Hispanic woman drawing heart in sunscreen on boyfriend's back

I see it all the time in my practice. A relationship doesn’t work out and we exclaim “but he looked so good on paper!” He had all the right assets that you imagine will make your relationship work. He is good looking, financially stable and has a wonderful circle of friends, yet something falls flat. You two just don’t connect. Why is it that something which looks so right can turn out so wrong? This is a common problem plaguing modern daters. I call it “falling in love with potential.”

In her book Jane Austen’s Guide to Dating (Hyperion, 2005), Lauren Henderson uses the works of the author generally considered to be the last word on gentility and civility to demonstrate her rules of dating (sic, I advocate no rules but indulge me for a moment while I rely on an outside resource.) Henderson writes: “We’ve all fallen for men because they’re drop dead gorgeous, have tremendous athletic talent, or have other standout qualities with which we want to be associated. But when we do this, it’s less about them than it is about expressing our own lack of self-esteem. Believing that we aren’t beautiful, or talented or clever enough, we try to achieve these qualities by attaching ourselves to men who possess them, rather than working on improving ourselves.” To quote another well known author, William Shakespeare, “therein lies the rub.”

Falling in love with potential means we are selling ourselves short because we look at what we *should* want, what we *should* think, what we *should* do. Don’t should on yourself ! When you are listening to someone else’s definition of what is right, whether it be a friend or your mother or society as a whole, you are not listening to your own inner voice and I stress again and again that you must lead with your gut. Like a jilted character in an Austen novel, you will end up dissatisfied if you look only at surface qualities to make you happy because what you are really saying is that you need something more to make yourself special. You are enough as you are and you need to know that.

Surface qualities take an instant to scope out, but real qualities like kindness and respect take many dates and many interactions to observe. Date! Don’t go right from date one to relationship where you put your hair up in a Pebbles pony tail and wear your sweats and Uggs. Allow yourself to be courted and wooed like any good Austen heroine and in the end you will find that the extra time you took to look beyond mere potential will make all the difference in finding your happy ending.