I used to date guys who had all the potential in the world. They talked a good game but couldn’t act like functioning adults to save their lives. Not only was it frustrating, it took a significant toll on my own self-esteem and self-image.
I ended up playing the (resentful) mom. When you date a guy who acts like a child, you naturally turn into his mother instead of his partner. When I become an actual mother to another human being, that role will feel amazing. In a romantic relationship with a grown man, it’s really not my bag.
Potential doesn’t mean reality. Project men seem to have this underlying issue in common. They all reek of potential—it basically seeps from their pores. I’m one of those rescuers who can detect someone’s potential three states away. However, it took several years (and several relationships) to realize that there is little to no correlation between potential and action. Just because someone has all the talent in the world doesn’t mean he’s going to put it to good use.
I felt judged by family and friends. Dating project guys made me feel insecure and embarrassed. I remember experiencing that twisted knot of fear whenever conversations steered towards my relationships. Well-intentioned loved ones would probe me with the usual questions: What’s he studying in school? Where does he work? Why doesn’t he have a car? I found myself having to defend these men; as a result, I started withdrawing and isolating myself from the people I cared most about.
I felt like I was trapped. While any long-term relationship can become stagnant, the ones with project men had a particular flavor of ‘stuckness’ to them. Our dynamics existed on ambiguous potential; I kept waiting for the man I knew was inside of him to emerge. It took years to realize the emergence was not going to happen on my terms.
I knew I was settling, which was annoying. I knew that I deserved better. I knew that I was making excuses and creating narratives to subdue the emotional pain. Moreover, I knew that relationships didn’t need to feel this unequal. However, because I kept repeating the pattern, it made me truly believe that I was destined to continue rescuing others at the expense of my own well-being.
I still felt shallow. This was a tricky phenomenon. On the one hand, I could feel myself settling for less than I deserved; on the other hand, I felt shallow for having expectations and requirements in my relationships. You know all those societal messages about loving someone unconditionally? It’s great in theory but you’re allowed to have boundaries, you’re allowed to change your mind, and you’re allowed to require that your partner meets you halfway.
It got really lonely. Ever been with someone but still felt alone? No matter how many times he or she tried to convince you otherwise? Yeah, that’s what dating project men felt like. I do believe that, in healthy relationships, both partners are relatively on the same page regarding where they are in their lives. Because ours felt so drastically unbalanced, I often felt like I was fending for myself.
Healthy love requires equal effort. In these relationships, I typically felt like I was pulling the weight of our dynamic. OK, this wasn’t just a feeling—it was an obvious sight to anyone observing us. Sometimes it seemed like small and petty issues (like being the only one of us who had a car), others were more serious dealbreakers (like chronic unemployment). Regardless, while I don’t believe that love is ever a true 50/50 equation (because what in this life works on that kind of statistic?), it needs to feel like an equal system of take-and-give.
It made me question my own values. I heard that nagging voice tell me over and over again: you deserve better. Unfortunately, I became very good at rationalizing, minimizing, and downright ignoring my own intuition. Looking back, I would never wish that kind of dynamic on anyone. It made me feel like I couldn’t trust my own self, and that is a terrifying state to be in.
I became resentful to a point of no return. Ah, resentment—it’s one of the most profound negative feelings we can experience, and it’s one of the silent killers in relationships. Looking back, what was the final demise of all my stints with project men? It was resentment every single time, and unresolved resentment leads to contempt. Contempt makes a relationship insufferable, and that’s exactly what happened over and over again.
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