May 19, 2016

Provocative Problems with “Potential” in Relationships.

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I’m a big fan of provocative questions—an exercise I was introduced to at the Meisner studio where I trained in acting. I’ve always loved questions, which made me an unpopular child growing up, and my curiosity has gotten me into some fire rings that have burned me enough to keep me quiet, because we live in a polite society.

So I sought for and found freedom in the acting studios, and provocative questions have often uncovered very raw truths—the ones hidden, and the ones we didn’t even know existed. I love a good surprise.

A provocative question came up on my Facebook newsfeed that read, “Do you love him enough to wait until he becomes who he is supposed to be?”

Dwell on that for a minute.

This question alone would be enough for conversation, but it was more so what my friend had disclaimed prior to sharing this question, “Lol hell no. Girls stop falling for potential.


I love everything about her response.

The “lol” highlights the fact that such a suggestion is laughable to begin with. “Hell no,” is a firm stance on the subject, and “girls stop falling for potential” is one of the wisest pieces of relationship advice I’ve ever come across. I don’t mind getting personal—it’s the reason I fell for most of my mistakes—I’ve repeated them enough so you don’t have to; I’ve repeated them enough to distill the following:

The problems with being a romantic with a wild imagination is that you see and thus, chase after potential beyond what the average reality can carry. It’s almost narcissistic in a way—is that a bad word to use? Yet, it’s true, because when we fall for potential, we are in essence, falling for our imagination. If flags aren’t already waving, you’re reading it here that falling for our imagination has several fatal flaws:

  1. It creates unrealistic expectations.

    It’s a wonderful thing to have goals, but they should be goals for ourselves, not others. The problem with external expectations is that it significantly raises the chances of disappointment, hurt, pain, blame, frustration, anger, and depression—a slippery slope to slide down—where we are taken for a ride, beyond our control, and when we crash, should we crash, we blame the driver, even though the truth is that we forced that person behind the wheel in the first place, and we sat in the passenger’s seat voluntarily. And what is really, “supposed to be”?
  2. Compare and Despair.

    The gap between reality vs. “potential” means that we are perpetually unhappy. On a superficial level, we are unhappy because our partner has not yet “become” the person we thought they were “supposed to be”—they’re the problem, not us, no, not with our lofty ideals and naivety. Yet, the raw truth here here is that we are the problem; we subject ourselves to this. We are comparing who they now are vs. who we imagine them to be. Can you see the absurdity now? If we cannot love our partners as they are, we are, perhaps, a poor match as partners. Retreat if we must, but to kill our darlings?
  3. Being grounded becomes impossible.

    Because what’s being held onto, is not real. Within the walls of romance, there is a lot of room for fantasy, as there should be, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But detaching ourselves from reality is a recipe for disaster and heartbreak—no further explanation needed. Are we aware of what we are attached to?
  4. “Imagination” is euphemism.
    Because the problem with “potential” is that we are essentially lying to ourselves.

    We make excuses for sub-standard behaviour, by substituting reality with our imagination. We live in a relationship that becomes an imagined construct, and one that is held together by words—and may I ask, what degree of strength does such a construct hold? If you’ve ever been tired of “talkers,” you know exactly where I’m coming from. We get wildly upset, because “talkers” aren’t “doers,” but the key here is owning that it’s our mistake to have fell for their potential, because potential isn’t tangible. You cannot build nor bank on something that is purely intangible. Rudimentary physics and economics.
  5. The present is lost.

    Some people dwell and live in the past. I actually do think that futurists have it a bit better, because it’s always more fun to write a new story, than to replay an old tape. Yet, when we fall for “potential,” we are blindsided. It’s a bit like photography. When you put the focus at a distance, everything up close becomes blurred. When we fall for the person our partner could potentially become, we gloss over all the details that make up the present. The details that we choose not to see—the noise that we mute—are oftentimes the ones that ultimately break us apart, and make the relationship miserable for all. These are often the same details that our friends may have warned us about upfront, and in some cases, will voice to us later, that “I could have told you that 20 years ago.” Love is blind, they say, so there’s even more reason to look at everything with open eyes, and see them for what they are, not what they are “supposed to be” or “could be.”

“Potential” is one of my favourite words of all time. I’m an artist, and in the world I operate and create in, I don’t see life as is, I see life as it could be—I see life for its potential, for its possibilities, for its colours that we don’t see, and its sounds we don’t hear. But I don’t place that “potential” on another growing human being. I don’t paint on someone else’s canvas with my own paintbrush.

A relationship—any relationship—is a two-way street. “Becoming” something is a beautiful thing, but that “potential” should be a shared goal, a communicated goal, not something we hold in our heads as standards for our partners to reach, and then falling in love with our imagined partners, and having our hearts broken when our partners fail to live up to our out of touch realities. A relationship can be a beautiful union when it’s shared, but oftentimes it deviates into a version of “us and our imagined partners” instead of “us and our partners.”

Love, as I know it to be, is meant to be freeing. Loving someone is not shackling them to our imagined paths for them, and loving ourselves is freeing ourselves from the attachment of these absurd expectations of what someone else is “supposed to become”—when we’re all just trying our best, to become better versions of ourselves, through the trials and errors that is life.

So many mistakes to make, let this not be one of them. Pursue your own potential—as wild and crazy as it may be—but don’t become attached to something that’s not real, nor there.





Author: Xiren Wang

Editor: Travis May

Image: Movie Still


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