How Do I Know If I’ve Found “The One”?
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Now Reading: How Do I Know If I’ve Found “The One”?
4 months ago
For most people, deciding who they will marry is the single most life-defining decision they will ever make.
As Tim Urban points out in his blog post How To Pick Your Life Partner, “when you choose a life partner, you’re choosing a lot of things, including your parenting partner and someone who will deeply influence your children, your eating companion for about 20,000 meals, your travel companion for about 100 vacations… and someone whose day you’ll hear about 18,000 times.”
Renée and I got married as two 26-year-olds. If we live to the average life expectancy, we can expect to spend 56.5 years of our life together. That’s a lot of time – it’s the entirety of our lives so far, times 2.
It’s certainly not a decision you want to get wrong. So, how do you know when you’ve found “the One”?
If you’ve ever watched a romantic movie or read a Nicholas Spark’s novel, chances are you’ve encountered this idea of “the One” – the concept that somewhere out there is “the One” person we’re are meant to be with, our ideal partner, our soulmate.
Christians don’t have the monopoly on this idea, but we’ve arguably perfected it. After all, God is writing our love story. In his infinite providence, He has created our soulmate, who He will bring into our life at the pre-ordained time.
The expectation is that once we’ve found “the One,” we’re set. We can get married, buy a labra-doodle, and start our Instagram perfect life together. The challenge is finding this person somewhere on the 148 326 000 km2 of land mass on planet earth.
Not only is this idea wrong, it has the potential to seriously damage your relationships. Someone who believes in “the One” likely believes that their ideal spouse is out there somewhere. In reality, no one is an ideal partner and every relationship has its difficulties.
But for the person who believes in “the One,” when marriage gets tough, it would be easy for that person to lament that they’ve married the wrong person, rather than accepting their marriage for what it is and working hard to improve it.
I don’t believe Renée isn’t “the One” for me by virtue of the fact that she is my ideal partner. Our relationship isn’t Instagram perfect and it certainly isn’t without conflict. But Renée is “the One” because I chose to marry her.
This isn’t to say that I don’t believe in God’s providence. Over the 10 years that Renée and I have known each other, there have been several opportunities when we could have started a relationship.
However, for one reason or another (and often with a lot of prayer) we always decided not to start dating when these opportunities arose. Looking back now, I can tell you every single one of them would have been bad timing, and likely would have doomed our relationship to failure.
Then, just over two years ago, I got a job in the city where Renée lives. She saw a Facebook post I put up about it and felt prompted to ask me out for coffee. We were both finally in a good place to start a relationship together and over the next few weeks, that is exactly what we did.
I absolutely believe that God’s providence has been at work in our relationship. But I also believe that God gave us free will. He created us with the incredible power to choose and with that power many of us are called to go out and choose a spouse.
As Matt Walsh writes, “Love is not possible without Will. If we cannot choose to love, then we cannot love. God did not program us like robots to be compatible with only one other machine.”
God is writing our love story, but He has also given us free will. This is less of a fairytale and more of a choose-your-own-adventure.
With that in mind, this blog post would be better titled “How do I choose “the One”?” But society frowns on thinking about this choice too much. You’re meant to meet someone in a bar or bump into them on the street and live happily ever after. Making decisions about your relationships is meant to be a case of relying on fate and following your heart.
It would be crazy to apply this attitude to any other life-shaping decision. As Tim points out, if you were going to start a business, conventional wisdom is that you should study business, have a well-thought out business plan, and you should analyse your business’s performance diligently. That’s the way to do something well and minimise mistakes.
But if someone, in the process of finding their spouse, studied successful relationships, planned out how they were going to find a potential spouse, and then objectively evaluated the relationships that they were in, we would probably think they were being waaaaaay too analytical.
Yet this is the single most life-defining decision we will make. Surely it demands a bit more thought that just going with what “feels right”?
I’m not suggesting you need to be a robot about it. Deciding to marry Renée didn’t involve writing out all the pros and cons of spending my life with her and then making the choice based on which list was longer.
But there were 10 factors that I seriously considered while we were dating, and I want to share them with you. That’s a decent number of factors, but this is a decent decision. You can afford to spend 10 minutes reading and thinking about it.
If you get married, you’re going to wake up next to this person every morning and (God willing) start a family with them. Attraction is going to make both of those things a heck of a lot more appealing.
The importance of physical attraction shouldn’t be overemphasised. Too many couples make the mistake of measuring the likely success of their relationship based purely on the intensity of their physical attraction to each other.
But attraction shouldn’t be discounted either. A concept I’ve written about previously is that physical attraction isn’t static. The more we get to know someone, the more our attraction to them is coloured by that knowledge, for better or worse.
