No one is a bigger potential sap then I am. I’ve owned three 100+ year old homes and married two losers. If that doesn’t make me a fixer upper addict, I don’t know what does.
I once bought a house that had trees growing in the gutters, multigenerational wallpaper experiments on every surface, knob and tube wiring, and a plumbing system that wasn’t hooked up to public sewers — it had a CESS POOL (which had not been pumped out in over 20 years… this lovely detail was disclosed at settlement).
Did I run away like my hair was on fire?
No, I paid top dollar for it.
Hey! It had good bones! I could see POTENTIAL! In 1917, that house was a showplace! We could Bring It Back!
But my colossal stupidity is not just limited to historic properties, no sir. I tried to save two marriages — one, to a guy with untreated mental illness (We Can Bring Back Sanity!) and another, a serial cheater (We Can Impose Monogamy!) I wear the chump crown.
What did I learn?
By the time I met my husband (yes, number three… I’m a slow learner) — I saw the camouflage shorts and the Armadillo World Headquarters t-shirt and the Chuck. E. Taylor hightop sneakers and thought “Okay, that’s who he is.”
(In fairness, he’s been completely re-outfitted since then and decided after 50 that he can no longer wear t-shirts unless he’s mowing the lawn. However, he still harbors a deep aversion to dry-clean only clothing.)
But my point is, I started to pay a lot more attention to the things that matter — character, kindness, integrity, work ethic — and I let go of potential.
In other words, I put down the spackle. A lot of why I ever thought life partners one and two were acceptable partners was on me. Even though I didn’t know what horrors lay ahead, I spackled over some serious red flags, thinking — “Well, I can work with that.” Or “That’s not the Real Him. The real him is that sparkly guy I fell in love with!”
a) It’s narcissistic to think you can save people. I know, they’re the narcissists and we’re the ever-loving chumps, but seriously, it’s whack to think you can save people or transmogrify them into Better Specimens. Who gave you super powers?
Our love isn’t magic pixie dust. It’s not going to make a cheater — someone with agency — stay home and needlepoint Bible verses instead of hooking up on Craigslist. We can be our most awesome selves, but our decency or fabulousness or patience or loving understanding does not COMPEL others to act.
They have to want the things we want. They have to be invested and reciprocal and empathic. We can’t MAKE them be those things.
b) Working at “potential” keeps all your energy focused on the Project. How convenient. We don’t have to work on ourselves or nurture our own potential, we can throw all our energy at a narcissist instead. We can enjoy the reflected glow of their glory! Hey, they might throw us a kibble of appreciation! (Still waiting?) But I must focus on them because They Need Me. Ooh. There’s a role you can play for life.
Potential is a huge time suck. Lives have been wasted on potential. Don’t waste yours.