Who doesn’t like rescuing a dog from an animal shelter? It’s a compassionate thing to do. It can save a dog’s life, and it’s an incredibly rewarding experience.
As a dating philosophy though, rescuing is seriously flawed. I thought I could rescue a guy once. (Okay, maybe more than once.) I said to my friends, "he has potential."
If you ever say that sentence, run for the hills … by yourself.
Let me clarify: If you say, “he has potential” as in “I see qualities I like, but I just met him yesterday” that’s healthy. What’s dangerous is saying “He has potential” when it’s code for “if I could change him.”
I know it’s tempting to think you can change someone. It’s hard enough to find someone you have chemistry with and qualities you like. So when you find that person and begin to see some issues, it makes sense to think you could just remove fix the unpleasant quality. If only I could change [how much he drinks, or how he’s controlling, or how he’s insensitive] then I could start dreaming of my future of romantic wedded bliss.
Before you hang up your dating heels and inform friends that you’ve found The One, here are three reasons why dating someone you want to rescue is a bad idea.
1. Dating someone you want to change is fantasy.
When you date someone you’d like to change, you picture yourself dating the changed person — the new and improved version. And that’s fiction. It’s dangerous to idealize your partner because you start believing what you imagine. You give him traits or qualities he doesn’t actually possess.
Sometimes you have to step back and take a look at who is really before you. What do his actions tell you? What you see is truly what you get. Yes, you can creatively invent a perfect partner in your mind, but guess who shows up at your front door for your date? And that's the reality you have to evaluate.
2. You put too much faith in another person’s ability to change.
Yes, people can change. That’s what makes high school reunions so fascinating. People can surprise you. But dating someone with the hope that he will change is a dangerous (and inefficient!) plan.
You date to see who people are, not to see who they could be. It’s reckless to put your future and your faith in a partner who you want to be different. The person you're dating is who you’ve got. Don’t trade your love life for a life project.
3. You are putting too much faith in your ability to change another person.
Years ago, I thought I was the perfect person to change a boyfriend's issues. I could express my love and devotion to him by rescuing him from his issues, feel needed and whip up my ideal partner all at the same time. I tried using all the favorable qualities he did have as my motivation to stick with the relationship. Then he asked me to marry him. My inner voice screamed: Red flag. Wake up. Don’t say Yes.
You know why?
I couldn’t get him to stop acting so possessive.
I couldn’t get him to stop smoking.
I couldn’t get him to like my guy friends or support my career.
I couldn’t get him to stop having major mood swings.
I couldn’t get him to change.
While my powers of imagination turned him into a magical partner, turns out my powers to actually change another human weren't magical.
Dating someone you want to change is a road block to truly finding love. At best, it’s just a tough life lesson. Take it from me, if you date someone you hope will change, all you'll end up with is an unchanged person and hope. When you let go of your fantasy, you can make your reality a whole lot better.
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