Falling in Love with Potential

We’re all looking for love. To love, to be loved— no doubt love is at the root of meaningful human connection and dare I say it of life itself. But what does being in love really mean in modern times? Look, I’m not here to ramble about how love doesn’t exist anymore, because it does. It always has, and it always will— we are made to love, we are made of love. But our modern lifestyle has fuelled a problem that has long preceded it: the fact that many people fall in love with potential instead of the real person in front of them.

You know that feeling when you first meet someone and every single thing they do is divine? It’s that feeling you get when you think you’ve found “the one”, that you’ve found your king or your queen. That unlike all the others before them— this individual is perfect. Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about, that pedestal we put our significant other on, where they can do no wrong. 

This is problematic for a few reasons, but most profoundly because it isn’t true. Nobody transcends the human shadow, we all carry a dark side, we are all flawed, we are all human. As soon as you paint a picture of someone else as being ‘perfect’, you fall in love with their potential, not the real person before you.

The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.
— Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Falling in love with potential is romantic. You can see all that this person can be, all that they can achieve, all that they are capable of. But the reality is all that potential comes with bad habits, with karmic debt, with a lifetime of trauma, with lifetimes of intergenerational trauma, and perhaps most importantly with that person’s own wants and needs that have nothing to do with you. When we fail to accept the whole person as they are (when we fall in love with their potential), we plant seeds for a lifetime of disappointment, resentment, co-dependence, fear, and ultimately of misery.

So often people divorce for the very same reason they fell in love with their partner in the first place. He fell in love with her wild, uninhibited and independent spirit, but was hurt when that same spirit led her to cheat on him. She fell in love with him because he was unfathomably kind to everyone, but ended up divorcing him because he always put the needs of others ahead of hers. She loved how easy going he was, but left him because he had no drive to succeed years later. She loved him because he was the life of the party, but left him when his alcoholism became self-destructive. When we fail to acknowledge that every light casts a shadow— we set ourselves up for a lifetime of pain.

This doesn’t mean that we should lock ourselves up in a tower and avoid intimacy or love— it’s about seeing things as they are, not simply as you would like them to be.

I know this from experience with some of the guys I was attracted to when I was younger. I ‘loved’ deeply, from a young age— but in retrospect this “love” was delusional. I didn’t love the person, I love the parts of him I chose to see.  I would cling to the smiles, the text messages, and the chat conversations that suggested he was interested, loving, and good— and completely disregarded all the (many more) times he was an asshole. I didn’t love the whole person, I picked the bits I liked and ignored the rest— this led to a wild lack of communication and ultimately the dissolution of true love before it even had a chance to blossom. This is blatant, it’s clear, it’s young love that is rooted in absolute delusion. But not everyone grows out of it, and in fact from what I can tell, most people still fall for the ‘best version’ of the person that they would like this person to be all the time.

Social media fuels this problem without a doubt, because we offer up this curated version of ourselves to the world. Whether it be through Instagram, Facebook, dating apps or sites, or even buffered by cellphone interactions: people get to see our highlights, our best angles, our most inspired moments, and our pre-planned responses. It creates a world in which we expect others to be this curated person 24/7, which is simply impossible.

Apart from clear and open communication, my only advice here is to never under any circumstance, place someone else on a pedestal. Catch yourself idolizing someone and thinking that they would be the “perfect partner” and take yourself back to reality. Nobody is perfect. If you find yourself idolising a person here’s a hot tip: picture them on the toilet. Yep, we all shit. It’s the fast-track way to dissolve the idea that any one person is better than you.

The best you can hope for is that the person you’re wanting to build a life with is aware of their shadow, and is actively doing work to heal themselves. Healing is a lifetime worth of work (at the very least), but it’s a beautiful journey that I absolutely have no doubt that two conscious beings can do side by side, monogamously if they so choose. This is only possible, however, if both parties are ultimately grounded in reality.

When we fall in love with potential, this is conditional love. It’s “I love you when you that best version of yourself”. Unconditional love, that is the kind of love people ought to vow for at their weddings. Although most people say ‘for better or worst’, they actually mean ‘don’t you dare show me your worst or I’ll be gone in a minute, just watch’.

Open your eyes. Honour the whole being. Give people permission to be who they are, light and shadow. Realise that their flaws are the backbone of their strengths. Share your deepest self with an open, non-judgemental heart. Let them work through their karmas in divine timing, and know that ultimately unconditional love is the ultimate catalyst to inspire other to be their best self. It’s the ultimate paradox: love unconditionally, and they will more than likely change for the better; but expect them to be something other than who they are, and you’ll breed a world of hate, resentment, and resistance.

Pink sunset over Marrakech Medina— a perfect example that what can seem so peaceful and beautiful has a shadow lurking not too far below the surface.

Pink sunset over Marrakech Medina— a perfect example that what can seem so peaceful and beautiful has a shadow lurking not too far below the surface.