Dating For Potential: The How-To Guide

Dating For Potential: The How-To Guide

young black couple

Dating For Potential is Awesome. And Terrible.

Does that sound a little contradictory? Of course it does.

Men and women both gravitate towards partners with gleaming potential. But oftentimes that potential is never actualized. Dreams sometimes get deferred and promises can easily be broken which leads to disappointment.

But shouldn’t you be willing to hold each other down and build?

There’s nothing wrong with supporting someone you love while they finish their degree (even if it’s the 2nd or 3rd attempt) or holding down the fort while they get their business off the ground. There are plenty of beautiful love stories that began with one partner supporting the other, and possibly even switching places as they help each other climb the ladder of success. On the other hand, supporting someone while they work on their glo-up can result in resentment and…ya know, lead to furniture being set ablaze. The stuff Mary J. Blige lyrics were inspired by.

But why such varying results?

Here’s what I realized. There are two types of potential – character potential and positional  potential. One type could lead you to incredible bliss. The other could lead you to an asylum.

Don’t: Date Character Potential

So you met a great guy. He’s got a great career, a great outlook on life and he treats you like a queen. Most of the time. Ok, he tends talk down to you and tell you what to do. No big deal? Actually, kind of a big deal. You try to ignore that sinking feeling in your stomach. You’ve brought it up to him, you’ve even sent him a few articles about why his behavior could damage your relationship. He promises that he’ll change. You desperately want to believe him because you know this is a deal-breaker for you. Should you rest in the assurance that he’s a good guy and will make a bigger effort to change?  

Don't be fooled by emotional potential. Know when to support and when to pass. Click To Tweet

Here is the deal, people don’t change very fast and when they do, they don’t change very much. Think I’m kidding? Ask someone to tell you about who you were as a young child. The characteristics they describe will likely be very similar to the ones you have now. Someone’s awareness may change (aided of course, by you reminding them) and they may even make a conscious effort to do better. But will Mr. Overbearing suddenly become a sensitive and considerate communicator? Likely, not.

Every liar has the potential be honest. Every slacker has the potential to be disciplined. Every cheater has the potential to be loyal. You could bet on the slight chance that the person you see in front of you may actually evolve into the person you wish they were. Or you could avoid dating people who have character flaws that you consider problematic.


Michelle and Barack Obama throwback
Once he was just a stoner in college with a hole in the floor of his car – now he’s the most powerful man in the world. Imagine that.


DO: Date Positional Potential

On the other hand, if your love interest is trying make a come up in life than dating for potential can pay off in a major way.  If they are unemployed, transitioning between careers or following an ambitious dream then you may want to stick around. Positional potential is powerful –  we all have dreams inside of us that we know we can realize and it makes the journey all the more special when we have a partner nearby who believes and supports us as we grow.  My favorite  example of this is our FLOTUS and POTUS. Consider what would have happened if Michelle passed on Barack simply because he was a bit of a fixer-upper. At one point he was just a stoner in college with a hole in the floor of his car – now he’s the most powerful man in the world. Imagine that.

A Word of Caution

Although it’s important to support your partner as they reach for the stars, don’t fool yourself. Pay attention to work ethic, consistency and growth. Some people can spend 40 years talking about that thing they’re gonna do one day. Someone who is genuinely going for their dreams will consistently show progress, determination and results. Stand by the dreamer who takes action – not the one who just talks a good game.

You have to know what kind of potential your future bae is actually working with. You also have to check in with yourself about your own staying power. Ask yourself what you would do if they never reach that golden “potential” you see hanging over their heads. Would you still love them? Would you still want to build a life with them?  

When it comes to potential, remember –  it’s one thing to roll with somebody who has a hole in the floor of their car, it’s a very different thing to roll with somebody who has a hole in the floor of their character.  


Alex Merritt The Love Engineer

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