with! I convinced myself that one day, I would crack him like a code and we’d have endless things to talk about. The truth was that we never actually clicked. But gosh darn it, I was willing to fight tooth-and-nail to make us click. Sounds like a fairy-tale love story, right?

Sometimes we trick ourselves into believing we’re actually being charitable when we continue pursuing an incompatible relationship. We convince ourselves that we’re being gracious or open-minded for letting red flags slide. Whether it’s something small like “not clicking” or something big like a drinking problem, red flags typically indicate a fundamental problem that you can’t just fix.

You don’t like who they are right now 

With any fixer-upper, you’re probably not happy with the current state of your project. You may be frustrated with your S.O.’s lack of commitment, bad habits, immaturity, laziness, emotional inaccessibility, inconsiderateness, annoying quirks, etc. 

Instead of being present in the moment and loving the time you spend with them, you’re constantly reminded of how they’re not filling the bill right now. You’re thinking about how your relationship could be better — how they could be better. 

When dating, you should be soaking up the moments you have together — not mentally critiquing them. It should be easy to be with your boyfriend or girlfriend, not difficult. 

You fantasize about the ‘perfect’ version of your relationship 

We all daydream about future relationships, but if your daydreams revolve around the completion of your fixer-upper, it’s pure fantasy. If you find yourself thinking, “Our relationship will be good when *fill in the blank* changes,” you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.

Going into a relationship with the expectation of your S.O. changing for you will only create conflict down the road. Ultimately, we’re all responsible for our own growth and nobody has the right to enforce change upon someone else. Date them for who they are right now, not who you want them to be. 

You’re disproportionately afraid of losing them

Unfortunately, dating someone’s “potential” is usually a reflection of your own issues, not theirs. A sure way to determine whether you’ve fallen into this unhealthy type of dating is to gauge your emotional state when thinking about breaking up. 

Prior to breaking up with a guy who was so entirely wrong for me, I couldn’t even fathom what I’d do if things ended. When we eventually broke up, I completely fell apart. After the umpteenth hour of non-stop sobbing, I realized my tears were coming from a different source of pain. “I didn’t even like him that much, why am I so wrecked right now?” I asked myself. 

Dating “potential” is usually a sign of our own insecurities and lack of self-esteem. We settle for incompatible relationships because we’re afraid of never finding the right person. We’re afraid of being alone forever. We’re afraid that we will have no worth if they leave us. Fear is the main motivator in the relationship, not love — which is always an unstable foundation.

Stop the cycle 

Because these incompatible fixer-upper relationships rarely work out, the eventual breakup affirms the pessimistic belief that you’ll never find someone — thus perpetuating the cycle of settling, “fixing,” and forcing a connection. 

Usually, bad dating habits are a result of past wounds. It’s important that we address them so we can pursue healthy relationships in the future. Investing in therapy and learning how to manage unhealthy dating tendencies can save you from a lifetime of pain and disappointment. And intentionally praying for healing from past wounds allows God to actively work within your life. 

True self-esteem comes from knowing that you were made in God’s image and that you’re already unconditionally loved by Him. Taking the time to truly know your self-worth will transform your life and the relationships within it.

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