Is it Foolish to Date a Guy Based on His Potential?

a guy who has an empty pocket

Hi Evan,

Is it ever okay to date a man for his potential? I met a nice, smart man, but let’s just say he’s going through a transition right now. He just recently switched careers and is starting from the bottom at his new career. He was successful in his last profession, but wasn’t happy with his job anymore and decided to leave. In the midst of switching careers in a tough economy and getting his second Masters degree, he has accrued some debt (and maybe a little chip on his shoulder, but that’s a different dating question!). He is very smart and I am sure he will get on his feet again, but is it wrong of me to not want to be with him until he does or unless he does? I’ve dated men before who were trying to change or trying to reach their potential, but they never did. I don’t want to get caught up in that again.

If I wait for him to become more stable professionally and financially before committing to a relationship, does that make me a bad person?

(Background so you can better assess the situation and have context:

This man is 40 and has never been married. I am 32 and a successful lawyer, so him not being financially secure right now is not really an issue for me. However, him constantly hinting that he does not have money is kind of off-putting, especially after only the third date. Mind you, I don’t expect extravagant dates and I have paid for half our dates.

We’ve been seeing each other at least two to three times a week for two months. He has asked to be exclusive. He is funny, smart, and attractive. I would not hesitate to get in a relationship with him if he was more stable.) —Jane

Dear Jane,

Once upon a time, I met a 31-year-old woman who we’ll call Donna.

Donna owned her own small business, traveled around the world, and made upwards of six figures. She was also divorced and really wanted to settle down, get married and have kids.

At the time, I was 30 and was a customer service representative at JDate. I was paying my way through film school, where I was getting an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA, so that I could become a college professor and teach the one thing I knew how to do. My income at the time? $32,500 — and all of it went to pay for my cost of living, film school, and my regular dating habit.

My financial state was temporary. My character was permanent.

Donna and I had great chemistry. She was very feminine and playful, and would undoubtedly be a good wife and mother.

We went out maybe 5 times before she told me that she couldn’t continue to see me. She said that I was a great guy. She said I made her laugh. She acknowledged our great chemistry. She basically said what you’re saying about your new guy, Jane.

“I’m ready for the real deal. You’re in transition. I can’t wait.”

I understood her logic, but I also knew something that she didn’t:

My financial state was temporary. My character was permanent.

This is what I told her, in response:

“You can break up with me if you want, to find some safe, older, lawyer to live an upper middle class lifestyle. I respect that. Just know that one day, I’ll have money. But your lawyer won’t make you laugh like I do. And he won’t turn you on like I do. I hope I’m wrong, but I know I’ll be right.”

Am I suggesting that women everywhere should bank on their man’s unrealized potential? Absolutely not.

Was I lashing out a little? Sure. But I meant what I said. My situation was based on choosing a highly risky career in Hollywood in my 20’s; it wasn’t some sort of slacker/character defect. At 31, I might as well have been 21. I was starting over. But I was going to make it. Anyone who knows me for a short time knows that I’m a doer, not a talker.

Donna heard my speech, smiled, kissed me, and told me that she may have been making a mistake, but she was doing what she had to do.

I was hurt and used it as fuel to further my career. One year later, I wrote a book, dropped out of film school, and started e-Cyrano profile writing. Five years later, I was married to a woman who believed in me and saw my potential. And yes, we ran into Donna at a party once in Hollywood. She’s 41 and, while she’s now in a relationship, she’s not yet married with children, as was her intense desire ten years ago.

Does my story mirror yours? Maybe. Am I suggesting that women everywhere should bank on their man’s unrealized potential? Absolutely not. In fact, as a policy, it’s usually a bad bet to see a man for what he could become and it’s a much safer one to see who he currently is.

There is the 50-year-old dreamer who refuses to get a real job because he wants to be the next Channing Tatum.

There is the 40-year-old guy who stays in a safe low-end job because he has no real ambitions for his career.

There is the 30-year-old guy who is content playing video games and smoking pot and doesn’t take any initiative in getting an adult life on track.

