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What Does 'Loving Someone's Potential' Actually Mean?
Love & Relationships

What Does 'Loving Someone's Potential' Actually Mean?

Never fall in love with someone’s potential. Lawd, if there’s a sentence that makes absolutely no sense to me — one that has been making its rounds for decades at this point, one that has gotten so much louder since social media — it’s this one. Folks are really out here thinking that they are being insightful, profound, and hell, even realistic by basically saying that if you want to have a long-term relationship, you should avoid anyone who is a work in progress. SMDH.


Meanwhile, I can’t tell you how many articles (which are actually more like testimonies) I’ve read, from both men and women, that a part of what made them choose who they did and love them in the way that they do now is because that particular individual was willing to invest in what? THEIR POTENTIAL.

Two men who immediately come to mind are actor Denzel Washington and director Ryan Coogler. Money was tight for Denzel when he and his wife Pauletta went on their first date. So much, in fact, that she actually covered the cab fare. A whopping 40 years later, they’re still married. During Ryan Coogler’s humble beginnings, it was actually his then-girlfriend-now-wife Zinzi who purchased his first filmmaking software while he was playing football on a scholarship. I’m pretty sure that most of you all know how that turned out for him — well, them.

So yeah, I’m not interested in people venting, ranting, or advising that people not get involved with someone based on their potential. At this point, I think the saying has gotten so popular that folks don’t even really get what potential means or how it can actually be a wise move to do just that. Because, as author Roy T. Bennett once said, “Believe in your infinite potential. Your only limitations are those you set upon yourself.” And listen, if we’re supposed to see ourselves through this kind of lens, why wouldn’t we extend this same type of care and consideration for others?

For the skeptics, I’ll go deeper, though.

First Up, Let’s Define “Potential”

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If you’ve read enough of my content, you know that I am pretty word-literal. So, let’s start all of this out by revisiting what the definition, and some synonyms, of the word “potential” actually are.

Potential: (adj.) possible, as opposed to actual; capable of being or becoming; (n) possibility; potentiality; a latent excellence or ability that may or may not be developed

Synonyms: hidden, likely, future, conceivable, probable, dormant, embryonic, thinkable, plausible, undeveloped, unrealized, imaginable

You know what immediately comes to mind when I take in all of what potential means? The biblical definition of faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 — NKJV) While we’re here, hope means “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” Yeah, don’t get me preachin’ about the fact that when you have faith in something that has not yet manifested, that doesn’t always mean that you’re going to get your way; hope tells us that having faith in something or someone is about EITHER knowing that you can have what you want OR that things will turn out for the best. Best means “of the highest quality, excellence, or standing” and “most advantageous, suitable, or desirable.”

So, when you put all of this together, something (or someone) that has potential is something (or someone) that is capable of being or becoming something — there are things within that are hidden yet likely, dormant yet conceivable, undeveloped yet probable. And by having faith in this reality and then investing in it, you are confident that things will either turn out in the way that you want them to…or in a way that will work even more to your advantage, one way or another.

With the foundation established, let’s keep building...

What Potential in a Relationship Looks Like

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Let’s go back to Ryan and Zinzi Coogler for a moment. Back when he was playing college football (on scholarship from what I’ve read), clearly there was a love that he had brewing for film, and Zinzi saw that in him; there was a seed, and she watered it — and it’s a huge understatement to say that the seed grew. Okay, so that’s something that should go on record about people and their potential: something has to exist, even if it's in an embryonic stage, in order for anyone to recognize it and then nurture it.

And why is this relevant? Because I think that when a lot of people say that you should stop dating potential, what they mean is you shouldn’t pour into something that isn’t there. For instance, getting into a relationship with a guy who has told you that he has no interest in getting married (or marrying you) and yet staying anyway, believing that there is some “potential” there — how is that possible? Potential means that something exists…and he told you that what you desire doesn’t. And basically, that is a total waste of your time (check out “Love Is Patient. But Is Your Relationship Just Wasting Your Time?” and “‘National All Or Nothing Day’ Reminds Us That Sometimes It Needs To Be Just That”). On the flip side, if there’s a guy you’re interested in, he’s interested in you too, he knows you want to be married someday, and he’d prefer to wait until he’s more financially stable and secure — there is some potential there.

With that being said, potential in a relationship also tends to come with some sort of plan. Yeah, that’s one of the reasons why I like Wale’s song “Matrimony” so much. When Usher sings the hook and says that his lady has his heart, a part of the reason why she knows that is because he’s making plans for her. Y’all, when a relationship has some real potential to it, some actual possibilities, if there is a real future there, there are gonna be some expressed plans — and some follow-through. Not necessarily according to your timing, yet there will be some movement. That is, if both people are taking the potential of where things could go literally and seriously — not one of you…BOTH OF YOU.

Next point.

Do You Have a Problem with “Potential” or Are You Just an IMPATIENT Person?

