As a general rule, when we meet someone new that we find attractive, we tend to see their best possible traits first. These are often the traits we find comfortable and familiar, and that allows us to associate the individual with other positive people in our lives.

However, there are also times when we meet someone that has some of the traits we find appealing, but also some traits that may not be all that positive. In some cases, we may meet someone that is a complete opposite of our past positive relationships. However, we see a glimpse of what we think may be possible for that individual.

In all of these situations, to a greater or lesser extent, we are looking beyond what we are actually seeing to looking at the potential for the person. We dismiss the “bad boy” exterior and rationalize that some tender loving care and empathy is all that is needed to turn that person into the perfect partner. We are willing to look past the reality to the potential, with the associated thought that we are the missing link in bringing that full potential to light.

Projecting Your Desires

Both women and men can project their desires for a partner or a relationship onto someone else. However, it is most often women who dismiss the behaviors or the reality of a new partner for the “what if” thinking. In many situations, the assumed potential is never going to be possible; it is just a fantasy or a wish of what could be in the future.

Keep in mind, this perceived potential is only in your vision of the future. Often the partner has no desire to change. They do not want to be rescued or helped or showered with all the love and care you think they deserve. They may have patterns of behavior that are so ingrained they may never want to or have the desire to change.

There are also people who feel a strong need to “fix” a person. Individuals with past relationship problems or who grew up in dysfunctional homes often try to fix or rescue others as a pattern of behavior. These are the people that date the addict to heal them or the person that dates the narcissist to create an environment where they can experience love.

Signs of Living Out a Relationship Fantasy

There are some signs to look for to indicate you are not in love with the person in front of you, but you may be in love with what you see as their potential. These signs include:

Your friends see something different – if your friends are unsure why you are dating the person or seem to see something completely different than you do, it is a good indication you are in love with heir potential. This is particularly true if multiple friends and family members are sending the same message.

  • Chronic underdog – anyone can be out of a job or temporarily struggling with something in their life. However, if it is a constant pattern of constantly changing jobs, never staying in relationships, and having limited friends or family interactions, consider the reality that they may be difficult to deal with and not just misunderstood.

Everything is in the future – a key sign you are living in a world of potential rather than reality is putting off everything in the relationship until some distant and undefined future date.

  • You feel responsible for their success – if you are taking on the role of creating their success, you are loving their potential. Healthy partnerships require both people to take responsibility for their individual success to make the partnership strong and viable.

You cling to the “good times” – if you are revisiting these old “perfect” memories, you are living in a fantasy rather than living in the reality of what is happening in the relationship right now.

Your partner checks off all the boxes of the ideal mate, but there is still a feeling something is off – they have a good job, attractive, lots of hobbies, but you find it difficult to truly connect with this person.

You experience an incongruence with words and actions – If you notice you are hanging onto their words but notice their actions don’t match what they say, you may be stuck in an illusion.  For example, he tells you he loves you but doesn’t want to be in a committed relationship.

Loving someone for their potential is not healthy for either partner. For the one with the vision, there is the constant sense of frustration and anger with the partner’s inability to live up to the fantasy. For the partner, they are pressured and pushed to be something they are not, which only creates resentment and anger.

Sherry Gaba, LCSW and Transformation Coach
Author of Love Smacked: How to Stop the Cycle of Relationship Addiction and Codependency to find Everlasting Love
And Wake Up Recovery for Toxic Relationships, Codependency and Love Addiction