We’ve all laughed at the famous Kanye verses, but when it comes to dating someone with “potential” where do we really stand?
I used to pride myself on not being a gold digger, so much so that I frequently dated broke men. Some were musicians, artists or entrepreneurs who frequently talked about their grand aspirations. The hype sounded great in the first few dates, I was always intrigued and inspired by their stated ambition. But after months of hanging out it was clear that the “ambition” was little more than talk without any tangible plans or work ethic. Yet still I was weary to write off all artist and entrepreneurs as I was one myself.
I was 26 dating a 28-year old Civil Engineer. His career was stable and he made good money. I worked as a contract instructor while also growing my video production company. Some months were lucrative while other months were a straight up struggle. That year I didn’t earn much but I worked harder than I’d ever worked before. More importantly that year set me up for much more lucrative opportunities in the following year. One day, my engineer friend said to me, “I really like you. I could even see myself marrying you. It’s just that you don’t make enough money. I always saw myself with someone who made at least 80K.” I was crushed. Not because I was head over heels for the guy. In fact, his statement made me lose interest in him altogether. I was hurt because after spending 4 months with me he was still unable to see my potential. In the year that followed I more than doubled my earnings. Money, How Much Does it Matter in a Relationship?
So how do you know when someone is the real deal? How do you know their potential is legit and you aren’t legit wasting your time?
You have to distinguish between “THE TALKER” and “THE PROVEN DOER”. The talker tells you what they will do. They love to talk about their lofty dreams and how incredible it will be. The proven doer may intentionally choose not to share too much about their plans. Instead they are humbly working toward their goals. The proven doer also has a past record of success. When my ex told me he was dropping out of his Ivy league grad school to move to Silicon Valley I knew he’d be successful. Many people thought he was crazy for pursuing such a risky path, but knowing his character, his work ethic, intelligence, creativity and sticktoitiveness I was certain he’d succeed. Today he owns a company that’s worth over 20 million. It was his character that predicted success.
On the contrary another ex raved about quitting his day job to be a full-time painter. I never saw him paint in our entire 8-month relationship. One day he took me to a coffee shop to view the window display of his paintings. The center painting had a huge chip where the acrylic paint had started to peel from its surface. I pointed it out. “I know”, he said, “It’s no big deal”. I tried to explain that no one would buy the paintings if one of them was visibly peeling. It was bad craftsmanship. He didn’t seem to care. If he took no pride in his work, something he claimed was important to him, what did this say about his character and work ethic? What did it say about his long-term potential? Mediocrity is the Antagonist of Love
It felt really shitty to be labeled as a brokey broke with no potential. Likewise, I was legit wasting my time when I dated dreamers who weren’t doers. So how can you find the balance? Consider these questions:
Are they intelligent?
This doesn’t necessarily mean book smart or degreed up. Someone can have multiple degrees and still lack intelligence. Determine if the person is wise. Do they make good choices, logical decisions?
Are they responsible?
Does the person have a sense for real consequences? Are they able to make connections between cause and effect? Do they take responsibility or blame others? Do they have an internal or external locust of control?
Have they started?
If he says he wants to become a filmmaker, ask to see some films he’s made. Does he own a camera? Has he invested anything in this new trade? Does he read about it? Does he watch films?
What is their finish history?
Find out what they’ve finished in the past. Someone whose completed 1 year of law school, 1 year of dental school and 1 year of culinary school may be incredibly talented and intelligent but clearly lacks focus and the commitment to finish things. On the contrary, the person who quits a lucrative profession to start a business or pursue a new career does have a record of completing goals and is therefore more likely to be serious about their upcoming endeavors.
Lastly, consider what you want and need right now. A woman who is 27, casually dating and growing in her career may have more time and patience for “a man with potential” than a woman whose 37 ready for marriage and eager to have children. It’s okay to admit to yourself that you “don’t have time for potential”. If that’s how you feel, no apologies are needed. You have a right to feel this way. Just be aware that you may miss out on some really great guys who are quite close to obtaining or re-obtaining the stability you require. Are Your Dating Expectations Too High?
What are your thoughts on dating someone with potential? Are there any glaring red flags to look out for?
Also check out this great article on the topic by Evan Marc Katz: Is it Foolish to Date a Guy Based on His Potential?