One of the biggest questions in love is:
“How do I know if they’re The One?”
It’s something people love to talk about, debate, think about, worry about, go back and forth on. We want to know if we’ve “done it,” or if we’re about to make a mistake. We want, most of all, to know.
As Bustle wrote,
“We meet someone special and we radiate joy. We can’t help it — the prospect of a brand new relationship leaves us brimming with excitement. Yet we hesitate, We don’t want to waste time and energy on the wrong person. But are they the wrong person… or just the right person for us? We want to know one thing: are they the one?”
And it’s actually a lot simpler than we’re making it.
It’s just entirely different than we think…
Our desire for certainty makes total sense
It’s a big life decision, with a lot of unknowns in the future. We don’t want to mess it up, choose the wrong person, or the “right” person but “too soon” (not a thing), or a “good enough” person who closes us off to future opportunities should they come along.
We also wonder, beyond the context of other possibilities:
Is this good enough?
Is this as good as it gets?
Is this what we should be committing to? How do we assess a partner?
RELATIONSHIPS DON’T HINGE ON FINDING “THE ONE”
Yes, we do like some people (or one person) more than others. There are many people in the world could never be “the one” for us — due to differences in culture, location, age, sexuality, values… the list goes on.
That’s all absolutely true — some people are better or worse fits for each other. Of course.
But that doesn’t mean there’s literally only one — at least not in the way we mean; not as someone to be “found” or “mined” from the human population.
And I say this as an optimist, not a pessimist.
I’m not here to slay romance. On the contrary, what I’m suggesting here is the most romantic thing in the world…
IT’S NOT ABOUT “FINDING” — IT’S ABOUT *MAKING*
I’ve been in or around startups since my mid-20s (including my own), and one of the most common phrases you’ll hear in that world is:
It’s not about the idea, it’s about the execution.
It matters less what you start with, and much more what you put in.
An exceptional person with a mediocre idea has much higher odds of succeeding than a mediocre person who’s got the “perfect” one.
Same goes for love, because it’s all human beings and life. Someone who is a great partner has much higher odds of success than someone mediocre who instead focuses on “having” one.
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOUR PARTNER, IT’S ABOUT YOUR EFFORT
It’s not about finding someone. It’s about fueling your relationship.
Love is a choice, not an emotion. Love is an action, not a feeling. Love is deliberate, not passive. Love is not something that happens “to you;” love is something you do.
“BUT WHAT ABOUT ‘FALLING’ IN LOVE?”
This mindset isn’t healthy.
Personal trainer Max Posternak says, regarding anyone who feels “too lazy” to adopt or maintain a fitness routine:
“It all starts with your mental disposition… You have to take responsibility… Nobody will take responsibility for you… Nobody can make the decision for you… You have to take full responsibility…
Every time you stop, no matter what reason you come up with, you are refusing to take responsibility. And then you fall down this slippery slope and make it harder and harder to take that responsibility.”
When we view “love” as something that happens “to” us (or something we “fall into”), not only are we setting ourselves up for failure (because we don’t realize that relationships are mostly work, and don’t hinge on feelings not “fading,” because they may), but we also strip ourselves of our own innate agency and power in our lives.
Every time we make love into something that happens “to” us, we hand our control, agency, and innate free will over to the universe, keeping our happiness out of reach.
And as Posternak said,
“You are in control. You have a choice.”
You can choose to reclaim your agency. It’s already yours.
And love — good love — it is work. It is something you choose, and something you put effort into, each and every day.
Yes. Chemistry. Of course. There are still fundamentally-incompatible potential partners, just like there are terrible business ideas. Some starting points are better than others.
But chemistry isn’t the end all be all, and it isn’t the secret to love, just like“motivation” or “inspiration” aren’t the secrets to success.
“Chemistry” is simply, as Mark Manson put it, “your favorite flavor of shit sandwich.” He was talking about “life purpose,” but again, it’s all the same.Chemistry” just makes “the work” feel like a labor of love — but success is still more about work, not “chemistry.” Chemistry just makes the effort easier.
“WHAT ABOUT FEELINGS, THOUGH?”
Sure. Feelings are great.
But relying on “feelings” to get you through a lifelong, mature and healthy relationship is like relying on “motivation” or “inspiration” to do anything else. It’s one of the biggest crocks of the universe, and anything worthwhile takes work.
“WHAT ABOUT MY PARTNER’S ACTIONS?”
Yes, I agree — that matters, too. But we don’t control other people; we only control ourselves.
This is why emotional maturity is the most important thing in a partner. Focus on finding someone who has that and once you do, trust that the rest is in good hands. Then focus on your domain, which is you. (True for both partners.)
“SHOULD I STAY WITH MY PARTNER EVEN THOUGH IT’S NOT GREAT?”
If you guys fight all the time, have differing values or wavelengths or life dreams or, hell, sexualities, then, sure, explore growth together — couples therapy, even, whatever — but at some point, not every relationship can be a match. If it’s toxic, it probably always will be — even if you get help. Some growth has to happen apart, and sometimes it’s just a bad match.
GREAT NEWS! YOU CAN STILL HAVE “THE ONE”
But it’s what you create and commit to, not “find.”
