How You Know If They’re “The One”

It’s not as simple as “you just know”

Still one of the biggest questions in love is whether or not your partner is “the one,” and, more specifically, how to know.

1. First of all: there is no “one”

Hear me out a second.

I know you don’t like this. I know you aren’t here for it. I know you like some people (or one person) more than anyone else, and many people in the world could never be “the one” for you. 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.

Relationship success doesn’t hinge on finding the one “right” person

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.

Founders say it. Every venture capitalist (VC) says it. Forbes has run articles on it. Inc has as well. Guy Kawasaki said it. Even James Burrows, the creator of Friends said it.

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

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 their actions??!” you might balk

Yes, I agree — that matters, too. But we don’t control other people; we only control ourselves. Which is why emotional stability and emotional self-sufficiency 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.)

But! “Chemistry!”

Yes. Chemistry. Duh. 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.

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 recall 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 in vain.

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 stupid “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 even 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.

Pick three.

“But what three?!”

Omg. I literally already gave you the first one. Surely you can think up two more.

3. You don’t feel compelled to tell everyone

The first rule of Fight Club is: you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: you DO NOT talk about Fight Club!

Secure people don’t go around talking about being secure. Happy people don’t talk about how happy they are. And, after the first few weeks, genuinely happy couples in love don’t talk about their love, either. People who incessantly emphasize their unyielding love are:

  • Overcompensating, trying to brute-force it into existence because it isn’t
  • Afraid things might end at any moment

They are flailing. Love is actions, not words. And little actions, not grandiose displays.

Studies show that couples who have expensive weddings or get married on Valentine’s Day have the highest divorce rates. Showmanship is a red flag.

Love means never having to say “they’re The One”

When you really have “the one,” you don’t feel compelled to go around saying it. Doing so just feels unnecessary or silly.

4. Forget “you just know.” It’s more “you don’t even wonder.”

This is my answer to everyone wondering “so, can anyone be ‘The One’?”

No.

There’s still something magical about the right relationship.

Getting there is everything above. 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.

I have more quiet conviction for my current partner than I ever did anyone else. Whereas I used to answer the question of “is he the one?” with “well, I can’t see myself with anyone else,” or “I guess,” or “it certainly seems that way,” my answer with my current partner is more like “lol.” Like, what a silly question. It’s like being asked if you like breathing; barely even worth asking or answering “yes.” Because of course.

He just is. I just am. We just are. It just is. It always has been; always will be. It’s in the only thing that matters, which is right now. It just is.

I don’t wonder.

And I know I just said that people who are happy don’t talk about being happy, and here I am doing it. But the difference is we’re talking about it and I’m sharing my own experience. You’re being open by reading; I’m being open in response. The red flag is randomly emphasizing it during brunch or something, when nobody even asked.

And to be frank:

“If you ask yourself if this is it, then it isn’t there.”

But what if I DO still wonder or I’m still NOT sure?

Fam, 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.