How Fairy Tale Romance Makes Us Fall In Love With Potential

If, as a little girl, you read stories of princesses and watched Disney movies, you will likely have grown up under the conditioned idea that love and a happily ever after await us. So embedded is the concept of the ‘one’ in culture’s belief system and, in turn, our own psyche, that finding a soulmate and falling in love is considered a given the narrative of life. We are led to believe that, when the time is right, our prince or knight in shining armor will seamlessly appear. It is from this romantic, princess view of love and happiness that the seeds of expectation for future relationships are first sown. The fairy tale becomes our benchmark.

As little girls wistfully playing dress-up and getting lost in our imagination, we were not cognizant of the cultural constructs embedded within these magical stories. Like osmosis, we absorbed hidden messages of love and skewed portrayals of the role of men and women. Sleeping Beauty taught us that we should wait to be rescued. Snow White taught us that the kiss of a prince would bring us true love. Happily ever after is not only a trope in childhood fiction; it is repackaged for teenage girls and young women in the romcom and ‘chick flick’ genres. It is no wonder that repeated exposure to the cultural lies of the storybook ending leads many women, myself included, to a pattern of falling in love with potential. 

We approach love and romantic relationships from a place of hope and expectation, based on enchanting yet fictitious narratives that diverge from real life. From a young age, we craft the romantic storyline of our own life. We piece the film reel together, frame by frame. The longer we have to wait, overcoming disappointment along the way, the more attached we become to the idea of a happy ending. We end up kidding ourselves that there is truth in having to kiss a few frogs before finding a prince and that patience will deliver us to the right place at the right time. I have lived with this romanticized idea of love for most of my life and hung on to false promises, not facts and reality. This way of thinking creates so much pressure. It sees us place unsaid expectations, created to fulfil our own needs, on another person. 

Falling in love with the idea of who a person is or may become ultimately risks abandoning oneself for potential. When we are in love with potential, there is a tendency to keep things in our life longer than we should. We get excited about something that has not even happened and analyze every little thing and word through the lens of our personal narrative. When the reality of this person does not match our idealized vision, we ignore the early warning signs and give too many chances. So strong is our unconscious attachment to the storybook ending that we are ready to excuse certain behaviors and overlook signs of incompatibility. You get so ahead of yourself, lost in the fantasy of it all, that you forget to be excited in that moment, to be present to what is happening right there and then, and to just be you and let him be him. 

We generally fall in love with the idea of a person from a place of emptiness and lack. If you do not value yourself and struggle with a fear of rejection, then this will likely color your perception of others. Our own hang ups cause us to focus on how this guy will fill the voids, add value, and enhance our life. When we look to another to make us whole and are intent on achieving the fairy tale dream, we also give too much hope to the idea that in time he will change to become all that we envisage. The trouble is that falling in love with potential is not healthy and it usually ends in disappointment and heartache. 

As a dreamer and hopeless romantic, I have fallen for potential many times and spiraled down the rabbit hole. Almost straight away, on the basis of little knowledge and only limited time spent with the guy, I would project ahead and begin to envision what could be. This happened again recently, but this time I have learned from the process. I acknowledge and accept that the habit of falling for potential was rooted in my own issues. It was a symptom of being too attached to the myth of the fairy tale romance and of not valuing myself, looking instead to a partner and relationship to fill the inner voids and make me happy. I also learned that waiting to be ‘saved’ by a benevolent prince charming was a disservice to myself and to the guy in question. I am the only one who can make myself happy and I should seek to find true love with an equitable partner, not a benign prince. Conversely, it is not the job of a partner to be perfect and to be the source of my happiness, nor is it even within their power. 

Finding love should not be a burden and we should not chase or force it out of lack or desperation. Think about and approach love from a place of wholeness rather than emptiness. Be secure in the knowledge that you are fully settled in your own worth and build a full life yourself so that when someone comes along, you are ready to accept them as the complete person standing in front of you. This way of being will allow you to ditch the fairy tale misconceptions and embrace the adventure of romance. Remember that dating is supposed to be fun. Enjoy the day by day excitement of getting to know a person. Aspire to a different kind of romance, one that is organic, unscripted, and in the now. Let the future of the relationship be in the future.