The other week I met some coworkers for drinks. After a few rounds, we started to ask each other deep philosophical questions about life and love. Alcohol will do that… One person noticed the ring on my finger. She was younger and still in a new relationship. Curious as to how I made the decision to marry someone, she asked me, loud enough for everyone at the table to perk up:
“How did you know?”
At some point in a relationship, you are confronted with an important question – is this the person I want to marry?
There’s never really one moment is there? Unlike in the movies where the camera slowly zooms in on the protagonist’s face in an A-HA! moment of love at first sight, life is more complicated – full of ups and downs, confusion, laughter, memories, feelings, emotion, and a certain ineffable buzz that comes with courting relationships.
In dating, there are several critical junctures to leap into the next “phase” of the relationship, but it doesn’t always follow a clear path.
The first milestone is typically around the fifth date or so when you start to realize “Ok, maybe this is a thing.” You haven’t picked up on any glaring red flags (yet) and you tend to enjoy the other person’s company and feel comfortable that they enjoy yours as well.
The second is introducing them to your closest friends and family. How will they respond? Can they last? Will they make a good impression and can I see us going on vacations together and hanging out on weekends?
The third is traveling together for the first time, where you really start understanding their ticks, idiosyncrasies, and authentic selves.
And the fourth is when you finally say those three magic words.
Of course, none of these “milestones” are actually being measured or calculated – unless you’re into that sort of thing… And I’m obviously skipping over a lot. In the beginning, you’re simply looking for clues in real-time. Innocent until proven guilty. You’re rooting for your date to succeed, but at the same time, you have your guard up until you feel comfortable enough to let it down and be vulnerable with each other.
After that, the relationship can go in several different directions. There’s no telling how much time the remainder of the relationship will take to foster. It may grow into something really special, but it could also end in disaster or simply fizzle out into nothing.
Ok, getting back to that hard-hitting question at the bar. How did I respond?
For me, there was a fifth moment. It’s the moment when your partner is doing something totally innocuous. They may be washing the dishes or doing their hair in the mirror, but you find yourself totally enamored. You love them. Fully. Despite all their flaws – annoying habits, quirky humor, goofy smile – you can’t imagine spending your time with anyone else.
In that moment of adoration you smile, imagining what life would be like buying a house together, raising children, going to holiday parties with each other’s families, and sitting on the porch together sipping tea, too old to do the rambunctious things you once did, but still best friends holding hands.
Yeah, it’s cheesy, but it’s also the first twenty minutes of the movie Up, and how did that make you feel?
This is, of course, my individual experience. I can’t say with full certainty that any or all of these “steps” will successfully happen in each or any of your own relationships, but I can say with high probability that the feeling of “knowing they’re the one” will likely be something like the previous experience. It’s not a moment in the sense of “I just stopped in the middle of the street and knew!”, but at the same time, it is an instantaneous surety.
It’s uncertainty turning sharply into absolute conviction. Foggy vision turning into 20/20.
I knew there was something special about Lauren when I first approached her at a party in a Manhattan apartment. There was a magnetic pull. I was nervous to walk across the room and start a conversation, and I’m certainly not the type of guy who is confident hitting on girls – but something beyond my power pulled me toward her that night, and that feeling stuck with me. It was a sign I knew I should pay attention to.
There’s also the family aspect. They say that when you marry someone, you marry their entire family, and there’s a lot of truth in that. Situations may differ for each individual, but in my opinion, that was a factor in my decision to marry Lauren. From the day I walked into their home, her family welcomed me with open arms. Her mom, dad, and two sisters made me feel like I was one of them, and never judged me or made me feel like an outsider. That stuck with me as well.
But marriage is not something you should come lightly to. For one, it is a serious financial investment – if you plan on buying a nice engagement ring and having a big wedding with friends and family. You also have to consider that it’s a much bigger responsibility. When you’re just the boyfriend or girlfriend, you have more leeway – you can still live by yourself, spend weekends with friends, party late in the morning, work 24/7 or skip her friend’s Saturday brunch with people you’ve never met. You can still do all of those things, of course, but now your partner is your legitimate partner – you are one half of a whole, and he or she is your responsibility – “…in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health…”
That means taking care of them when they’re sick, delivering on promises to spend the weekend with them, going on frequent dates, being available for them when they need you, caring for their friends and family, and being emotionally, physically, financially, and mentally invested in every single thing they do because you are a team. That means weddings, birthday parties, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, family vacations, funerals, and barbecues.
I knew Lauren was the one when I understood all of the above and had no problem with it whatsoever. I didn’t need an engagement ring, a big fancy wedding, or a government contract to know. The answer was simple:
She’s my best friend.
That’s how I knew.