Many business owners are “all in” on their company, but they aren’t committed because it’s “the one”; it’s “the one” because they’re committed.
One of my absolute favorite references to this from the film Five Year Engagement, when Jason Segel’s character explains his breakup by saying,
“Look, we’re not 100% right for each other.”
To which his mother replies,
“You’re being so fucking dumb… I got news for you, moron. Your father and I, we’re not even 90% right for each other. Not even 60, okay? But he’s the love of my life.”
I think about that all the time. It’s so freaking beautiful and true.
“THE ONE” IS NOT ABOUT PERFECTION; IT’S ABOUT DECISION
My partner is the love of my life, even from a purely logistical standpoint, because I’ve spent over fifteen years — more than half my life — caring about him, which is eons longer than any other partner. Rounding up, he’s already “forever” for me. Because I kept him and chose.
2. Having “The One” is mostly on you
GET YOUR HEAD STRAIGHT
Love is more about your emotional sufficiency and work than anything else, and your willingness to embrace this is one of the biggest factors in good love.
HAPPINESS IS INTERNAL, NOT EXTERNAL
Happiness starts and ends with you. If you keep defining “the one” as the person who will soothe all of your insecurities, you’re going to go your whole life looking and fail.
Nobody is here to be your emotional savior.
This is what the whole “emotional self-sufficiency” thing is about, and why it’s so important. If you don’t love yourself and meet your own needs, nobody else’s efforts will ever be enough, either.
RELINQUISH YOUR NEED FOR CONCRETE, BLACK AND WHITE SIGNS
“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” — neither Thoreau nor Nathaniel Hawthorne but often attributed to one or the other
If you’re waiting for a clearcut, definite, black and white, concrete “sign” that they’re “the one,” you’re gonna be waiting forever. Love doesn’t work like that.
The “knowing” in love is inherently abstract and amorphous. You can fight this, pushing for more clarity, but the “certainty” in love is not concrete — there will never be anything to point to, touch, or measure.
So if you’re not open to “abstract certainty,” you will never, ever experience love. You’ll be too distracted looking for “concrete signs” that, by nature, will never appear. Instead, you’ll probably latch onto concrete signs that have nothing at all to do with love, and end up disappointed in other ways.
Love means relinquishing your need for concrete.
RELINQUISH YOUR “CHECKLIST”
Get your priorities straight.
If you’ve absorbed everything you’ve read so far, you see how your “checklist” is totally meaningless — and distracts you from a meaningful relationship. You will never build “meaning” if you keep shoving it into or making it compete with fundamentally meaningless boxes like “income” or “attractiveness.” You either want superficial shit, or you want meaning. Chasing both pits them against each other.
If you really and truly want meaning, you will readily sacrifice the superficial to get it. Because when you truly want meaning, only meaning matters.
I know you think you can chase both, but you can’t. I’m not saying you can’t end up with both — you might build a meaningful relationship with someone “attractive” (or whatever else) — but you will never, ever cultivate meaning by actively chasing superficial shit. It fundamentally strangles meaning, and the best you’ll end up with is forcing or wringing “meaning” from someone to justify your superficial attraction to them.
The thing that should be at the top of your checklist is “emotional stability and self-sufficiency.” And it should be the top thing you cultivate in yourself as well.
Emotional stability is first on my own list of only three things I need in a partner. I don’t care what he makes, how tall he is, or what he drives. I only care about what matters, and as a result am eons happier than ever before (including dating dudes who made 2 or 3 times more.) And not slightly happier; rather, so much more that it’s laughable to even make a comparison.
“BUT I STILL REALLY WANT SOMEONE [HOT/WEALTHY/WHATEVER]”
Then you’re not truly ready for real love and I don’t know why you’re here.
When you’re really ready for love, those things pale in comparison.
If you don’t care about meaning enough to still care about superficial shit, then we’re not even having the same conversation and I can’t help you beyond stating the obvious: prioritize your dumb list (“top 3?” you do you) and find the person who best meets them. Just don’t go whining at people once you do and it’s not “love.” Because, duh.
“NO, I MEAN I WANT EVERYTHING”
Then you get nothing.
Those people you think “have it all” are some of the most desperately unhappy people behind closed doors, because they’re so consumed with keeping up the image of happiness. There is no “everything.” There is only what matters or nothing.
More than “you just know” — you don’t even wonder
There’s still something magical about the right relationship.
Knowing that you’ve gotten there is when the question of “The One” seems small and silly — the answer so obvious it’s not even worth asking.
A good partner just is. You just are. It just is.
“But what if I DO still wonder or I’m still NOT sure?”
Well. Damn. Go re-read points 1 and 2 of this post and find the fallout. It’s in there somewhere.
I’m not saying it’s not your partner — maybe they are fundamentally wrong for you. I’m also not saying it has to work, or that it can’t. Maybe it can; maybe not.
But it always starts with you. Something’s off, but before you go breaking up with them, I’d encourage you to re-read points 1 and 2. A lot of “not working” falls on us, our efforts, and our mindset. And “knowing” whether someone is“The One” requires that we first “know” what makes a good relationship, which is: emotional self-sufficiency, good priorities, and effort.
Get that, and the rest will come.