And then there’s your guy.

“Successful in his last profession, but wasn’t happy with his job anymore and decided to leave. Switched careers in a tough economy and got his second Masters degree. Very smart and I am sure he will get on his feet again.”

There you have it, Jane.

Your guy is going places, whether you’re with him or not.

And unless you want to be the Donna in his life story, I’d get on board his train now.

Join our conversation (181 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.


  1. 1

    “My financial state was temporary. My character was permanent
    What a great comeback and mindset to have. This should be used by every guy who has ever been between jobs and the girl has second thoughts about him. To the OP, the only thing I would say is that unless he is hitting you up for cash to pay your bills, his financial status shouldnt matter at this point in the game. You paid for half your dates which is a great move. But he has paid for half too so it sounds to me like he is trying to still work within the situation. He probably wishes he could go out more often with you but it is what it is and you should go along for the ride at this point.  

  2. 2
    Karl R

    Jane asked: (original post)
    “If I wait for him to become more stable professionally and financially before committing to a relationship, does that make me a bad person?”
    At this point, the only commitment he has asked for is to “be exclusive.” That kind of commitment is rather easy to dissolve if you decide the relationship won’t be beneficial to you in the long run.
    Jane said:  (original post)
    “I would not hesitate to get in a relationship with him if he was more stable.”
    How much more stable? What’s the minimum level of stability/success that he would need to achieve for you to be wholeheartedly interested? If he completes his second masters (giving him a positive cash flow), would that be enough more stable? If so, he will achieve that minimum.
    This is something to consider even when you’re dating someone who is not going through a transition. When my wife and I started dating, her employer was in dire financial straits. She could have lost her job at any point during the first couple years. There was no guarantee that she’d be able to get a job with equal pay, or one she liked as much.
    However, I had no doubt that she would be able to get another job which met my minimum level of security in a partner … the ability to support herself.
    Evan said: (original post)
    “My financial state was temporary. My character was permanent.”
    Regardless of my wife’s employment situation, she isn’t the kind of person to sit around and have me support her. That’s not part of her character.
    And if Jane doesn’t understand her boyfriend’s character well enough to make that assessment, then she doesn’t know him well enough to answer her question.

  3. 3

    John @ #1 said:

    “My financial state was temporary. My character was permanent
    What a great comeback and mindset to have. This should be used by every guy who has ever been between jobs and the girl has second thoughts about him.”
    Well sure…but that line only works if you are a person of good/decent character!   🙂
    The employment or job status of a person (male or female) is irrelevant.   It’s the character that counts, and what actions  he/she is  taking  to  rectify the situation  demonstrates what type of character they have.   It takes  often takes a little  time for you to get to know a person and  determine whether  the words and actions match and show  what type of character the person has.   (This is true in most situations in life, not just dating.)
    Personally, I would rather date a man of good/decent character who is currently unemployed than a wealthy man of questionable/sketchy/low/bad character.   If I liked him and  I saw no read flags indicative of a questionable/sketchy character, I  would continue to date him and give him a chance, but try to  suggest things to do  that don’t require spending a lot of money  like cooking a meal together  at one of our homes, watching a movie on On-Demand, going for a hike, etc.