You might find someone drop-dead gorgeous initially, but have that attraction fade when you realise he or she has a number of bad qualities. On the other hand, you may not be that attracted to someone initially, but as you begin to learn what an incredible person he or she is, he or she starts to look a whole lot better.
I knew it was a good sign that over the year-and-a-half that Renée and I had been dating, my attraction to her deepened the more I got to know her.
I knew Renée was the woman I wanted to marry because our friendship passed the “Driveway Test.” At the end of a date, when one of us had driven the other person home, we would often find ourselves just sitting in the driveway. We were enjoying our time together so much that we didn’t want it to end.
You want to marry someone who passes the Driveway Test. Not all of the time. No friendship is non-stop fun and invigorating conversation. But someone who passes that test on a regular basis.
Do you enjoy spending time together, even when you’re just hanging out at home or running errands? Do you encourage each other? Do you share a decent number of common interests? These are all indicators of a solid friendship.
My dad works in disability care. Part of his job is putting his quadriplegic clients into their wheelchairs every morning. When he does this, he needs to be really careful that they’re in the right position. They’re in that chair for 8+ hours a day, so even the slightest bit of discomfort gradually becomes torture.
As Tim Urban points out, when it comes to marriage, a perpetual “discomfort” between you and your partner will be a permanent source of unhappiness.
It’s so important that you feel comfortable to be yourself. After all, putting on a show to impress them or feeling guarded around them is going to wear pretty thin over the course of 50 years.
It’s important that the two of you are generally on the same “wavelength;” that day-to-day interactions feel natural and easy.
It’s also important that you accept each other’s flaws. Even just a few months into marriage, I can promise you that these flaws will be apparent on a daily basis.
This isn’t to say that self-improvement isn’t an important part of marriage, but I think Urban is right when he asserts that a healthy attitude is “Every person comes with a set of flaws, these are my partner’s, and they’re part of the package I knowingly chose to spend my life with.”
A few weeks before our wedding, Renée and I shared what parts of married life we were most excited for. For me, a big one was that from the moment we were married, we were going to be a team.
From that moment, it was no longer “you” and “I,” it was “us.” Everything from life-shaping career decisions to keeping the house clean required us to be a solid team.
To be a good team, it’s important that your relationship is one of equality. If one person’s needs or opinions are always taking precedence, you’ve got a problem.
A good teammate is also willing to be selfless. Urban writes “If a person isn’t willing to make sacrifices for you and the relationship, in the end, she doesn’t want a legitimate partnership, she wants to keep her single life and have someone there to keep her company.”
If you choose a good teammate, I can promise that this will be one of the best parts of marriage. You’ll get to spend every day with your biggest supporter and the two of you will be able to accomplish so much more than either of you could alone.
It’s not a big deal if you don’t see agree on which brand of ice-cream is best or how many pillows belong on your bed. But everyone has beliefs and values that go to the very core of who they are as a person, and these need to be shared with your life partner.
If it’s what gets you out of bed every morning, if it’s something that you’ll spend significant amounts of time and/or money on over the course of your life, then you and your spouse need to see eye-to-eye on it.
For me, a shared faith was one of these things. I couldn’t marry someone who wasn’t a Christian. This isn’t a deal-breaker for everyone. I know couples who have very happy marriages despite religious differences. But for me it was.
My faith goes to the core of who I am. It is the most exciting, interesting and challenging aspect of my life. It shapes my worldview, my career, and my day-to-day existence. I couldn’t imagine sharing my life with someone who didn’t “get that.”
I couldn’t imagine not being able to talk with my spouse about our faith, not being able to pray together, not being able to both share that faith with our children.
If it’s a belief or value that goes to the core of who you are, it needs to be shared.
When Renée and I got married, we made a vow that we would accept children lovingly as a gift from God. It was a topic that we had talked about several times prior to marriage and we knew that we both wanted to have kids. But our attitude was also one of openness to God’s plan.
If it turned out that we were infertile, that would have been hard, but we knew that we would love and support each other through it. If the opposite occurred, and babies came along that weren’t expected, we would accept them as a blessing.
What was important is that we were going into marriage on the same page about kids. Of the few issues that are relationship deal-breakers if you disagree, this is definitely one of them.
If one of you wants three kids and the other wants four, that’s probably something that you can navigate (and it might even work itself out!). But if one of you wants kids and the other doesn’t, that’s a big problem. If one of you wants a big family and the other wants one or two kids max, that’s potentially a big problem as well.
If you disagree about kids, DO NOT move forward with the relationship in the hope that this will work itself out or your significant other will change their mind.