Yeah...she's preachin' right here. And it's an excellent intro to this particular point that I'm about to make.

As someone who has over 18 years in the game of working with couples at this point, whenever the topic of potential has come up, what I’ve often realized (especially when it comes to women) is there tends to be a lot of impatience going on. Meaning, when a woman will say, “I don’t date potential,” what they tend to mean is they’re not going to wait for what they want to have immediately to come into fruition. And so, in their mind, they think that putting that declaration out into the atmosphere will rush things along — oftentimes prematurely. And as a wise person said, “The right thing at the wrong time is still the wrong thing.”

Example. Say that you’re seeing a guy who you really like. The challenge is you’ve always wanted a “6-6-6 guy” (check out “Okay, So Here's What You Need To Know About the '6-6-6' Man”), and he’s currently in med school, so his finances are super tight. Are you gonna toss the possibilities of what could be aside because he doesn’t have present money yet the POTENTIAL is there? Are you really that impatient?

Here’s another scenario. I can’t tell you how many women email me to say that they’ve met someone who they’re diggin’ on the surface, and yet, since the guy isn’t exactly “their type,” they are literally talking themselves out of seeing how far things could go. Are you soimpatient that you can’t go on a few more dates in order to find out instead of just assuming that, since some things are presently unrealized (remember, that’s a synonym of potential), there’s no point taking things any further? You know, I Corinthians 13:1 tells us that love is patient. One definition of patient is understanding; a definition of patience is “an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.”

Y’all are grown and gonna do what you want. My two cents? Don’t be out here so caught up in “not dating potential” that you end up being your biggest obstacle towards ultimately getting what you truly desire — what you could have if you’d only be willing to understand that some things do require time. Like it or not, that’s how life works.

Finding Your Complement Helps to Keep “Potential” in Balance

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Okay, so how do you know when you’re moving in the extreme when it comes to loving someone’s potential? Chile, when I tell you that my third book will be touching on that in a very mighty way. There’s a guy from my past who…let’s just say that we had a TON of potential. I saw it. He saw it. People who knew us and even strangers who observed us would say it to us. It was kinda wild. Problem was, even though our connection had a ton of potential, what he wanted out of life when it comes to relationship goals vs. what I did were very different — they didn’t complement one another. And so, 1000 percent, I ended up wasting a colossal amount of time because I was hanging on to the potential of the connection while not paying attention to the reality of the relationship based on how he viewed marriage vs. how I did.

Yeah, making sure that you’re investing into your complement is crucial. By definition, when something complements you, it literally helps to complete you. Not so much in that rom-com Jerry Maguire kind of way (the real ones know) because, in order for a relationship to be healthy, two complete people, within themselves, need to be together. I mean “complete” in the sense of helping to bring some resolve and conclusion to things.

If you need me to expound, what I mean by that is — if a committed long-term relationship is a desire/goal of yours, your complement will help to complete that. You won’t be dating for years on end (check out “Experts Say You Should Date This Long Before Getting Married”). There won’t need to be a billion conversations about where things are going. You won’t have to question if you’re both on the same page. He will want to “finish” the current season as quickly and realistically (not either or, both) as he can so that you can start the next one. Yep, potential and completion are intimate partners. So are completion and conclusion.

Now, one more thing before I get out of your hair when it comes to this topic.

Loving Someone’s Potential Is What a Healthy Relationship Is All About

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Another reason why it irks me so much whenever people profess to not date potential is because, since I know what the word means, it actually sounds hella arrogant. Why? Because ALL OF US ARE A VESSEL OF POTENTIAL. No one has reached all of their goals. No one is walking perfection. No matter who any of us choose to be with, if they are good and right for us (not either/or…both), they are going to challenge us to become a better version of ourselves.

So, do you know what that means — you’re always going to be dating/courting/married to potential…and whoever you’re with is going to be doing the same.

If you don’t want to accept that reality, your best bet is to remain single (which certainly has its benefits) because you’re not going to be a very good partner when it comes to helping another person become a better version of themselves…which is a HUGE purpose behind being in a relationship in the first place.

Indeed, a hill that I will forever die on is a healthy relationship, a solid connection, true love, at the end of the day, will show fruit of two people who saw POTENTIAL in one another, nurtured what they saw, and thrived, and flourished, over and over again, because of their mutual support, investment, and commitment into that potential.

So yeah, clearly, I am someone who, eight times out of 10, totally rolls my eyes whenever someone rah-rahs about not wanting to “date potential.” If the possibilities are there, if some plans are discussed, if signs of said plans are being executed, and there is patience during these seasons— that is just how a relationship operates and functions.

Bottom line, don’t date what isn’t there at all.

Date what has a seed that you are capable of watering…as the same thing is done for you.

You know, dating potential has made some mind-blowing things happen for people.

Ask Pauletta. Ask Zinzi. ‘Nuf said.

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