  4. 4

    I date a lawyer just like this one. Everything was about the mask, the image and what her parents and the rest of the world would think. Her entire family was elitist and everyone they met had to kill themselves to prove their worth to them. Her father’s first questions to me were about how I make money, not how much I love his daughter or how happy he was that she had someone who would die for her or brought many gifts to her life. Despite having earned millions of dollars previously, she broke up with me after one year of dating, telling me my dreams were a fantasy and that she never would have dated me if she knew I was financially unstable.
    I am so grateful it ended. She had told me throughout the relationship that she was not materialistic, yet every decision she made was about money or about what her parents thought. She had to live in the exclusive zip code, drive the exclusive car, work at the high position at her firm and kill herself working 60 hour weeks. For what? To have no time to date and relax or you were too busy to speak to me each night or too tired to actually be emotionally present? She had no time to enjoy what makes life worth living. No thank you. And why would I want to bring a child into that elitist materialistic lifestyle? She was the epitome of her workaholic father. Millionaire and ‘retired’ but still had to work because he doesn’t know his own worth if it’s not attached to money and achievement. Ignored his wife who dutifully stayed by his side. And it became clear my ex had the same expectations. When I saw her parents together, I said, oh no, this is what my life will look like if nothing changes.
    I dodged a bullet. As hurt as I was, I know this is not a person who I could build a real life with. She swore she was about integrity, but didn’t live it in her own life. She only cared about the facade, not the depth of love, laughter and loyalty I brought to her life. Funny thing is, she had no real friends and now I know why. We were at a party and she introduced me to her ‘friends’ and they were people she had met only once before and I saw her put up the phony facade with them. I could not imagine living a life like that. If this ever happens to any of you, know that you just escaped pure hell on Earth and be thankful you are free to find someone who actually values what really matters in life… Unconditional Love. Keep your heart open to the one who can give you that. Then you have something real to build on. “Everyone wants to ride in the limo with you. It’s the one who is willing to ride the bus with you that you should be with.” -Oprah Winfrey

  5. 5

    “There is the 50-year-old dreamer who refuses to get a real job because he wants to be the next Channing Tatum.”
    I had to Google on Channing Tatum to know what EMK was talking about, LOL

  6. 6

    It is time honored dating advice to date someone for who they are now, not who you hope they will become.
    You wrote:
    “Successful in his last profession, but wasn’t happy with his job anymore and decided to leave. Switched careers in a tough economy and got his second Masters degree. Very smart and I am sure he will get on his feet again.”
    That tells you who he is

  7. 7

    This is a very thought provoking post. I don’t think it’s as simple as Evan makes it out to be. I, for one, don’t ask that a guy make more than me, but if he’s not making a minimum of $50,000 (I make nearly 70) i would hesitate. I’d like someone who can have a similar lifestyle and participate in my interests, which aren’t hugely expensive but do require spending some money. I’m also in an unstable profession so I’d prefer the guy be financially stable. But I’ve never been in a position like this poster’s so I don’t know what I’d do if push came to shove.  
    I would actually be more concerned that this guy is 40 and not married, and that he seems so uncomfortable with his financial situation (would he come to resent the poster?) than anything else.  
    I’m also really not sure that what Donna did was wrong, 32k seems practically poverty line in LA and she was at a sensitive age (31) where she had to make the most of her dating options. If Evan was truly in transition she could have reasonably wonderEd if he would have the time and focus to commit. Many men do not commit until their careers and finances are in order.  

  8. 8

    I have to mirror what everyone else here is saying- job/money/status have little to do with character and integrity.   I’m currently dating an under-employed carpenter.   We’ve only been on one ‘date’ that required money and that was going out for coffee.   And you know what, I DON’T CARE, not one little bit.   I’d happily sit around playing cards with him and watching movies every night because he has a heart of gold, makes me laugh, is dependable and consistent, and is a fantastic dad.   What else is there?   Money/status are illusions.

  9. 9

    It’s sad to say, but the key point here is that Jane is 32.   If someone is starting over and very likely wants to wait until their financially stable, it’s quite likely that the wait will be 2 or more years.   That’s fine for the 40 year old man.   At 42, if he’s successful, he can find girls to date from 25 to 50.   If Jane waits another 2 years, there’s an excellent chance he’ll be tempted by greener grass.
    He is 40 years old and has never been married; marriage is not his priority. His actions clearly demonstrate that his career is and will be until he is doing what he wants and has a living standard where he’s comfortable.   If Jane wants to get married and have kids, she should invest her time looking for someone who is ready now.
    From a successful 45 year old man who’s changed careers (and girlfriends).

  10. 10
    Jackie Holness

    She has a right to do what she wants, but I hope she has got it going on because she may be making a decision that could set her back some real time in the dating world…Good luck to her, but I would stick it out…

  11. 11

    I’ve never met a man who wasn’t financially stable that was interested in a relationship.   It seems they’re just interested in casual until they finally make whatever amount of money they deem fit in order to settle down.   Then they find the next new girl–not the one who stuck with them when they were down.