This kind of disagreement has the potential to be cancer in your relationship. It will be a rift between you, a constant source of potential resentment, and it might lead one or both of you to regret your marriage further down the track.
If you’re considering spending the rest of your life with someone, you should be able to trust them. That means open communication about every aspect of life – money, family, the past – nothing should be off the table.
Secrets and topics that are “out of bounds” will be like invisible walls between the two of you. They will poison your intimacy and give rise to suspicion, which cannot exist alongside being a good team and having the freedom to be yourself.
Trust also means knowing that your significant other is fully committed to your relationship. Any unfaithfulness or even a hint of it, should be a serious red flag.
If you can’t trust your partner to be faithful now, how are you going to trust them to be faithful 10 years down the track, when the day-to-day responsibilities of family life don’t feel particularly romantic or exciting?
Since Renée and I began dating, we’ve always had this rule that if someone hit on us, asked us out, or offered to buy us a drink, we would disclose that to the other person. This wasn’t a rule born out of suspicion – totally the opposite.
Establishing open communication and faithfulness in small stuff like this is the foundation for the trust that you’ll build your relationship on.
As a general rule, our friends and family want what is best for us. If they’ve spent any significant length of time around your partner, they might also see him/her with an objectivity you lack. You should take their evaluation of your significant other seriously.
There are also important practical reasons for this factor. If you get married, chances are you and your spouse are going to be spending a decent amount of time with your family, even if it’s only during the holidays. You want those to be positive experiences.
What you don’t want is for tension between your partner and your family to become a wedge that drives you away from your family. The same is true for your relationships with your friends.
Now, it unfortunately needs to be said that this factor shouldn’t be applied to every family situation. Some families just suck. If you don’t get along with your family, it’s unlikely your partner will (and honestly, it would be weird if they did).
There is no aspect of life where you can expect to succeed without hard work. You’re not going to have a great career without putting in the hours. You’re not going to get fit and healthy unless you hit the gym and stick to a good diet.
Yet far too many people have this unconscious expectation that a good relationship should just happen. If there’s natural chemistry and the two of you are compatible, then the relationship should just work out.
It’s a lie. Just like every other facet of life, a good relationship requires hard work. Open communication, conflict resolution, and learning how to love the other person are far from easy.
Marriage is also a magnifying glass for your faults. Over the past few months, I’ve experienced a painful recognition of just how selfish, stubborn and impatient I can be. That’s why it’s essential that you’re both determined to be a good spouse.
The clearest indication of this is that your partner is already determined to be a good partner. If they don’t already make sacrifices for the relationship, apologise when they’re wrong, and put in effort to be a better partner, don’t expect these traits to suddenly materialise in marriage.
But if your partner is determined to be good at marriage, this one trait will cover a multitude of faults. Maybe they struggle with conflict resolution, or they aren’t clean and tidy, or they’re impatient. If they’re genuinely determined to be a good spouse, then over time those faults will be addressed and improved.
The two of you are never going to be perfect. But with this shared determination, every year that passes is going to make your marriage stronger.
Your partner isn’t the only one who should be striving to be better in the relationship. Do YOU want to be better for them as well?
One reason I knew that Renée was the woman I wanted to spend my life with is that she makes me a better partner and a better person. I want to be a man who loves her well, a man she respects, a man she is proud of.
Renée challenges me in the areas of my shortcomings, encourages me to pursue my passions, and prompts me to make the most of each day.
As human beings, our existence isn’t static. We aren’t just “the same” for long stretches of time. Every day, we make dozens of little decisions that ultimately shape whether we are becoming a better or worse person.
That’s why it’s so important to marry someone who helps you to be better. If they do, then the prospect of spending decades with them should be really exciting. If they don’t, then the potential downward spiral should terrify you.
This isn’t a factor per se, but it’s something important to keep in mind. Marriage is a commitment for life. Once you make that commitment, there’s no going back.
We all know the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce, but you cannot go in thinking like that. If you enter marriage half-hearted or with the attitude that “divorce is always an option,” you’re going to be hamstrung right from the start.
This commitment “til death do us part” actually brings with it a liberating simplicity. When times are hard in my relationship with Renée, I’m never tossing back and forth about whether I made the right choice. It’s done. Now I’ve just got to live out the commitment I’ve made.
That commitment might seem daunting, but if you go about making this choice the right way, it doesn’t need to be. I didn’t rush into anything in my relationship with Renée, I took our relationship seriously, and I married someone who meets every one of the requirements I just listed.
Knowing that I get to spend every day of my life with that person makes this the best decision I’ve ever made.