A gaggle of girlfriends and I were sitting around drinking beer and bitching about our crappy love lives one late night when my buddy Marguerite shared something a wise relative had once told her: “The three most dangerous words a woman can say are ‘He has potential.’” Maybe I’m not very bright, but that stopped me in my tracks. How many times had I overlooked the bouquet of red flags a guy had been holding in front of his face and, instead of seeing the actual person, saw what he might turn into? The answer is too many.At the time I was dating a severely depressed vegan with a drinking problem. He didn’t shower often (which was made 10 times worse by his fondness for pleather) and lived in a situation so squalid he forbade me to see it, lest I dump him immediately. Vegan Drunky had pretty blue eyes and was pleasant enough, but he had absolutely zilch in the way of any practical ambition.
He was in a band (saw that coming, didn’t you?), which would be fine except that he couldn’t sing, play guitar, or write a decent song — and he was in charge of all three. Then there was his film “career.” I’m not even going to get into that except to say it was as illusory as his musicianship.
Yet, I fully believed that by hanging out with me, he’d cheer up, ditch the bad band, get a real job, start bathing regularly, and quit drinking. Of course, this was completely ridiculous (not to mention egotistical), but by focusing all my efforts on his issues, I had the added bonus of taking my mind off my own very real problems.
He wasn’t just a boyfriend; he was a project. While I spent hours fretting over his lack of health insurance, I was too busy to consider my own stunted career. Being angry about his drinking distracted me from the fact I hadn’t worked out in years. See where I’m going?
I’m far from the only woman guilty of dating with an eye to change. I heard about one enterprising young lady who decided that though her man was quite happy with his career, it wasn’t quite prestigious enough for her. To make her point, every morning she handed him the “Help Wanted” section of the paper—with all the listings she’d deemed appropriate circled in red marker.
How did he react? How would you have reacted? He dumped her and presumably picked up with someone who looked at him as a person, not as some thing in need of fixing.
The aforementioned Marguerite had married her man with potential. By the time she shared this pearl of wisdom, he’d wrecked their finances and broken her heart several dozen times. She’d finally had enough and decided to divorce him.
There are a lot of theories on why we often date men whom we just want to overhaul. Maybe it’s low self-esteem that causes us to feel unworthy of someone who’s a challenge. Or perhaps it’s an unrealized mommy fixation and a yearning to be needed. Then again, maybe it’s just easier to try to fix someone else instead of taking a long hard look at what’s wrong with yourself.
I eventually came to my senses, dumped Vegan Drunky, and got my butt back into therapy. As for him? Well, mutual friends report that he literally cleaned up his act—he kept up with the showering (that was the only change I was successful with) and eventually even quit drinking.
And while we’re both much better off apart, I find it a little annoying that he waited until after we broke up to quit with the boozing. Though he is still in that wretched band.