    1. 11.1
      Don't Kiss Frogs


  12. 12

    Jenna #7,
    That is a silly rule you have. Because what if they guy who makes 50k has zero debt and very little expenses? And if you have debt and more expenses then your cash flow could actually be worse than his even though you earn more. You should read the book “The Millionaire Next Door”. It is how cash flow and low expenses and no debt allows you to keep your money and you can accumulate   wealth rather than from income alone. So in your example, the eprson making 50k could be financially better off than you.
    I am more impressed with someone who can live comfortably on 50K and no debt than from someone who makes 6 figures and lives paycheck to paycheck. So before you ditch someone for making less than you, maybe you should look at the overall picture.
    Besides, in order to know what someone makes you should be with them for a while and if you have spent enough time with someone then it means they are probably a decent person. And you would throw it all away because he made $50k? I would say the guy dodged a bullet if you did dump him.

  13. 13

    John, you didnt read my post closely — I said $50k is fine. Under that I would hesitate, but it depends. I have no debt myself, not even college loans or a car payment, and am self sufficient and successful, so I simply hope to findsomeone roughly in the same place. Most men post their salary range in their match profile, otherwise I would never ask. And, as another poster just seconded, it’s rare to find a financially struggling guy who wants a ltr leading to marriage at that point in time.  

  14. 14

    I was in this same situation recently and it was hell. I had to give up on a relationship because I was so unstable professionally. You suffer emotionally and mentally while these changes are taking place and it definitely affects the people around you. I have a couple of takeaways:
    1. Character is under valued in dating, even though we say it’s not. It’s also difficult to communicate character in the early stages of dating and almost impossible if you’re using online dating as your primary way to meet new people. But I agree, I think character is 100% what it should be about.  
    2. If you’re a guy and you’re in an unstable professional situation like the one described above, I think it’s irresponsible to try to build a relationship under those conditions. You should focus all your energy and resources on getting a good job and moving in a positive direction. On the flipside, I think it’s totally reasonable for a professional woman to make the decision to bail. It’s not the most understanding thing to do, but it’s certainly pragmatic. There are worse reasons to break up.
    3. It’s totally acceptable socially for a successful male professional to date a woman who has an unstable professional situation. Think lawyers dating bartenders and waitresses. It’s no big deal going the other direction.  

    1. 14.1

      I like your answer, very true! I think a man should be the one to make that decision not to be in a relationship till they stabilize. It eliminates the dilemma and the hurt should one have to end a relationship based on this but again sometimes it can lead them to find the drive.

  15. 15

    I like how Evan’s response leads us back to the real question: what’s this guy’s character like? Is he really walking his talk or making excuses?
    If he has indeed a great character and can show a history of making things happen, then the questions for Jane to answer are: What are her requirements regarding her partner’s income in general? And what’s her relationship timeline? If she can accepts someone who earns less than her (now and later as well), and if he is willing to progress in the relationship without having fulfilled all his career dreams yet, they might be compatible. Otherwise, maybe not.
    I would not “bet on potential”, but I would not wait for everything to be “perfect”. It all comes down to priority.
    My fiance and I were 33 when we started dating and he was back in graduate school at that time in order to improve his future career prospects. Let me tell you that it was far from the dream situation for me, and not just because of his small income. It did seem “unstable” for our age, and it’s pretty stressful to date a graduate student. However he quickly revealed himself as a man of great character and solid values, and he accepted to progress in our relationship despite his fears and career uncertainties. Technically I accepted his proposal while he was unemployed since he has just finished his program and was not back on the job market yet. I trusted him 100% because he had proven his reliability, honesty, and responsability over and over in the course of our courtship. Three weeks later he had got a better job than he’s ever had and earns 60% more than me.

  16. 16

    As I have never made “the big bucks” I don’t see this as a deal breaker.   I think that it is kind of funny that the men on Match list their income.   I always thought asking how much someone made was rude and quite frankly not a good or accurate assessment of their relationship with money.   
    I have a friend who worked as a caregiver for a very wealthy woman.   I don’t mean just well off, I mean very, very wealthy.   Millions in income every year.   This little old lady use to sit in front of the television all day long watching the stock market and fret about her money incessantly.   She complained about the cost of everything.   She couldn’t even buy a pair of shoes without grumbling about the cost.   
    The amount of money a person makes does not indicate whether or not they are kind, loving, and generous.   
    I was dating a guy a few years back who went through a divorce and had lost his business too (he had a construction company). There were so many great things about this man.   He was funny and smart and frankly I was nuts about him.   He took me out very rarely because he couldn’t afford to.   He would come over and I would fix him dinner and we would watch a movie or talk and make love.   
    Eventually I did break up with him but not because of his financial situation.   With as hard as he was struggling with his business, the loss of his marriage and being a single dad half time, he didn’t have anything left for me.   He almost never called me, he talked only about himself and his ex-wife (never a good indication).   I made the effort to dress up nice, make dinner for him and spend time with him.   Of course it is likely that I was just the “transition woman”.   I could understand that he was in pain and starting over and for a long time just tried to be there for him.   But at some point, if it becomes all about one person and what they are going through, it isn’t a relationship.   At least not one that worked for me.
    I admire the fact the the man the OP is dating had the gumption to quit a job he wasn’t happy with and start over.   Years ago my sister started up a adult foster care home.   She went from working for barely above minimum wage to over $7000 a month within 5 weeks of opening her home.   A few years later she was making over $120,000 a year. (That was 20 years ago.)   Nothing in her past experience would have led anyone to believe she could do that.
    The real question for the OP is is he the man for her?   He is smart, funny, and attractive.   Great, but how does he treat her?   How do they feel about each other?   Are they compatible? Is he a man of integrity?   These are the things that matter.   
    Andy #9 makes a good point.   If the OP does decide to be exclusive with this guy, there are no guarantees that it will work out.   He or she may decide to move on at some point down the road.   I think that maybe that is the real question.   How can I know what will happen down the road… We don’t we only find that out by living.  

  17. 17

    I do not even see this guy as “no present, all potential”. He has already built one successful career; he already has a proven track record, as well as a professional network and a profession that he can fall back on if things REALLY do not work out with career number 2. This is completely different from a 40-year-old genuis who’s never made a decent living, but swears he will be rolling in cash once the great American novel he’s writing hits the bestseller list and gets a movie deal. The guy that OP describes is completely legit. Cannot speak for OP, but being what I am, with my lifestyle and my values, I’d take my chances with this guy.
    To Jane the OP: regardless of whether it makes you a bad person or not, waiting for him to become more stable professionally and financially before becoming exclusive is, imo, not realistic. Depending upon what you mean by “more stable”, it could take him years. Neither of you are going to want to wait so long, when each of you is capable of going out and finding someone else (and you both inevitably will, if you aren’t exclusive, i.e. are seeing other people).
    @ Lia — wow, I always thought I was the lone eccentric because I found men listing their income on dating sites to be a turn-off.

  18. 18

    A few people have hit on it and I’m surprised more haven’t.   It has nothing to do with character or that he doesn’t have money and everything to do with the fact that guys tend to not want to get serious until they are financially stable.   And by serious, I mean thinking about a woman as wife material, not just long term bed buddy material.   If a woman is looking for marriage within the next few years, her chances are higher with a guy who is already financially stable versus one who is not.

  19. 20

    I’ll have to agree with Evan here.   My current boyfriend was not gainfully employed when I met him.   In fact, he was getting by on savings and struggling to find a paying job as he was merely an unpaid intern at the time.   Had I known this, I may not have dated him, and I think I would have made a grave mistake.   Why?   Because he was determined to find a job.   In fact, he is grateful for the support I provided him during this time.   He has a stable career now, and we’ve been together for a year.   I’m still super happy I stayed.   🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *