Ask Team Practical: How Do You Know?

Last week’s Ask Team Practical had me holding my breath, as I was sure the unanswerable question would pop up in the comments. I’ve gotten enough emails about it to know that it lingers in many minds.

Sure enough, it did. Dammit.

“How do you know?”

How do you know if you’re ready to marry? If you’re marrying the right person? If those once-in-awhile-doubts shouldn’t be trusted? How do you know you haven’t just been with so many jerks that any decent person who doesn’t spit in your face seems amazing?

The quick answer, of course, was readily spouted. “You’ll just know,” but I think that’s an incomplete answer. For some people, “You’ll just know,” is a deep-seated confidence. It’s contentment with the way things are, no question about the future. For others, it’s a bit more scattered and spotty, with brief sweaty moments of, “What if?!”

Because there’s such a range of certainty, I’d like to open it up to you guys. All of us have vastly different relationships, with varying degrees of certainty, different doubts and questions, and maybe a smattering of cold feet. How did you know?

I can start with my own story and then pass it off to you. We can chalk it up to “icebreaker,” but really, I just like to talk about myself.

Part of what made me certain that I was making a good choice is that our big picture goals lined up so neatly. There were a few differences, but ones that we were able to negotiate. In general, I found I was a better person around him. He made me want to try new things, and pursue the old with added vigor. He helped me feel like I was already a great lady and, because of that, I felt empowered to try harder to be an even better one. I also found I wasn’t lost without him. I was sad when he wasn’t around, but I didn’t feel dependent on him for my self-esteem, emotional health, or entertainment. We weren’t without our problems, but we both worked to fix them, together.

I wasn’t ready to get married when he was. All of our talks about marriage left me with a sticky, entangled feeling of, “I can’t wait!” and, “Holy crap, not yet!” One thing that helped me figure out when I was ready was setting a timeline for discussion, something I think I’ve talked about before. I didn’t say, “I’ll be ready to get married by X,” but I did say, “I’ll be ready to talk about it by X.” That gave me a bit of time to sort through my feelings and either realize I truly wasn’t ready, or adjust to the idea that I was. (Spoiler: I was ready.)

That’s my experience. I’m sure yours will be different, and I can’t wait to hear how.


Team Practical, how did you know that you were ready to get married? How did you know that you were marrying the right person? When they arise, how can you tell the difference between normal cold feet and the scary, foreboding kind of doubts? I’m interested to see our commonalities, but also our differences!

Photo: Kateryn Silva Photography.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!


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  • faith

    I was so not ready to date my husband when he asked me out. It took about a month and a half for me to decide that i wanted to change our friendship status forever. He was patient and waited until i made sure i was ready to dive in. And that’s what i did. I was so sure that i was going to marry him when i finally said yes to him. The thing is, he was into dating for a nice long time before we got married. So even though i was sure and good to go, i learned a good deal about patience in our relationship.

    • Sharon

      it was sort of the opposite for me – after 15 years of friendship I asked him out, and he took about 2 weeks to make his decision. 4 years later, we know we’re going to get married, it’s just a matter of when.

      • anon

        Similar story – we were best friends for 3 years before taking it further. I had wanted more when we first met, he didn’t at the time. I was worried we were too platonic to become lovers, but it worked and we’re getting married next year. Once we did become a couple it was very quickly clear that we’d get married – we already knew each other inside out and once love was in the mix, there was no doubt for either of us. And aside from the circumstances, I have never felt as comfortable and myself with any previous boyfriend as I do with my fiance.

  • This is a hard question, because I sometimes feel like the answer should be, “I knew when we sat on a hill overlooking the beautiful sunset at the sculpture park and had a surprise picnic.” But it wasn’t that traditionally romantic at all… when I knew was after some really hard things had happened: we moved in together, and it turned out we had (and still have, haha) very different ideas of how a move should go and where the damn couch should live; she lost her job, horribly and dramatically, and I continued to work for the organization where we first met; I went through a truly horrible depression, marked in my memory by an evening in the kitchen when I could not stop crying, and I was crying so hard I couldn’t breath, and she was trying to figure out who to call and how to help.

    The first two things, I think, are just natural life/relationship things. The third probably is, too, but I think that we often believe that in the course of a relationship, you will move and disagree and lose jobs and get new jobs. I have certainly heard more about those things than about what to do when your girlfriend completely loses her shit. I think that was the biggest thing, the thing that I reflect on and say this is part of knowing: getting through that whole big thing was how I knew.

    She was supportive, but she didn’t do the work for me; she held my hand and brought me tissues and encouraged me to go to therapy. She was just there for all of it, believing there was another side to it and that we would get through it together. The belief in me, and the strength in myself that she helped me find, showed me that we could support each other and that we would still be our own selves. As awful as much of the experience was, there was great strength and beauty in it.

    I think that you can have fun with a lot of different people. There can be chemistry and excitement and true joy with a lot of people. But I think those who can really be there for you in all the right ways through the hard parts, those are the ones that are harder to find; once I found her, I couldn’t imagine wanting anyone else.

    (The other part of Knowing She Was The One was that when I tried to think of things that I would change if I could just wave a wand and change them, all I could come up with is that she would ride a bicycle more. Hah. Not a deal breaker, though it’s still one I’m working on. :) )

    • Parsley

      Yes, this exactly. Different story of course, but it was getting through the hard stuff together, and realizing that when we are not doing well together we will both commit to keep working on it together – and that we are capable of doing that together – and the fact that she was there for some really difficult times in my life and ours and didn’t run away. That was what made me sure too. The joy is there too, but it was the hard stuff that made me sure.

      • p.

        I also felt like going through a hardship helped solidify my relationship and helped me “know”. And also as Parsley put it, “realizing that when we are not doing well together we will both commit to keep working on it together” was another reason I felt ready. I know many people who said that one of the things that changed when they got married was that they had the confidence of knowing that arguments wouldn’t lead to a break up, but in my relationship, we had that understanding years before we got married.

    • DNA

      “I think that you can have fun with a lot of different people. There can be chemistry and excitement and true joy with a lot of people. But I think those who can really be there for you in all the right ways through the hard parts, those are the ones that are harder to find; once I found her, I couldn’t imagine wanting anyone else.”

      This is how I feel about my partner too. He can be there for me in all the right ways when things get tough, and he makes the good moments better too.

  • I think there were two different points, really. One was a one-time-only thing which happened when we talked about the future and he said he was thinking of moving back across the ocean to his home country and there was no simpler, more logical solution (in my feelings) than going back with him.

    The second part, which is recurring, is realizing that not only my feelings about this relationship are confident, my brain is too. I had never been in a relationship before in which my brain gave me the full go-ahead. In which there hasn’t been a small, dry and very rational voice in the back of my head saying “Yeah, yeah, I know you love him.. but what if that isn’t enough?” This time my rational brain tells my occasionally doubtful feelings that it will all be fine, that our conflict resolution skills are great, out communication is phenomenal and we’re kind and understanding enough to work through clashing feelings should they ever arise.

  • Gillian

    Surviving long-distance. Somehow that year apart made us feel more like a team building towards a shared future than ever before.

    But I also hate that question. Because I think for a lot of people, just personality-wise, it can be hard to ‘know’, or they aren’t sure what is the appropriate feeling to expect, etc. I just think there isn’t one. You have to pick your own definition of knowing… or something.

    • Liz

      Yes! Which is exactly why we’re running the question in this format.

  • Hillori

    For me, it was two-fold: 1.) I went through an engagement with doubts, finally realizing (to the relief of my family and friends) that my relationship was unhealthy and destructive. I had a deep fear of the future and of who I was becoming. Flash forward…

    2.) My One went to Iraq for two years, by choice after we’d dated for a couple of months, so we had a looooong time to get to know one another s-l-o-w-l-y via Skype. Previously, we’d worked together for two years and already had an excellent professional repore. When he returned from Iraq, I knew that I’d walk through fire for this man and that he’d never let me do it alone but meet me halfway.

    I knew because I had no fear of him/us/the future: especially not of someday leaving my job and being a mom for a few years and I could see myself having children with this man. Even if a marriage doesn’t last, having children creates a link that lasts forever. THAT to me is complete trust and faith in another person. And THAT is one of a gajillion reasons of how I knew.

    Maybe just knowing how bad it CAN be makes me realize how GOOD it is now.

  • Teresa

    I had had a terrible couple of weeks…my grandfather, who played a huge role in raising me and making me who I was as a person, had just died and I was stuck in our apartment recovering from food poisoning. I was sitting on our couch (he was at work), feeling super sad and just putzing around online to distract myself. I found APW and the post about how sometimes you don’t just know, you make a conscious choice to choose that person everyday. It was like a revaluation. I had never heard that before, only that I would “just know.” As a child of divorce, I feared marriage. I doubted everything. I didn’t just know. And now I realized I didn’t just have to know. I could take the love I felt for him and make a choice everyday. Two years later, after many discussions and question answering (kids, money, goals, etc), and some resentful pre-engagement fights, he got down on one knee in our tiny kitchen on our 6 year anniversary. After my initial shock wore off (I did not expect shock after 6 years and lots of badgering), I have never been so sure of anything in my entire life. I know that we are committing to choose each other everyday. We’ll be married at the end of August and made sure to write that wording into our vows. It was not a super-romantic moment, he wasnt even home at the time, but that doesn’t take away from how transformative that moment felt (so, uh, thanks APW!).

    • Caroline

      I’m still working on figuring out if I’m ready, but this is definitly a part of knowing it’s him. That we choose eachother and keep choosing. We’ve been choosing eachother for 6 years, through log distance and poverty and awful loving situations and complete career trajectory turnarounds.
      Also, I know because it’s easy and fun. We work hard on our relationship, but it’s always been easy to be together. He makes me want to be a better person, and I know I do for him. I can’t picture a future that doesn’t involve us together, because our life together is awesome. So I guess that’s a sort of just knowing he’s the one I want to marry.
      But man, the are we ready stuff? I have no idea. Some days, I feel ready, some days, I’m not sure. But we’re headed there.

    • AnotherCourtney

      I found that same thing on APW, and it spoke to me, too. We ended our vows with it, and we still remind each other of it sometimes (snuggled in bed, whispering “I chose to be your wife today”). So powerful!

  • Manya

    For me, there was an ease to our relationship that I had never before experienced in any other relationship. Part of that comes from our uniquely parallel path (which I talked about in my post during adventure week), but beyond that our life rhythms are extremely similar, so our life glides along with very little everyday friction. For example, Brian always loves it when I call him, and we both have the same idea about when and how often to call to “check in.” We define “common courtesy” in the same way… The definition of which is surprisingly wide-ranging for something that is supposed to be common! We like the same kinds of jokes (snarky and quippy) and we like to talk about the same kinds of things. I can’t really think of anything I would want to change about him.

    Also, I am totally, crazy attracted to my husband. We are in the sixth year of our relationship and the sex is still very very frequent and incredibly hot–and sometimes we have up to 5 kids in our household! We just don’t seem to have passed out of that infatuation phase.

    There’s also the Deep Dark Stuff. The are things I have confessed to Brian that nobody else knows. Things that reveal me to be flawed and human. Messy things (nothing illegal or anything, but stuff I don’t like about myself). I was terrified of these things and thought they might make me unloveable. Brian listened and accepted and loved me more for telling him. Turns out he’s not perfect either. The are no wrong answers with Brian, the truth is always good enough… And untruths are never good enough. That radical honesty and the love on the other side of it was such a relief.

    Finally, I trust and respect Brian to my core. If everything in my life fell apart and I was incapacitated, I would trust his decisions in everything(except perhaps outfit choices for our girls). And that respect is mutual. That foundation helps us to deal with problems constructively, and keeps us from taking on each other’s baggage in an unhealthy way.

    Being with Brian makes me feel peaceful inside… A feeling that I have found elusive (I can really struggle with anxiety), and one I had certainly never experienced in a relationship. It was that overwhelming sense of peace and well-being, sexiness and comfort, ease and joy that led me to “just know.”

    • Not Sarah

      That feeling of being with someone who makes me feel peaceful inside definitely helps with my anxiety too. It’s definitely elusive though and really hard to look for…

    • KTH

      “If everything in my life fell apart and I was incapacitated, I would trust his decisions in everything…”

      Wow. That’s such a great way to think about your partner. I feel like if that statement is true in your relationship, then it’s a good one.

    • meredyth

      Yup. This was it for me. Life rhythms that fit well together plus the trust and respect and jokes and fun. We view courtesy in the same way and neither of us would get upset if it took a little longer to hear back from someone because it was understood we wouldn’t ignore each other or play games. I respect his decisions and he respects mine. That doesn’t mean that things are perfect, but I know that he loves me so fully that I can tell him anything I want and the same with him. It won’t change how we see each other. We’ve worked through some serious stuff and there’s more to come, I’m sure.
      It was still hard for me to know with absolute certainty because my parents had a late in life divorce that really skewed my perspectives and his background was different than mine in ways that made me worry if we were compatible in the long term. But our life goals are the same so that eased my fears. Part of me tried to be as rational as possible and part of me just embraced the nervousness and leaped.

      One of my (weirdly) proudest moments was at a party a few months back when one of his work friends was telling another friend about how my husband handled being taken to a strip club against his will (by MY dad and cousins, who also don’t do that sort of thing, but seemed to think that’s what bachelor parties are supposed to be like. Don’t ask why my dad was even there in the first place). Before he gets very far into the story my husband’s friend looks at me to see if he’s spilling some secret and then says, “Oh, right. I forgot you would already know all this because Ian tells you everything.” Even the stuff I’d sometimes not want to hear. But I’m glad he does. I would never doubt his love or my trust.

    • Manya, your response made me teary!

      And I feel the same way about many of the ways I “knew” too. The ease and the life rhythms were also a big indicator for me. I guess this sort of goes with the “ease” idea, but my husband is the only guy I’ve dated that I’ve felt just as comfortable with as I do when I am alone. So I can be “alone” with him, as in I can be 100% me with no fear or reservations….which is incredibly freeing. We also both find each other funny and have fun to the day-to-day stuff of life.

      But we are not alike in all ways. We have some major differences (religion, native language, country of origin, for example) but our pre-engagement counselor and a few good friends opened me up to the fact that every couple has their differences, and you have to learned how to work through them. THAT idea was the final realization that I had to have before I was ready to get married. I had to come to terms with the idea that I did not want to live in fear of “what if…” (what if we didn’t work out or couldn’t navigate our big differences, etc). After I realized I was paralyzed from going forward by fear, I made the (hard) decision that I would not let fear dictate my life and that I would choose to follow love.

  • Toast

    I just knew when I first met him – not that we would marry, but that it was different and my faith made us able to go through a lot of crap in our first couple of years. He was very unsure and if I had been too, we would have split. In the end though it was time that proved it to us, after six incredibly happy years together we got married. We spent time deeply connecting on all levels and changing together too – but all this was before we felt ready for the big M. I’m really interested in this thread because when people get married quickly- I always wonder why not just wait a while and see?

  • Hypothetical Sarah

    I’ve co-opted my husband’s explanation about how he knew he was marrying the right person (where “right” = “best” or “optimal” for him):

    The short answer is that you don’t. You can’t. Not with 100% probability. I don’t really believe that there’s only one “right” person for someone. But, imagine you’re playing a game that involves rolling a die to get the highest number, and you don’t know how many sides the die has. Maybe you roll a 2, a 4, a 6, a 23. And then you roll a 12,000,000. Do you keep rolling after that? You could. Who knows how high the numbers go? You’ll never know for sure. But you’ve rolled a bunch of times and you’ve never seen anything near 12,000,000 before. If you keep rolling, maybe you’ll never get near it again. So you gamble and stop playing.

    I’m a scientist and he plays a lot of strategy games. An answer based in probability sounds pretty romantic to me. Of course, the characteristics that define a 12,000,000 vary for each person…

    • Liz

      Ah, yes, but I think my question is how do you know you’ve rolled that 12,000,000? Of course, as you said, that varies from person to person, which is why I’m asking how *you* knew.

      • Hypothetical Sarah

        I know, I know. I’ve spent all day trying to come up with an answer that I’m happy with. I want to say that it’s been an accumulation of evidence and experience. We didn’t find our “other halves” — we became them. We spent three years as best friends before we started dating. That time, as well as the long-distance relationship that followed, let us grow up and grow together. If we’d started dating three years earlier (as I wanted to), we wouldn’t be together now. It wasn’t the right time. At some point during those three years, though, we knew that if we started dating it would probably be forever.

        I’m usually analytical and slow to make decisions. But, once we started dating, I never questioned whether I should marry him. By then it was just right.

    • Alexandra

      This is the best answer I can think of to this question. Because I hate this question, it just makes me double guess myself. I saw myself as marrying every boy I ever dated, and sometimes I just worry that I just haven’t waited long enough to see why I shouldn’t marry this guy. But using this answer… It’s really obvious. There might be someone better out there, I’ll never know for certain. But I can say that I’ve rolled really, really high this time, and that if I roll again, I doubt I’d ever get as high again. And I’m content with that.

      Hurray for geeky answers that speak my language.

      • FM

        I really relate to this, but I’ve never articulated it in quite that way. The way I think of it is that I could not think of how any other real person could have a better package of qualities (for me) than my husband. Not that he’s perfect, or that there aren’t other qualities that I’d love in other people that he doesn’t have, if some other person had come along first, but that I would never want to gamble that anyone else could be as great as him as a whole.

      • Pearlabeth

        You can actually make this an even geeky answer by using the problem’s academic name! There’s a whole literature on the ‘Secretary Problem’ (optimal stopping) whose cut-off heuristic answer you just described!

        In any case, I feel the same way. I’ve seen what’s out there, and I’m incredibly happy with my partner. Might there be someone who makes me just a tiny bit happier? Sure. Do I want to risk losing this wonderful relationship I have in search of perfect? No.

        • Alexandra

          Oh dear, that is amazingly geeky. XD Although I think it also implies I should have first dated N/e guys, where N is the pool of available guys and e is the base of the natural log. XD And well, I’m too lazy to accurately calculate that. Someone should have sent that formula to the guy who did the infographic of why, mathmatically, his girlfriend was his soulmate. I’m sure he could have worked it in somehow.

          (The infographic is over here if you haven’t seen it: )

    • Lizzie

      I had a breakup conversation centered around the Secretary Problem once! I was 20 at the time, and the guy was 30 (and yes, a mathematician), so he’d seen a lot more dice rolls than I had and was much more confident that he had rolled high with me than I was with him. I really liked him a lot but it felt so serious to be dating someone so much older and I was just entirely confused about the whole thing, so it helped both of us to put things in those terms (although it was also so nerdy and endearing that it made walking away even harder).

  • I don’t think you can *KNOW*. I mean, you can be more or less sure, and you can have indications that it’s a good or bad decision, but isn’t marriage – isn’t LOVE – just a leap into the unknown?

    My partner and I share goals, dreams, values, twisted senses of humour, and taste in coffee. We’re physically attracted to each other, and we enjoy each other’s company a lot, and we’ve built a great life with each other… but many many people have gone down that route before, and declared that they KNEW, and been wrong.

    I don’t mean to sound doubtful about my relationship – far from it! It brings me joy, and I am committed to doing everything I can to keep it that way. But it’s ultimately a hypothesis that can only be proven at the end.

    • Lauren

      On the little dish that held our rings, I engraved a quote that I found: “It is a risk to love. What if it doesn’t work out? Ah, but what if it does.” My husband was horrified when he found out that was the quote I wanted on the thing that held our wedding rings, but I thought it was the most beautiful thing in the world. It IS a risk, and you can’t ever know until the end.

      That said, I do feel like I “knew” that this was long-term the first time I perused his bookshelf (four or five dates in) and the first time he played me his favorite song, I “knew” we’d dance to it at our wedding, even though we’d never discussed marriage. But I can’t ever know how it’s going to turn out, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s just trust, and faith, and risk, and hope, with a whole lot of logical reasons to stay backing it all up.

      • Yes, it was really hard for me to come to terms with the necessity to jump into the unknown. But it came down to me realizing it was fear holding me back and to decide to choose love instead.

    • I think for me it was a matter of “knowing” that I loved and trusted and was compatible with this person enough that I was willing to take the risk, to know that it could fail, but that it would still be worth it to try. (Note: I don’t think it will fail, but knowing that it is possible, I still wanted to make that public commitment).

  • I wasn’t interested in my husband when he first made the moves on me. In sum, I wasn’t particularly attracted to him (he knows this). I more or less fell in love with him when I wasn’t looking. I knew he was right for me because I could be completely relaxed around him. I wasn’t trying to impress him or present my best face or put on a show. Being with him was immanently *easy* and that’s how I knew he was the guy for me.

  • Cynthia

    Tough question- for me it was a combination of finding the right person for me, and just personally being ready to choose one person for the rest of my life. On the personal side, I had been through enough loves and heart aches to know what works for me. I also had learned that love itself is not enough, you have to be compatible in life goals, the way you support each other, and the way you work through difficulties. I had been in love before, but I knew this person was someone who took the responsibilities of marriage seriously, and would work through problems in a careful and loving way. I think of it as choosing not only a great love, but a great business partner, but because running a life together really is like running a business at times. Doesn’t sound romantic, but really, a life partnership is about soo much more than romance!

    • MDBethann

      Cynthia, you hit the nail on the head for me. It isn’t romantic, but so much of life isn’t – it is every day practical stuff. I wanted someone who could be both loving and get through the rough stuff with me too.

      It’s those sorts of qualities that made me realize my DH was the one I wanted to marry. Throughout my 20s I did the thing and went out with various guys who’d match me in some ways, but something was always missing. And then I met my DH, also through, and what drew me to him were things I hadn’t always thought were important – similar backgrounds being the biggest. It has helped because we have similar frames of reference for things, so even though our communication styles are different, we often understand each other more quickly than we otherwise might. We also have more shared interests and values than I ever did with other guys I dated, and we want the same things in life and don’t want to keep putting them off. We make time for each other and we’re committed to each other. My “test” in dating was “could I see myself looking at this man across the dinner table for the rest of my life?” DH was that guy – I could be myself with him and just felt natural, I didn’t feel like I had to always be on my “A game” with him, like I often did with other guys.

      But it took some time. We were in this weird “hanging out” phase for awhile after we first met and I wasn’t sure if he “liked me as a friend” or as something more (as we used to say in junior high). But I knew he was still recovering from his divorce the year before, though I didn’t know the details at the time, and I didn’t want to push things. So I waited a few months more and he finally let me know how he felt. Once I knew that he was open to a relationship with me, it was so easy for me to fall in love with him (I think I’d been falling in love the whole time) that my friends later told me they were surprised when I told them I was in love because I hadn’t mentioned him much before that. But I just sort of new he was the right one. He’s the one I want to come home to at night and I feel like something is missing when I am not with him. It just feels right some how, in a way it didn’t with other guys I dated in the past. We both know relationships take work, but as he once said to me, for us it isn’t hard work. We aren’t perfect people and I don’t think there are perfect matches, but think we are right people for each other.

  • Christine

    It’s a thousand little things rolled into one: you have more fun with him no matter what you’re doing…your future plans line up (or you’re willing to shift yours as he shifts his so they do)…can’t stop smiling when you think about him…suddenly it makes sense why it didn’t work out with anyone else…etc etc etc. For me, at first it was a feeling that I couldn’t wait to see him again and then it just kept growing until I couldn’t imagine spending my life without him.

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    Looking back waaaaay early in our relationship, I remember telling a coworker that I felt “afraid” as I had entered my new relationship with my now-husband. It’s a completely imprecise word, because fear seems like a bad thing, but I remember feeling like I had just picked up an artifact and was equal parts terrified that I would drop and shatter it and in awe of its preciousness. That was the first time I had ever felt that way, and I think it imprinted “important” into this particular relationship. Plus, I have never been a true risk taker, so willingly entering into something risky freaked me out.

    Later, I agree about the “ease” thing. I’ve been in relationships that were relatively “easy” before (like, no strained conversations, friendly banter, simple weekends, etc) but they all felt as though they were easy because I knew they would end and so I wasn’t investing my whole self. With my husband, I had met someone in the right place at the right time, and everything just felt easy. Sure, we had screaming fights, but in the way that felt right (give and take, tears on both ends, a conclusion where things felt resolved). We also almost broke up once or twice, but both times ended the three-hour long sob and scream fest with a trip to Chipotle and separate sets of marching orders for self-improvement.

    So, it wasn’t one single thing. It wasn’t “just knowing.” It was a long process that resulted in a mutual respect, a shared feeling of us being the right people in the right place at the right time (which was important for us, but might not be for others), and similarity on my all-important triad of knowing how to fight, knowing how to spend Sunday morning, and knowing how to travel.

    • Shelly

      Yes to the being afraid part early on. I had been in a few relationships, before meeting my husband, where I felt that I was in love with the other person. But it wasn’t until a few months into dating husband when we first said “I love you” to one another, that I got completely terrified. I didn’t know then if we would end up together for the long haul, but I knew that what I felt for him was a different animal than anything I’d felt before. And it made me treat our relationship a bit more seriously and delicately for it.

      • Em

        YES. For a little while it was “where is the other shoe and when will it drop?” and very quickly it was the terrifying realization that there was no other shoe.

  • David and I were serious from the beginning. Our relationship moved steadily and strongly forward for almost two years, and then it stagnated. There were a million things going on.. Externally, in our respective personal lives. Internally, within our relationship and within ourselves. I knew we had some work to do, but I was willing to do it, and I believed that he was, too.

    And then he sat me down on a park bench and, with no preamble whatsoever, told me he was leaving New York to move back to Minnesota. Permanently. And that meant he was leaving me.

    And we cried. And I argued. I felt blind-sided and scared and sad. And pissed. And we cried and kissed and yelled. And although I was so upset I was shaking, and although I was crying so hard I couldn’t breathe, there was a little voice talking fast in the back of my mind. “Ok,” it said. “Ok. This might be over. This might be over. And you love him, but, really, this might be it. If he leaves this is the end. So what can you do? You’ll be ok. You will. You will. You are young. You will fall in love again. You will. You will be ok. This might happen. You love him and it might be over. But you are ok.”

    And that little voice HORRIFIED me. What the hell do you mean, I’ll be ok?! Nothing about this is ok! I feel like I’m dying! I’m weeping hysterically in public! The man I love just told me he is leaving! Nothing will ever be ok again!

    But the voice wouldn’t go away, the whole time.

    We eventually left the park, exhausted, and went to his apartment. Curled into the bed fully clothed and stared up at the ceiling in the dark. Feeling far enough away from each other that he might as well already have been gone.

    And I said aloud, as much to the voice as to him, “For the rest of my life, I don’t know that I’ll ever find anyone like you.”

    And David said, “I need to be in Minnesota. Come with me?”

    And I said yes.

    • AnotherCourtney

      This is beautiful.

    • Em

      I had something kind of similar. We had one horrible horrible fight shortly before we moved in together, when we were both under a lot of pressure at work. And he just left – went back to his place, told me he loved me but he had to be away for a bit. I cried for two days until I couldn’t handle it anymore and called him and insisted that we talk — and we did, facing one another cross-legged on the floor, holding hands.

      Those two days, I was miserable — but I also knew deep down that even if the worst happened and it ended, I was going to be okay. That’s what is different about him, for me — I think that was one of the moments that made me realize he was “the one.” In the past, heartbreak had made me feel weak — but when my heart was breaking at the thought of things ending, I felt whole. I knew that the time we’d spent with one another had already made me a stronger, better version of myself — I felt lucky to have had him in my life at all.

  • Kestrel

    I’m still working this out…as someone who isn’t engaged but fully expects to be in the next year or two, this has been on my mind a lot.

    Being an analytical-type person, I realize that I cannot be 100% certain because I don’t know the future. There are too many unknown variables. How will we handle sickness? Neither of us has been seriously injured or have a major illness. How will we handle grief? Neither of us have gone through severe losses yet, thankfully. How will we handle having children? Neither of us have been very involved with kids before. There’s just so much that’s unknown and that we can’t know.

    But, our relationship didn’t have the greatest of beginnings. Both of us were not really ready for it, but for some reason we stuck it out anyway. Every day, particularly in the beginning year of our relationship, it was a significant choice to stay together. Things didn’t just ‘happen’ and fall into place. We worked for it to happen because we wanted it to. I think that want is what makes me realize that he’s the one for me.

    I don’t believe in ‘soulmates’ – I’m fully aware that if things weren’t able to work out with my SO, I could find someone else to love. But I really don’t want to. I cannot see how any relationship could be better – different, of course, but not better.

    So I’m not 100% sure that he’s the one for me, but I’ve kept choosing him, even when it was hard so that’s good enough for now.

  • Jessica

    There was no “I just *know*” moment for me either. It was a slow, gradual realization. He is the most fair fighter–never yelling, never mean, never angry–and he showed me that two people that truly love each other respect each other, even during arguments (ESPECIALLY during argument). He told me he loved me even when he was angry with me. He is a great communicator and taught me to communicate when I’m angry, when I’m sad, when I want him to come home early or when I want something different from him in bed (sounds obvious, but it’s not when you grow up brainwashed by disney and romantic comedies!). He shows an authentic interest in my work, my hobbies, the things I’ve read, and my hopes and dreams. He could listen to me talk all night, and he has. He asks me tons of questions. He always wants to try new things with me. And he treats me as if I’m the most talented, intelligent, accomplished person in the world; like my faults are so insignificant and so completely out-shined by my successes; that I can and will do absolutely anything I set my heart on; he gives me such unconditional, unwavering, never-ending support and acceptance of who I am and all that I do. It is the most beautiful way to be loved. And it has taught me how to be a better person, how to treat him the same amazing way he treats me. I look forward to someday marrying this person who teaches me so much, because I can’t imagine a better choice than a life partner who continuously teaches me such amazing things. In my life, above all else, I want to grow and grow….anyway, that’s how I “know” he’s the one.

    • Rose in SA

      Wow, this is a lovely description. Makes me think of wedding vows.

    • Brefiks

      Just wanted to say that my partner, too, is one of the best fighters I’ve ever met. We are very lucky.

  • Cara

    How do you know? You don’t. That’s why you take vows.
    It’s a leap of faith. Love is a decision that you have to keep making every day. Some days it’s easy, some days it’s not, but most days it’s worth it.

    • SelkieKel

      Very much THIS.

      Warning: My story may be a bit scary, but hopefully also potentially reassuring.

      You don’t know and there’s really no way to be certain. Instead, you get to the point where you make peace with that risk and decide to take the leap anyhow.

      I had a wonderful partner and, by all accounts, we each had more than significant evidence to “know” that we were right for one another. We’d successfully navigated time apart (at opposite ends of the globe) and time together over the course of 8 years. We built a home, planned a wedding, shared interests, made each other laugh, and pushed one another to be the best incarnation of ourselves that we thought we could be. We did pre-marital counciling and were each convinced that we “knew” we were right for one another.

      But we were wrong.

      I won’t go into the messy details that comprised our divorce, but it took a very long time to realize that it was, in fact, ok to be wrong. As painful as our separation was, I learned an enormous amount about relationships in general, captaining though the inevitable ebb and flow, and how to align my own goals and desires with those of another in the long term.

      It’s not really about knowing that something is inherently the correct course of action, but rather must be the continued willingness of each party to make your relationship the correct course of action each day. Only the continuous efforts of both individuals allow this to be so.

      • Sarah

        Thank you so much for sharing this. In the question of how do you know, it’s somehow reassuring for me to remember that sometimes you know something that turns out to be the wrong answer.

      • Tatyana

        I too thought I knew, but was wrong. We never got so far as marriage, but our engagement was wrought with horrible fighting and many, many tears. When it ended, we tried to grab on to any remaining pieces, but now I’m grateful that it failed. I’ve never thought people could be as cruel as we were to each other, but we are equally guilty.

        I’m planning a wedding for next year, and this time, again, I believe that I know. I’ve met a wonderful person and hings are different. I truly believe that we can work through anything. But if we can’t (although I don’t want to accept this as an option), I’ll know to do it with more grace.

        Thank you SelkieKel.

  • EE

    Heck, I still don’t know! I’m one of those melodramatic types who has one bad day and thinks the whole world is falling apart (which, maybe, it is) and unfortunately I let that line of thinking apply to my marriage. Most of the time everything is fine, but maybe we’ll eat dinner one night and have very little to say to each other and the panic sets in: OMG, are we going to be eating in silence for the REST OF OUR LIVES? I don’t think I can take it! (In these moments, I seem to lose all memory of all the very enjoyable, not-silent dinners we’ve had of late!) Life as a malcontent is not always easy, but like some of the commenters above have said, “knowing” you are with the right person is, for some of us, a daily act — not necessarily a passive state of mind. Lord knows this mind is too flighty, anxious, and overanalytical to ever know much of anything without questioning it. Though I do know for sure that my husband is one of the kindest, most supportive people I have I ever met and by far my favorite person to be around.

    • I think you have just described me and my relationship! Thank you!! xox

    • Ambi

      Wow, this is EXACTLY what I am going through right now! We’ve been together for about 8 years now, and I feel like I have “known” for at least the last 7 years. And I’ve been impatient for the last 6 years. And desperately impatient for the past 4 years, and downright crazy for the past 3 years or so. And now that he is FINALLY ready, I am suddenly in a panic. Every time we disagree about anything or he irritates me or I feel sad or disappointed about anything, I start suddenly thinking “oh my God is this how my entire life is going to be!?” – and you’re right, in those moments I forget all the reasons why I have been completely sure about him for years. I am so glad to hear that other people feel this way too!

      • Jashshea

        I think (hope) that’s normal. As soon as we were talking marriage, all of a sudden I would get annoyed when he didn’t want to get off the couch and do XYZ activity. He’d never wanted to do all that and I had to change my thinking. I still want to be my own person, why should he be any different?

      • Alexandra

        I think it’s normal too. I was also chomping at the bit before he actually proposed… And yet I still have moments of “Oh god, why don’t we have anything to talk about in the car? Is my entire life going to be like that?”

        On the other hand, it makes sense that we don’t necessarily have 6 hours worth of conversation topics every single day. At some point, he was there for all the really interesting parts, and all the rest come down to work related rants.

        • Ambi

          Just an interesting aside: the fact that my guy and I can comfortably ride or eat in silence is actually something I really love about us! After years and years together, we can pretty happily go for long stretches without needing to talk, and it just feels right, if that makes any sense. But each couple has their own little quirks. The most recent “oh my god, is rest of my life going to be like this” moment came over a disagrement about watching a particular movie. I wanted to, he didn’t. And in my head it suddenly became “how is that he is allowed veto power over what we do? Is it going to be like that about every decision for the rest of my life?!” – uh, no. It’s not. Because that isn’t really how we operate now. When making decisions, from where we eat for dinner to which city we live in, we decide together, and honestly each person pretty much has veto power. But for me, in that moment, the fact that he didn’t want to watch Harry Potter meant that I might be signing up for a lifetime of someone else’s choices taking precedence over mine . . .

          • Alexandra

            I think I just have some strange idea that being silent gives someone the impression they’re being ignored, particularly while it’s just the two of us in a car or restuarant. Which I can intellectually say is dumb, but it still hits me sometimes. I blame a Great Big Sea song, which asks “How did we get from saying ‘I love you’ to ‘I’ll see you around some day’?” Really pretty song, but freaks me out to think we might one day run out of things to talk about.

    • Teresa

      There is an essay by David Sedaris where he is talking about how it is perfectly acceptable for him and his partner to eat in silence when they are in their home, but when they make plans to eat at a restaurant, he panics. He spends all day reading newspapers and things just so they’ll have things to talk about at dinner, so other couples dont judge them! I cried laughing because I often feel the way you do, though I mind it much less at home then when we are out and I feel like everyone is wondering why we are together if we have nothing to talk about! All in our heads!

    • Em

      Thank you :-) this describes me perfectly and it always worries me when i hear so many people talk about how they ‘just know’. I don’t think i’ve ever just known anything, but it feels right, most of the time. It is very reassuring to know, though, that i’m not the only one who has those melodramatic moments where we panic and forget the good stuff briefly.

  • The thing I love about this post is that there’s no checklist anyone can make up to guarantee The One-ness. There are just collections of stories, and I love stories. They tend to confirm or reveal what you already know about yourself.

    I never dated anyone before I met the fellow I ended up marrying. I’d finally achieved a satisfied single life, and made peace with myself. But the mutual friends who introduced us had primed me just a little to look at this new guy with fresh eyes, and wouldn’t you know, when I met him I thought to myself that he was probably The One. I thought this in a strange, cool confidence that rather surprised me. But he seemed to compliment me so many ways. It was funny, and strange.

    There’s also the choosing. We were very serious about each other after about a year, but hadn’t started planning marriage. He got a job offer for a job four hours away that I knew would make him so much happier than living and working where we were. He said, “I’m doing this for us, because I think we’re going to get married, and I want us to be happy.” But, um. Long distance is HARD. I had to spend a whole afternoon sitting on a rock watching the river flow before I could tell him to take the job with peace in my heart. Finding that peace was the key to me knowing he was it. I could say, “Yes, go,” and be saying Yes to us. And he could say, “Yes, come!” and it would be right.

    • I’m constantly refreshing this page because I love all the stories, too!

  • Zoo

    When I realized I “just knew” my guy and I were in it for the long haul, the thought was immediately followed by, “Frack! My mom was right.” Because I had always hated the “you’ll just know” answer, too. I don’t have a solid answer… there are a lot of factors that contribute to my certainty, and it’s hard to pin down exactly how that certainty feels. But here are a few things that I “just know”:

    – At some point, every vision I had of my future included him, and was better for it. More importantly, every vision of my future carried the caveat “but we’ll have to talk about that,” and I was ok with it.
    – I am a better person around him, and I think he’s a better person around me. In some weird way, we each give the other person something to look up to and work towards.
    – We can talk about ANYTHING. Hard things like “do not resuscitate” orders, abortion, and infatuation towards others. And if we disagree, we’re ok with that and we work through it.
    – Our friends like us as a couple and want to hang out with us – sometimes separately and sometimes together.
    – Our families are very supportive of our relationship. I know not everyone will have this, and I have profound respect for those who make it work despite family drama. But for us, it’s the icing on the cake.
    – I don’t feel afraid about our relationship. Not that he’ll leave, not that I’ll cheat, not that we’ll have a big fight and break up. Somewhat irrational nervousness? Sure, especially on my more emotional days. But I have trouble imagining our relationship ending due to anything less than one of us committing a violent crime (which seems rather unlikely).

    So my thoughts and feelings on this are scattered and a bit abstract, but I hope this might help someone out there who’s searching for answers and finding only worn-out clichés.

    • Carrie

      I feel the same way about my fiance, but I want to add one or two things. We have very similar worldviews, meaning we share a lot of values and principles. I guess that there’s always a chance that they could change in the future, but the stuff that we don’t agree on, we’re able to talk about and work through.

      The biggest thing for me, though, that made me sure that he was the one was in the nature of my doubts. With other guys, they were about him and his character. With my fiance it’s more like general, “What if something completely out of my control happens?’ The answer is that that stuff will always happen, but if that’s the reason that you don’t marry him, you’ll never get married. So, yes, I’m still nervous because it’s a major commitment, but I don’t have doubts about the person; they’re only about marriage in general.

    • “- Our friends like us as a couple and want to hang out with us – sometimes separately and sometimes together.”

      I take it as one of the highest compliments that we do not annoy our single friends with our married-ness and they still hang out with us and aren’t a third wheel.

  • It’s not something you know, like a scientific fact that has nothing to do with your personal feelings. It’s something you choose, day in and day out, over and over.

    “Today I choose this person.”

    If you stop making that choice, your relationship falls apart.

    How do you know if you choose the right person to make that choice about? I don’t know, but I suspect it has to be that they are making that choice about you, too, and you can see it, and feel it, every single day.

    • Oh I love this

      “How do you know if you choose the right person to make that choice about? I don’t know, but I suspect it has to be that they are making that choice about you, too, and you can see it, and feel it, every single day.” xox

  • Beaula

    While the “I know” argument can be vague and frustrating for many, it was definitely the case for me. I knew I wanted to be with him, and within a few weeks I knew he was the one I wanted to be with forever. I just knew it in my gut. He proposed after just 2 months of dating but we decided to hold on since we were only 21 at the time, so I sort of put my self in pre-engagement purgatory!

  • KB

    “Part of what made me certain that I was making a good choice is that our big picture goals lined up so neatly. There were a few differences, but ones that we were able to negotiate. In general, I found I was a better person around him. He made me want to try new things, and pursue the old with added vigor. He helped me feel like I was already a great lady and, because of that, I felt empowered to try harder to be an even better one.”

    This. There are still a lot of things that we haven’t figured out in terms of the “things you’re supposed to talk about before getting married,” like finances, where we’re going to live, etc. But I’m not too worried about that because, really, you could decide on all of the things that you’re supposed to decide on and then life could throw a HUGE curveball at you and all those answers go down the drain for one or both of you. I know that we’ll work through the expected and unexpected questions because we share the same basic values and big-picture life goals. I feel an ease with him, like an intuitive feeling that he is my family – not my ONLY family, but it’s as if I grew up with him into the person I am today. It’s as if we were in a crowded room or at a farmer’s market, I could find him just by closing my eyes and “feeling him out.” I’m not anxious when he’s not by my side, but when he is, it’s calming. I can make fun of him but if anyone else does, I will absolutely tear them a new one. He never withholds affection (which is a big red flag for me personally). And he’s honest.

    So, yeah, I don’t think there was any “one” moment – more like a gradual waking up to the fact that, whoa, I found the greatest man on the planet – sorry to all other women out there ;-)

  • Anna

    In describing a good fit someone once told me, ‘if you woke up as your partner one day and had to live their life that should be ok. You would be comfortable.’

    I’m not sure, but I think this makes sense. You are ok with how they treat others, themselves, how they spend their time, their values & priorities…

    • MDBethann

      It’s an interesting quote, but for me, I don’t know how I’d do if I woke up an introvert who didn’t care if he got out and socialized. I can live with one (I grew up with a dad and a sister who are introverts) but I don’t think I’d be happy being one!! I also am not a fan of playing video games – don’t mind that other people play them, but don’t like them myself.

  • it’s funny, considering that i had always been fairly sure i wouldn’t get married, had never really understood the point of marriage (barring custody, and i didn’t want kids), was (and still am) in the “there can’t be just one right person” camp, and am generally an analytical sort of person – but i absolutely “just knew.” as in, by six months of dating i was worried that she would propose – because i knew i would say yes, but i couldn’t handle the idea of having to defend (to myself or others) such a non-pragmatic decision (she didn’t, i think simply because she knows me well enough).

    i mean, i could go on with a list of qualities of her or our relationship – and those qualities obviously contribute to making it work and to my feelings about it, but for me it was not a reasonable decision, it was something that was simply so obvious that i couldn’t avoid it.

  • CAB

    For me there were indicators along the way that he was “the one” but I never “just new”. It is something I struggle with because I thought at one point I did know (but not with him). There was a man boy I met long ago and on the night we met I just “knew” he was the one I was going to marry. That feeling messed me up for a long time. I was incredibly young and he was younger than me and while we became great friends, it never turned into anything more. But I lusted after him for a loooooooong time and we are still friends and see each other on occasion. The man I am going to marry is the complete opposite of the boy and everything I want that I know no matter how much time goes by the boy could never give me.

    The indicators that my man was the one for me were little things along the way. Guys seemed to start crawling out of the woodwork after we met and asking me out – not a frequent occurrence for me. And while my man and I were casually dating and I’d go out with another guy,but I couldn’t wait to see him again. Also in my phone for some reason his number was saved under home and whenever I would call him it would say “calling home” and it gave me the best feeling in the world. I also love the fact that he became a part of the family the first time I took him home and that is not an easy feat when you have four brothers. And even though we came from different upbringings, we share the same goals in life and philosophies on how to raise our future kids. And when the hard stuff shows it’s ugly face we work it out. Believe me in the past three years there has been some tough stuff – deaths, diseases, unemployment and uncertainty (on my part b/c I didn’t “just know”). But through it all, through the sadness, tears, anger etc., I always feel like we are a team and on the same side fighting the fight together, even when we didn’t agree.

    So I may not “just know”. But every single day I make the choice to marry him and love him and be the best wife I can possibly be because with him I know we can get through anything and there isn’t another person in the world that I’d rather have on my side. Not even the dreamy boy from long ago. September cannot get here fast enough.

  • Another Jessica

    I’m 24 years old and getting married in about three months, so this question is extremely timely for me. I knew for a long time that my future husband was just that — but it scared me, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. First, I had to understand that, while our relationship could (and would, and should) enrich my life, he was NOT responsible for my happiness. That was tough for me; I always thought that when I found “the one,” all of my problems would simply disappear into thin air and never matter ever again. That was … not the case. Of course.

    Once I got past that and stopped expecting him (and his presence in my life) to be perfect, I found a lot of clarity. I realized that I absolutely loved coming home to him at the end of every day. He inspired me to be a better person, to follow my dreams, to live fully. He supported me, and I supported him. And, for the first time in my life, I found myself in a healthy relationship. I do understand that I could be a in a healthy relationship with someone else, and so could he, but I don’t want to be — I want him.

    And also! He makes me laugh when literally no one else in the world can. That is so important to me, especially after a bad day.

    Sorry for the novel! I could honestly write on and on about how I “just know.” But that’s the short version. :]

  • Husby puts it so well when he answers this question: You know when you realize that you love that person more than yourself.

    For me, this happened when I started making decisions based on what would be the best for him. And I knew we were in it to win it when I realized that he was doing the same for me.

    • fascinating! i totally dig that this is true for him and you and other folks, but for me it would mean almost nothing. i’m excellent at loving others and not so hot at loving myself, and loving someone more than me could lead (and has led) me in both great and terrible directions, making it almost meaningless for this purpose for me.

      which is in no way to discount your statement – rather i think it is an awesome and fascinating example of the breadth of answers to this question. i love it.

      • Zoo

        I had a similar experience to Lady Brett – I realized our relationship was working because I loved *myself* more when I was around him. Or, as he puts it, “I just realized that in your mind, *you’re* the hero in this story and I’m the sidekick. But in my head, I’m still the hero.” That statement has pretty much defined our relationship. Some days I’m a hero and some days I’m a sidekick, but either way I’m supporting an awesome hero or I know my kick-ass sidekick has got my back.

      • Liz

        This is true for me, as well. In the past, I’ve put others before myself to my detriment.

        I think, though, when I met my husband, I had found the true difference between being a doormat and putting his concerns above my own. Before then, I was immature, selfishly motivated in many of my intended “generosities” (if I pay for him, then we’ll be able to go out and have fun), and flat out chose the wrong compromises in “putting him first” (ie, forgiving him when he calls me a c*nt, other terrible things).

        By the time I met my husband, I had strict boundaries around what kind of treatment I would endure. So, when I reached a healthy point of putting him first- being sensible in making choices that weren’t harming myself in order to care for him -there was a major, felt difference.

        One point I remember exactly is having a terrible, nasty, screaming-match fight and sitting in my bedroom thinking, “He must feel terrible.” My own hurt was so thoroughly mixed with concern for him. It was frustrating!

        • yes, liz! this is exactly how I mean it.

          I know that we are separate, complete, wonderful individuals who are able to stand whole on our own. But at the same time, I cannot separate his pain from my pain, or his joy from my joy. And that is how I know.

        • Em

          yes! like us, only you’re more articulate than me!

  • Growing up, I heard my mom tell the story of my parents getting together more times than I could count. They had known each other and hung out together with a big group of friends all summer when my mom was entering 8th grade and my dad was entering high school. When they were 21 and 22 respectively they ran into each other at a bar and immediately recognized each other. They hit it off, talked all night, exchanged numbers and made plans to go out together on a date soon. When my mom left the bar, her friend Carol turned to her and said “you are totally going to marry him,” my mom, grinning from ear to ear, replied, “I know!”
    For years, I thought that knowing was supposed to be like that. Maybe not on the first date, but some time pretty early in the relationship I would have this brilliant “ah-ha” moment that would feel like getting hit by lightening.
    As I got older, and my life didn’t suddenly turn into a perfect fairy tale as soon as I met my fiance, and no bolts of lightning hit, I started to worry. I wanted to be with this person; he made me happy, he made me better, I could count on him to support me when I needed it. He believed in me even when I didn’t and I believed in him and wanted so much to be there to make his dreams come true. But we had fights, and I had doubts sometimes, and there were things about him that I found annoying. Maybe it was better to end it.
    At some point I started talking about my fears to my dad, and his perspective changed everything. He laughed when I mentioned my mom’s story about “knowing” that night they re-met. “Sure I liked her, and I was excited to go on a date with her, but I was also nervous, and I certainly didn’t walk out of that bar saying anything about marrying her,” he told me. “I didn’t know, 100% for sure know I was going to marry your mom until about 2 weeks before I proposed.” As conversations continued I discovered that they still had flaws that annoyed each other and they still had fights (I guess I thought that because they never fought in front of us kids, that they never fought). In the end though, they love one another deeply. They work through things together and support each other when times are hard. After 31 years of marriage they still have fun together and are still attracted to each other.
    I have always looked to my parents’ marriage as a blueprint for what I wanted. I guess that I started to know, and appreciate how wonderful my relationship with my fiance is, when I started learning more about the reality of how my parents marriage worked on a day to day basis. “I will settle for nothing less than that” became, “I think I already have that.”

    (sorry for the long post…I’m done now)

    • katieprue

      ooh, I think it’s interesting that I read your comment right after I posted. I totally did have that struck-by-lightning thing really early, but there was a TON of hard work to follow. So I wonder what that’s all about. Maybe I’m just a crazier romantic than I thought?? :)

    • I love everything about your comment.

      “I think I already have that.”

  • katieprue

    Time and timing were huge factors for my ‘knowing’. We met and fell wildly in love at a young age. We talked marriage right away, but agreed that it would be best to put that idea away for awhile. When I got old, like 22. Ha! Then 22 came (college graduation) and I realized how young I still felt, and how scary marriage still seemed. So we just waited, and lived together, and kept spending time working on our relationship. That was so important to me to put those few years under my belt because we did accomplish a few of the things we wanted to, and then it was just our time.

    I knew it was the right person from the beginning just from the way I felt. It’s so very hard to explain, but there is this light that turned on inside of me when I met him. It’s not always there, because life is life and I get distracted and stressed and anxious, but it’s something that I always have in the back of my mind. And for my practical side, we are from similar circumstances in life–just enough different to be interesting but similar enough so that we understand where the other is coming from. We agree on things like money, religion, kids or no kids. We talk, a lot. We’ve worked through small disagreements and big disagreements and supported each other through surgery, parental divorce, death, unemployment, sick kitty cat… But we’ve also done good things together! Saving money, traveling, graduating school, trying school again, getting better jobs, quitting smoking! So that’s why time has been so important. I’m a knowledge junkie, and knowing the things that I know now just make me love and commit that much more.

  • LK

    Way back, in my early 20s, I had a serious boyfriend and we talked about getting married. I KNEW that I didn’t want to marry him. I loved him, and the break up was tough and painful, but what we wanted out of the next 5-10 years of our lives wasn’t compatible.

    This time, I’m in my mid-30s and we’ve been talking about the hard stuff since pretty early on. We share certain core values, and can respect each other where we differ. We don’t want drastically different things for the next 5, 10, 20 years. We’ve reached compromises on religion. And most importantly, we enjoy each others company, both when we’re hanging around at home and when we’re out doing things. There was no moment when I “knew”. At various points along the way we each had to make decisions to keep going and to say “yes, I want to be with this person”. It feels like a good decision.

  • Louise

    By the time we started planning our wedding, we had been living together for 5+ years and had talked at length about getting married someday. We worked towards it S L O W L Y so it was easy to get really ready. It is one of the gifts Nick has that I am so grateful for — he takes his time committing to things, but once he’s committed, there’s no going back. I, on the other hand, was all, “I wanna get married! How about green and brown for colors? No, maybe mustard yellow and turquoise? How about a food truck for the reception? Or BBQ? How about a backyard wedding, ooh, or a summer camp?” I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t really thinking about what marriage meant, and I was just having fun looking at Pinterest. Then, one day, we were cleaning the apartment or something, and I pictured him as a dad, helping a little person to clean or stepping over a little person at his feet to do chores. Now, I know marriage isn’t all about kids, and kids don’t mean marriage for everyone, but that moment, picturing him as a parent, changed me. If I marry him, I might someday get to see him become a dad. And then I was ready, although “ready” doesn’t totally covey the sense of urgency I felt. I sat down with my man and explained my feelings. “When do you see us getting married?” I asked. “Probably within the year” he said. I had always told him I didn’t need a ring, but he always maintained that he really wanted to choose one and propose. I think it was important for him– its how he knew he was ready, maybe? So we talked about a timeline (ie. I explained how long I’d need to plan a wedding without losing my mind) and a few months later, we got officially engaged.

  • Jashshea

    I grew up in a very stable, happy home. We didn’t have boatloads of money, but we had enough for more than basics – I generally describe us (at the time) as solidly early-middle class. My parents are crazy about each other (slow dance in the kitchen while she cooks dinner) and gave my brother and I heaps of love, attention, & support. They had high expectations for us, but would have made any sacrifice to help us achieve those goals. They were emotional/proud/devastated when we moved out for college and equally so as we both made our way in the world miles and miles away from their home. My parents are what I picture in my head when I think of stability, kindness, marriage and other feel-good words like that.

    What does this have to do with knowing I was ready to marry who I will marry?

    Um. It sort of made me anti-marriage. They set TOO GOOD of an example. For a really long time, I assumed I’d never find someone that I even liked enough to go on a second date, let alone someone I really wanted to merge lives with. Throughout my 20s, I flitted around kissing frogs, never very seriously and usually running away at the first sign of conflict or ickyness.

    Then I meet this guy. And he’s funny, smart, snarky, and sort of evil in a good way. He has his shit pretty well together, just like I do (good job, (sketchy) plan for the future, finally money in the bank). We date and I keep liking him more – even when he’s not at his best. A few good years go by and we hit hideous patch. Bad communication, mutual mid-grade depression, professional overload, etc etc. For the good of both of us, we end things. I describe the breakup as “very sad and very over” to friends. I’m 31, single, and stuck in a town miles from my family and friends (stuck = underwater condo). Woe was me.

    One day, I’m in my kitchen cooking myself some boxed Velveeta and a memory from the good times pops into my head. I picture us STARVING, running through the grocery store trying to find arugula or wonton wraps for dinner. Something about the predicament strikes our fancy, and we’re cracking up and we visit every store in town to find whatever we’re looking for. I think we ate dinner at 10 that night.

    That’s when I knew I wanted to marry him – when I remembered how in sync we can be. Weird and unromantic, I know, but I knew then that I wanted to work through the bad stuff to get back to the good. The bad stuff (for us) was impermanent and eminently fixable as long as we put in effort. We got back together a few months later and got engaged a year after that.

    I know it sounds naive to expect the good times to carry us through the bad. We’ve had a brutal patch the last few months while we recover from a family thing, but having moments of laughter in the middle of all that is what pushes us forward.

    • Laura M

      “sort of evil in a good way”
      exactly* as a description for my fiancé too, though he wasn’t all that pleased when I read it out to him!

  • I am a champion of indecision. This is legendary in my family. I say it comes from being the middle child in between two boys who have pretty clearly defined opinions and decisions about everything, so I just learned to go with the flow and rarely made many decisions.

    In any case, I had a lot of doubts. I had dated a string of losers, and my now-husband was the second non-total loser I dated and the first non-loser who had the same long-term goals. I still occasionally think “did I just pick him because of that?” But, really, is there a better reason? He is a loving, decent, happy, healthy person who makes me be a better person in return.

    We talked a lot about marriage, but I had concerns. My parents were in a rough spot, and that delayed us by about a year as I worked through what that meant for me and my approach for marriage. The final push for proposing came when we were volunteering at an event. I was on top of a hill, talking to a friend and watching my now-husband help out with something else. She asked how everything was going for us, and I realized in that moment that the tiny occasions of doubt just don’t matter. Everyone will have moments where they question a decision, get annoyed by their spouse, or otherwise aren’t 100% sure. But this was as sure as *I* was going to get, so I went for it.

  • This has certainly struck a cord with me. I have found myself asking this question only recently. After being in a relationship for 5 years it seemed only natural for us to get engaged, we both had the same hopes and aspirations for the future or so i thought? 6 months into the engagement something changed and my partner decided he no longer wanted to get married. So at the moment my answer to this question is ‘you will never know, you just have to do what feels right at the time?’

    • kyley

      *hugs* to you through this difficult time.

  • Courtney

    The key for me was comparing it to other situations where I knew I wasn’t ready. I dated a college boyfriend for 3 years and he would talk about getting married one day and it would freak me the f* out. At first I thought that was a normal reaction since we were relatively young. But once I realized that feeling wasn’t changing, I also realized that we shouldn’t be dating anymore since our expectations were so different.

    When I started dating my (now) husband none of that panic/anxiety was there when I thought about us getting married. Since that relationship followed pretty quickly on the heels of my college relationship, I also had the increased security of knowing it wasn’t just timing; I don’t think I would have ever been ready with college boyfriend, but 3 months after our break-up I was thinking of marriage with now husband.

    Actually, I find comparing current perplexing/stressful/confusing situations to other similar situations in my past and following (or changing) behavior accordingly is a pretty solid method in general.

  • Ambi

    The thing I hate about the “you’ll just know” answer is that it can create unnecessary doubt about your relationship. For a long time, I was ready to get married but my guy was not. He loved me deeply, and he was intensely opposed to the idea of losing me or living without me (his emotions about it were intense enough to convince me that he was as serious about me as I was about him, even if he wasn’t ready to marry yet), and we were both very very happy in our day to day life. But when we talked about marraige, every once in a while, in the midst of a tear-filled painful conversation, he’d admit that he wasn’t sure about us marrying because he feld like he “should just know” and it should be the easiest decision of his life. (Well, I happen to be in love with the world’s biggest commitment-phobe – it took him four years to buy a house and several years to finally commit to getting a dog, which he has wanted for decades – so it didn’t surprise me at all that he didn’t “just know”). For West Wing watchers out there, there’s a great scene where Mary Louise Parker’s character tells Josh Lyman “the problem with guys like you is that you expect to be hit over the head.” I didn’t get that for a long time, but that’s what it was with my guy. He has been incredibly happy in our relationship for about 8 years. He loves me and can’t bear the idea of living without me. We are extremely compatible in both the small everyday details and the bigger life goals and values. And yet, for him, that wasn’t enough – he felt like he should be struck by a bolt of lightning and JUST KNOW that he had to marry me IMMEDIATELY. He has finally realized that that isn’t his personality. He never really “knows” about anything, except in hindsight. But in the end, he doesn’t want to lose me. So we’ve scheduled a trip next month so we can talk to my parents about us getting married . . .

    • Jashshea


      • Ambi

        I know! I mentioned it above, but for me this is all suddenly getting real. I have known for a long time that I want to marry him, but in a way I haven’t really had to deal with the scary reality of that huge commitment because I knew at my core that he wasn’t ready and it would be a while. So we could just be. And I could daydream about weddings and get impatient about being married and having kids and all that but not have to REALLY face it. Until now – and truth be told, I am freaking out a bit. We are talking about (planning, really) a wedding next spring. I mentioned putting it off until the next spring (2014) for logistical reasons, and he was adament that that was way too long to wait, and . . . he wanted to start trying to have kids by then! Talk about EEEK! I have talked to him for years about how I really want kids soon, but having a concrete timeline is so much more real.

        • Jashshea

          Yup – the first time I heard “you’ll be pregnant by then” come out of his mouth, I lost it. I also lost it the first time I saw our names written out as “mr and mrs hisfirst hislast” (I’m in the South, this is common, apparently). I lost it for awhile after that.

          I, for one, DO NOT advocate for long engagements. We’ll be married ~13.75 months after the engagement and I’m SO done with all of the wedding ish. Knock it out and get back to normal life! I don’t know how people make it through years of engagement.

          • God, yes, screw the long engagements, people. We did it to save up money, and yes, the money is saved and that’s swell, but I’d rather have done less with less money in less TIME. 14 months = too long!

          • Yep! We got engaged 13ish months ago and while the end is in sight (Sept 22nd!), this engagement has been too. damn. long.

          • MDBethann

            If planning a wedding is all you focus on during that time, then yes, a year or more is too long. But if you have logistical issues, like marrying somewhere you don’t live, then don’t rush things either. Get married in the time line that works for you financially and logistically. Don’t get married in the winter when it is cold and snowy if it means you won’t have the wedding you want and the people there just because it is sooner than the spring. We got married 14 months after our engagement – we were able to get a venue and the church we loved because we booked things far enough in advance and then I just didn’t have to worry about it for awhile and went on with my normal life until a few months before when I worried about things again.

            Good luck Ambi – I’m really happy for you!!!

          • Jen

            I have no problem with long engagements…but it depends what you’re doing during that time. When we get married September 9th we’ll be six days short of a 2 year engagement…but we haven’t been planning our wedding the whole time!! Pretty much all of the planning was done in the past year (but we also went through a 16 month conversion program, so I guess you could consider that wedding prep…)

          • Eh, I had a 28 month engagment for various reasons (knew my lil bro would be deployed to Iraq for 15 months of it with no guarantee of leave for our wedding, wanted an early fall date, needed to save up money since we paid for most of it ourselves), and I didn’t have a problem with it all. Took care of some bigger things right away, and then ‘”forgot” about the wedding for a good year or 18 months. :)

            I think it all depends on what else is going on in your life, your personality, etc. I had several friends say “doesn’t it bother you that so many people who got engaged after you are getting married before you?” erm, it’s not a race!

        • Alexandra

          Gonna throw my hat in with the people saying “Don’t do a long engagement.” As it stands, I feel like mine is too long already, and we got engaged this February and picked a date in fall of 2013. I’d shorten it, but being the king and queen of indecision that we are, it took long enough to settle on a date in the first place.

          And congrats, of course!

        • We did a short (3.5 month) engagement (and the wedding was in his country, not mine), and I am glad it was short. I love planning and DIY and that kinda stuff, but short was right for us. I just wanted to throw in a voice that short is totally do-able, if you decide it is a good approach for you…

        • anonymous

          Just now reading this, and I think I am in that same boat right now. All the sudden sh*t’s starting to get real and I’m freaking out a bit, and these feelings have totally caught me off guard, since for a good solid year I have been full on daydreaming about our wedding, vows, kids, whole lives together…I am a worrier and these all of the sudden freak outs have been bothering me, I don’t like feeling this way about something I have been 3000 percent sure of for so long. I’m hoping to feel some peace soon! Anxiety works really weirdly in my body, and I feel like I am very sensitive to it, so it must just be all hitting me now…

    • Catherine B

      Wow! Good luck on this next stage. Those of us who’ve been reading your comments are cheering you on!

      • Ambi

        Thanks. I have wanted this for so long that, now that it is really happening, I feel like I may jinx it or something if I talk about it too much or get too excited too soon . . .

        But, he has definitely jumped that last hurdle between loving me and being happy in our relationship but not being ready and finally “knowing.” And, while all of this is very personal, I feel like I can talk about it openly with ya’ll because I’m still a bit anonymous . . . The truth is, I kind of owe it all to Meg. When I was at the very end of my patience and was literally about to leave him because I was tired of waiting on a commitment, she convinced me that we should try counseling first. I suggested it, and to my surprise he enthusiastically agreed and we went very soon after that. We spent several months working through our issues, and I can honestly say we have never been stronger. So, in a very very real way, Meg and APW saved my relationship.

        Overall, I am much happier and healthier than I was just a few months ago. I think relationship turmoil and self-doubt and all of that created a pretty negative cycle for me (and for my relationship), which the counseling really helped me get out of.

        I will definitely keep APW posted on what happens. We aren’t even taking the trip to see my parents for about a month (six weeks, actually), so a formal engagement won’t happen until after that. And yes, I know that here at APW we talk about two people being “engaged” whenever they mutually decide they want to marry each other, but I honestly want and kind of need the proposal. Nothing big, but I need to hear him say those words. I have waited a long time for it, and it will honestly mean almost as much to me as the day we say our vows.

        • kathleen

          Ambi– this is wonderful!! Kudos to you both for doing the work in counseling, and many hoorays for approaching the next phase. I think the “I was the sure one, and now that he’s sure, I’m not sure if I’M sure” game is totally normal– in some ways you can now shift the energy and anxiety you had about him and his fears to seeing if YOU have any fears. I think that’s a really healthy and good step in the process.

    • West Wing nerds unite!

      • Ambi

        I love the West Wing so much it is ridiculous. I swear that, for almost every situation that comes up, either in my life or in the news or in politics, I can pretty much say, “there’s a West Wing episode about that.”

        • JASHSHEA

          At least it’s a critically acclaimed show. I say the same thing about Clueless :)

  • Anya

    For those of us who want a checklist:

    My mother, who married my father after one date and several years of friendship and has been married very happily for decades now, sat my sister and me down one day and told us how you know. She said a husband has three important qualities. First, she told us, you have to have the same values – whether that’s religion, or manners, or the desire to travel, you need to have similar priorities and be facing the same direction. That way, you share the burdens and joys in the path you’re trying to walk and can find each other on that path again and again as you meander and stray through life.

    Second, he has to have potential – It’s not just about what he’s like now, he needs to have the potential to become the kind of husband and father you need to support your family, whether financially, emotionally, or in some other way. You have to be able to imagine him as your partner through life. This man is the second half of what will become your two-person social, fiscal, and familial unit. This is the person who will co-spend, co-make and co-invest your money. He will co-raise your kids. He will be your +1 to every social gathering, and who will co-host your parties. You have to be able to see his potential to succeed in these capacities.

    And, of course, there’s love. But, my mom said, love, while the most important at first, is the least important over time. love ebbs and flows – potential and values are its moorings.

    I love my fiance now, and I’ll love him in the future because he is an intellectual, he comes from the same historic shit hole my family came from and can connect with that history and help me pass that hard-won knowledge to our children, he loves his mother and his family, gets along with my family, values history and culture, has perspective in his work life, he will make a great family man, he values my work, he’s willing to take my religion, he wants to have a house full of friends, he loves me so much, and he makes me want to be kind and wonderful. I love him because he expands my world now – but in the future? I’m no fool.

    I know that one day my world will feel too small, and I will be tied to him, and I will want to escape and let the riptide pull me out to some other life away from the moorings of shared values and responsibilities. I will want to be wild and infatuated and young again. I may want that one day – but he will be my rock. He will be the kind of mooring that, when my mind clears, I will know will keep me safe, sure of myself, and aware of who I am and long to be. He will be the person who will remind me, with love and tenderness and understanding, not only where my responsibilities, but also my longing for a quiet, peaceful, and contented joy lie.

    • This is absolutely beautiful and perfect. Thank you.

    • Lauren

      This was perfect. I loved it. Thank you so much!

    • I love this so much.

    • Em


    • Claire

      Sigh. So lovely.

    • Anya

      Thanks! You’ve all made my first commenting experience feel really worthwhile!

  • I can’t remember exactly when or how I knew, but my husband remembers when he did.

    My husband told me that he knew the third time he visited my family with me. (My family lives 1000 miles away.) We were playing dominoes and being silly, and he looked around and realized that he wanted to be my family, too.

    We’re crazy in love with each other, of course, but we know emotions can come and go like the weather. But when you’re family, you’re family, no matter how you feel. That’s what we decided we wanted to be.

  • Lilia

    My husband and I got engaged pretty quickly; we had only been dating 6 months when we proposed. I guess I don’t know one “moment” that made me decide I was ready but I guess I knew that not only were we ourselves ready but our lives were too. We easily meshed into each others’ routines and talked about marriage rather quickly but, when the conversation got more serious, I stepped out of the moment and realized that all the crap that kept me suspicious with other men was no longer there. My life was generally in order and the lose ends that I couldn’t tie up on my own, he could help with (and vica-versa).

  • I never DIDN’T know about Eric. We were introduced by a friend. He e-mailed me; I e-mailed him, then I couldn’t wait any longer and just G-chatted him. I asked him what he was doing and he said “falling in love with my future wife.” Which would be the worst line ever if it weren’t true. But it was. We always just KNEW.

    However, for me, knowing someone is your person is SO different from knowing you are ready to be married, and it’s the latter that I’ve dealt with for some time now. For us, it began with defining what it meant to us to be married. For example, if being married meant combining finances…was that something we were ready to do? Was it something we were close to being ready to do? There were a lot of things we felt marriage involved emotionally, financially, etc. and those are the questions we set out to answer to decide if we were ready. We came up with a list of things we wanted to do personally and as a couple before we are married. We can look at it and say that we’re NOT ready yet, and that’s why we’re engaged, but not married. We haven’t set a date yet because we don’t want to set a clock and say “OK, we have to be ready in X amount of months.” But once we feel like we’ve accomplished most of the things on the list and accomplishing the others is within reach, we’ll go ahead and set the date and trust that we’ll be there when we need to be.

    • Definitely this – knowing someone is your person is SO different from knowing you are ready to be married.

      I’m currently collecting all of the emails from when we met into one place and I keep asking myself why we didn’t get married way back then because it’s obvious how perfect for each other we were. There’s a difference between being with the right person and being at the right time.

    • OMGYes! to “Knowing someone is your person is So different from knowing you are ready to be married.”
      Well said.

      • kathleen

        yes yes yes– and I had the inverse that I explained in my comment– I was ready before I knew I’d found The Person. They really are separate processes.

  • “In general, I found I was a better person around him. He made me want to try new things, and pursue the old with added vigor. He helped me feel like I was already a great lady and, because of that, I felt empowered to try harder to be an even better one. I also found I wasn’t lost without him. I was sad when he wasn’t around, but I didn’t feel dependent on him for my self-esteem, emotional health, or entertainment. We weren’t without our problems, but we both worked to fix them, together.”

    Definitely that.

    I had “the list” of what I’d been looking for but it had been whittled down quite a lot. One of the three or four items on it was “No matter where I’m going or what I’m doing I’d rather do it with him than with anyone else or by myself.” When he was the first person I wanted to tell good and bad news to, when he was the person I wanted sitting in the room with me while I silently read, that helped me know.

    It was a quiet, confident, excitement. It was dancing a jig on the inside and calm yoga breathing on the outside (except when it was the other way around, and that happened too).

  • I never had that moment where I just knew. J and I started dating my freshman year of college (as I like to say, when we were babies). We did a lot of growing up together, a lot of growing into each other. We talked about marriage pretty early on, and kept talking about it through some very major rough patches (his dad’s death, long distance, personal crises, grad school).

    We took a long time to get to where we are, whole people ready to commit to choosing each other (for a long as we both shall live), and are walking into it knowing that it might not work out in the end, but that we think it’s a good bet that it will work out. There wasn’t one moment, or one thing, that he or I can point to. It really just seems like the fruition of something we’ve been working towards for many years.

  • Lauren

    SHUT THE FRONT DOOR. I’m famous.

    Now to read all of the comments to further fuel my neurotic speculation.

  • Umpteenth Sarah

    I just asked my husband this question (how did you “know” about me?) and he gave 4 specific moments:
    1) When we weren’t even dating, just friends, and he left town for a few weeks and couldn’t stop talking about me (awwwww)
    2) When I challenged him on an aspect of his behavior and he realized he actually was wrong about something and needed to change
    3) When he visited my home town, which is actually sort of hard to do, and fell in love with the place and started envisioning a shared life together, and
    4) When he proposed, which was a gigantic tear fest.

    So maybe that’s it, for me. 1) Interest in and focus on another person, 2) Mutual respect, 3) happiness with thoughts of shared life, and 4) Humbling love.

  • I struggled a lot with this question, and had a number of friends (ok, one in particular) who were constantly asking me when we were going to get married. At that point, I wasn’t even sure that there was going to BE a “when” much less be able to actually answer the question. I thought about stuff a lot in a very practical and organized way, and finally had some things to say about it:

  • monica

    I had been in so many previous relationsips that were not right for me and I always had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that told me I was just waiting for the right time to get out or that this was not a long-term relationship. I had always just known the others were not for me. There were a few dark times when I prayed “God get me out of this one!”

    What I learned was that I needed to find the courage to get up, speak up, leave and move on. When I began to do these things I gained a clear sense of self. I knew who I was, what I was worth, and what I wanted. I grew up.

    I was left a little bitter and jaded. I took a break from dating anyone at all for almost a year and did things I wanted to do. I traveled. I made peace with the idea that for me, it may not ever happen and that I needed to explore other possibilites.

    I was online looking for a nice date with a decent person when everything happened. After the first date with my guy I thought he was a nice guy I would be friends with even if nothing romanatic developed. There was no ‘spark’ or chemistry…just conversation with someone nice.

    Until I saw this article it hadn’t even occured to me to ask How Do I Know? Perhaps I am just one of those who just know I found the right man. All I know for sure is that I can’t imagine life without him. I lived a full rich life for almost 40 years without him but things are just different now. There is a sense of peace and security and I truly believe that he is the one I should be with.

  • Allison

    For me, I really *knew* when I felt like we were already married, and just wanted to make it official.

  • Marina

    I knew I was ready to get married to him when we were having a fight and I got out of bed in the middle of the night so I could go sob on the living room floor and even in the middle of that I still felt sure I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life.

  • Elizabeth

    The most terrifying thing in the world is to simultaneously meet the person you know is the one, and realize it isn’t the person you are married to. After five years and an extravagant wedding with guests from all over the world I suddenly realized that what I thought was the quiet confidence of a tested relationship built on respect was, in fact, a conscious decision to settle for the known with the assumption that is was as good as it was going to get. Of course it was a lot more complicated than that, but I will never forget the moment that I shook my now partners hand and realized that we were going to know each other for a very, very long time. And as we got to know each other as friends at first, I realized that what I thought I wanted, what I had, was only what I thought I was supposed to want. It wasn’t what made me happy.

    I don’t share this story to scare the almost-brides, but rather to say to trust your heart. Your mind will doubt, it will question and it will require some amount of being told to relax and trust, but your heart I truly believe it knows and when you listen to your head more than your heart you end up with not-quite-right under the guise of “the one”. Also, mothers know best. My mom knew it wasn’t right well before I did, but she also knew I had something I needed to learn. So she bought me a wedding dress, helped me collect blue mason jars, and wrapped my bouquet in the hanky she carried at her wedding. And then, she held me together while I figured out how to listen to my heart again.

    • Genevieve

      Moms! They do know!

      Mine dragged me into the kitchen at my own bridal shower, pulled our engagement photos off the fridge, pointed at them and said, “He looks happy. You do not look happy.”

      And she was right. Long story short, we ended up calling off the wedding.

      • Brefiks

        Wow! Moms have a sixth sense. That’s an amazing story.

  • My now-fiance and I had a very rough start to our relationship. He was the reason my then-boyfriend and I broke up, and I was utterly devastated, for months. My fiance claims to have known the moment he saw me that I was going to be IT for him, and I knew this very early on. He also knew that I had a boyfriend, and once we broke up, that I was in no way, shape, or form ready to even think about another relationship.

    It was…tough. For both of us. I was incredibly selfish for a very long time (I had been incredibly giving to my ex, and was sick of getting nothing in return).

    One day, I had to make a decision. Either date my now-fiance, throw myself head-first into a relationship and see where it led, but give it a chance at least, or say goodbye. He didn’t give me an ultimatum, but this is the fork in the path I saw ahead of me. And it would be once and done.

    And I realized that I wanted him in my life. At the time, I didn’t know in what capacity, but I knew he would be someone significant, and I knew I couldn’t fathom my life without him (which isn’t to say that I *needed* him; just that I was prepared to make the choices necessary to keep him in my life because that’s what I wanted). I loved him at the time, even if I wasn’t in love with him, and he had waited (patiently, for the most part) for years for me to just give him a chance. It was the least I could do.

    And geez, am I ever glad I did.

    Of course, the random dreams where I’m dating my ex and wondering where the heck my wonderful fiance is and why the heck I’m dating the idiot ex don’t hurt, either ;)

  • kathleen

    I do think it’s two different ideas– 1- how do you know the person is right? and 2- how do you know you’re ready?

    I know he’s right because my present and my future are better because of him. Because I have crazy respect for him. Because he sees the things in me that I have always hoped I was (smart, funny, a joy to be around) and in his reflection they become more true and possible, and not just in our relationship, but in the outside world as well. I know he’s right because he is better on paper than I ever dreamed of someone I’d end up with, and he is better to me than I ever dreamed of someone I’d end up with.

    The other question is my stuff- I knew I was ready for marriage before I met him. I had always assumed I’d never be married, that I didn’t want or need it, and my previous relationship, while Fraught with a capital F, helped me see that a partner was actually a really lovely thing. I knew that partner wasn’t the right one, and sought out the right one. Quite literally- I sat on eharmony and put in the right one qualities. I went on one date, and 2 years later we are getting married.

    The space between knowing I was ready and knowing I’d found the one was the hard spot, and I think it’s where the “how do you know?” question is born out of. When you think you’re ready but aren’t sure he’s the one? I had that with my ex, and I, hand to God, woke up one morning and said aloud “he will never be as excited about me as I deserve someone to be” and broke things off that afternoon. Just as sometimes, in a flash, YOU KNOW, sometimes in a flash you know it’s not right.

    • “The space between knowing I was ready and knowing I’d found the one was the hard spot, and I think it’s where the “how do you know?” question is born out of.”

      Yes. This is when I struggled with the “How do you know?” question. My order was different though: I knew he was my person, but it took me some time to be ready to commit to marriage. And in that time, it was hard. And he had known about a year before I got ready, but thankfully he was patient and waited on me.

      • Ashley

        This is it exactly! I know my guy is “the one” but I’m just not ready for marriage yet. I thought I was crazy thinking that I could know he is “the one”, or even know that I’m ready to be engaged, if I’m not ready for marriage quite yet. I’m so glad you two posted this!

  • Katie H

    Oh this is such a hard question. I have moments of doubt for 2 reasons…1. I’ve been married once before and obviously it did not work. He had me believe we were on the same page, we talked babies and a house and career goals. And in the end none of it was true. He wasn’t ready for these things even though he swore to me he was. Because of this I doubt myself and my ability to see clearly, and not through “rose colored glasses”. And 2. we’ve only officially been together 9 months. I suppose the doubt that stems from this is really just that I know how my family will judge. That I will only be divorced 2 years and with D for a year and a half when we say I Do. And maybe some of you will judge too. But we have known each other for 13 years, we have so much in common its ridiculious, and I can truly be my goofy crazy self with him and he loves it. No one has ever thought I was so funny. And I finally know what people mean when they say it feels like your heart will explode withy love. When I watch him and my son I honestly feel like love and happiness radiate from me, and I can’t stop smiling, sometimes even a tear or two will fall. And that’s how I know.

    • MDBethann

      If you love him and your son loves him and he makes you both happy and he is good to both of you, and you all want to be a family together, then be a family.

      My DH was only officially divorced for a few months before we met and started dating. The timing isn’t always what society tells us is “right” but in the end you should do what is right for you and your son and the family you are starting with your fiance. If you’ve known him for a long time and the relationship is a good fit for all of you, then go with it. You might be surprised at your family. I was so worried about what my now in-laws would think about me since my DH had been so hurt by his ex, but they welcomed me and our relationship and I feel like I hit the in-law jackpot.

      I wish you all the best and while I can’t speak for everyone on APW, I know I won’t be judging you.

  • Melanie

    I had a similar experience of pit-in-stomach, feeling like it wasn’t right. What I realize now is that my past relationships weren’t wrong at all. I just hadn’t dealt with a lot of my own very deep issues and couldn’t let someone in. My boyfriend isn’t some magical perfect-for-me person who was able to break through my fear of intimacy. I decided that I was tired of rejecting perfectly good men and I wanted to break through my own obstacles. When I accepted that my not-so-good feelings were more about me than the guy I was dating, I started to really understand myself and grow in ways I didn’t think were possible. I thought that “knowing” and “readiness” would come to me. But I don’t think it works that way for me. It’s a choice that I make every day.

  • SarahToo

    I proposed to my partner, but ironically I started feeling anxious about our engagement minutes later when he started excitedly (and spontaneously) telling our friends, thereby making it “real”. In the early planning stages we decided to postpone our wedding a couple of times…from August to October, then (when I decided to go to grad school) from October to April. It wasn’t until we started committing to the wedding (booking a venue, mailing out the save the date, laying down some cash) that I started having full-blown panic attacks. What made it worse was that everyone I talked to said more or less: “if you’re having doubts, you should call it off”. I wasn’t just having doubts, I was waking up in the night with my heart pounding and my mind racing. I did some counseling. My counselor pointed out that due to my family history it made sense that I felt terrified of getting married. She also pointed out that I have a history of avoiding long-term commitments. She mentioned that there isn’t any scientific evidence linking feeling “sure” about getting married with marriage success or failure rates. While these sessions would temporarily reassure me, I kept feeling more anxious as the months sped by. So we went on a waiting list for couples counseling. By the time a space opened up for us it was 1 week before our wedding day.

    All this to say, I had major misgivings during most of our engagement, and it was almost impossible for me to figure out whether I was having terrible intuitions about our relationship (we were doomed), or whether I just had a crap-load of commitment/marriage/divorce phobia that I needed to work through. In the end I (and we) worked through it with the help of professionals. It made a huge difference that he was willing to work on it with me. We’re still learning how to communicate with each other even better, be supportive of each other, and problem solve more effectively.

    We got married in the spring, and I’m really, really glad. Although time will tell, I feel better than ever about our relationship. Moral of my story: if you’re having doubts it doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage is doomed. Counseling can help you sort through all the emotional baggage and even learn how to strengthen your relationship proactively (why wait for a crisis?)…but if you choose that route I highly recommend seeing a counselor sooner, as opposed to 1 week before the wedding day!!

  • Candice

    My husband and I fell in love slowly through what started as a friendship. We both were dating other people that we could see ourselves marrying, and discussed these potential marriages often. After many conversations about how we saw our lives (separately) we both realized that we wanted the exact same things out of life and had similar plans on how to get there. By the time we were confident enough to change our friendship into a relationship (in the middle of a large group of mutual friends) we both “knew” and were engaged 3 months later. It was the shared values and conflict resolution styles that built the foundation for our confidence. We knew we wanted to walk the same path in life; we might as well hold hands.

  • I’d already moved in with David, and had certainly thought about the future, but nothing was set or even really talked about. We’d known each other for 8 years and had been dating for about 8 months. We were at a Wintersleep concert at a small venue and we were standing near the back, a couple of steps up from the rest of the crowd. I was leaning back against him, and his arms were wrapped around me. I had liked the couple of songs I’d heard on the radio, but neither of us were familiar with the band, which is always iffy for a live show. But the band was ON, and we both fell in love with their music. And something about the way he was holding me made it as clear as the music, that this was the man I’d marry.

    It feels kind of silly to admit that I practically had an out of body expierence when I realized that I would be spending the rest of my life with him, sober, at a concert, but that’s how it happened. Like part of my brain took over to tell the rest of my brain that this was IT, and to not fuck it up.

    We go to a lot fewer concerts than we used to, but we just bought tickets for Bloc Party, at the same venue, 3.5 years after that first revelation. And I’m sure we’ll stand at the back and make fun of the 18 year old children in the crowd, and I’ll leaned up against him and now, then as now, that this is my person. For keeps.

  • Katy

    I had a list for what I wanted in a husband: genuinely kind (nice every day), fun to hang around the house doing nothing with, and someone I could be “independent right next to.”

    The last one was the toughest; an ex once complained that I wanted to be independent right next to him, and I said, “Yes, that’s exactly what I want.”

    After dating for a month, my now-hubby asked me to stay in our town (I was thinking of leaving in 6 months), but if I didn’t want to stay, he wanted to know if he could follow me (despite owning his home and having an awesome job). I already knew he satisfied my first two items, and this was when I saw that I could be independent right next to him. We were engaged 2 months later.

    • Jashshea

      Yes! And very sweet story.

  • Cleo

    I’m living with my man, pre-engaged, and i’ve been having doubts. When I’m home with him, I feel like I’m home. I’m comfortable speak in a weird voice, dance around the kitchen, sing along to Sinatra while stirring a risotto, and turn on crap tv. We go on adventures occasionally, and have in depth conversations on a variety of topics. I never get bored and I’m wildly attracted to him…but he doesn’t like going out and he’s also not crazy about my friends. He doesn’t begrudge me the time to go out with them, but he never comes out with me. There are also other little things which mostly amount to me not having the courage or words to tell him how I feel (I do all the cooking, you can do the dishes once a week without complaint). So at once I both know, because everything feels right with him, but I don’t know, because he’s not willing to integrate himself into a life outside of our bubble.

    • Ambi

      My advice is that you will never know if these are just growing pains or are unworkable differences until you try to address them. In my opinion, THE WAY that he responds is more imortant that whether you two solve these specific problems. Meaning that if he is receptive and listens and is willing to discuss the problems, that is a good sign. It isn’t really about fixing every little difference – every couple has differences that they just have to accept. I hate to drive and always want my guy to do it. It frustrates him. We have gone back and forth about it for 8 years and probably will for the rest of our lives. But the difference is, neither one of us has any hesitation that we can openly talk to each other about that issue or other issues like it. If you think you may want to marry this person and raise a family with him, there are going to be dozens (hundreds! thousands!) or little things like this that you disagree about and will have to work through. To me, the key isn’t that you two end up perfectly agreeing on everything, it’s that you have a framework in which you can communicate and try to reach compromises.

    • My fiance and I don’t hang out with each others’ friends. I think it’s totally okay to have separate social lives. Eventually you will have social lives that intertwine, like when you have kids and know other couples with kids, etc. Also, I totally agree with Ambi’s comment too.

    • MDBethann

      My husband is an introvert and his desire to hang around the house and not go out with friends isn’t about my friends – he likes them but socializing exhausts him. But he’s cool with me going to the theater or to dinner with my girlfriends and we do stuff together like that too.

      I know it is hard to ask your guy to do certain things around the house. I hate it because it makes me feel like I am nagging. And it makes me feel like because I have to ask him to make dinner sometimes that I don’t appreciate that he does the bulk of the yard work, cleans up after the cats, and takes out the trash & recycling. But one night, after he commented how he wishes we’d eat earlier some times, I asked if he wouldn’t mind cooking some times, so we set up a schedule – I cook on the weekends and some of the weeknights, and he takes 2 nights a week. It may not seem like a lot, but that’s half the nights I commute and it makes my life so much easier. And he was more than happy to do it – I just had to ask and not make it a complaint.

      I’d be more worried about your guy if you said he didn’t want you to have a life outside of your bubble, but he does. Which is a good thing. But your lives outside of your bubble can be different and that is okay and even healthy. Good luck talking things out and I hope you can find a solution that works for both of you!

  • AnotherCourtney

    I knew I was ready to get married at a very specific moment. I had been traveling through India with a couple friends for three long, hard weeks. The two girl friends I was with both had boyfriends who were particularly unsupportive, so whenever we got a chance to call home, they’d come back with renewed home-sickness and a “why are we doing this again?” attitude. My guy, on the other hand, was so incredibly positive the whole time. He was proud of me and encouraged me every chance he got, so my phone calls home were uplifting and exciting. He was just generally so mature about the whole thing.

    The specific moment, though, was when he picked me up at the airport with a cheeseburger, because I had been craving red meat in we-don’t-eat-cows India. He could have taken me to the courthouse right then, and I’d have married him in a heartbeat, but it took two more years for him to get there. :)

    • Ambi

      Oh, I absolutely LOVE this! I like your boyfriend so much already!

      This reminds me that, while my family has known my guy for years now, and they generally like him, he earned major points a few weekends ago when he accompanied me to my cousin’s wedding and was just really considerate and sweet through the entire weekend of wedding events. While I rehearsed with the other bridesmaids, he volunteered to go help my mom and aunts set up the rehearsal dinner (and he made them laugh while they did it). When the family was taking post-ceremony photos, which we were rudely informed that he wasn’t included in because we aren’t married (don’t even get me started on this), he didn’t get grumpy or weird about it at all. He kissed me on the cheek and slipped away, and showed back up a few minutes later with a surprise glass of champagne for me and waited contently for us to finish up. Sometimes its those little acts of thoughtfulness that really push you over the edge.

      • AnotherCourtney

        He is a pretty great guy! :)

        It sounds like your man is, too. A good attitude, especially in family situations like that, is such a valuable thing!

        PS – Totally one of my pet peeves. We had a family reunion recently, and my cousin’s long-time girlfriend hung back when we took a cousin/spouses picture. Then someone noticed and called for her to join us, so she jumped right in. It was awesome! You can definitely be part of family without being married.

    • Umpteenth Sarah

      This is adorable. Love it.

  • For us it was a million little things that clicked into place as if by magic, despite our very different backgrounds. We always felt that everything that we had been through before in our lives (when we met I was 29, he was 38) had led us to that precise point: the things we had learnt, the relations we had have, the heartbreaks we had suffered, the crisis we had been through in our respective countries, all our travels…everything made us understand the other better, made us feel at home with each other. He knows me and I know him in ways that no one other knows us, I trust him completely and…yes, I just know. And the thing is, we instantly knew: my husband and I met the day after I arrived to Ivory Coast (where we met), started dating 1 week after that, he proposed 1 month after our first date, and we got married 4 months after the proposal.

    When my mother met my husband, she asked him when he had known that he wanted to marry me, and he replied “The minute I saw her for the first time, I knew she was the one I had been waiting for my whole life”. I felt the same.

  • Lynn

    The entire time I was dating my now-husband, I was involved with someone else. There was nothing physical between us, but I was definitely emotionally attached to him. There are times when I think that he is/was perhaps the love of my life. But he had issues…big issues. Like alcoholism and sexual addiction and spending too much money (usually in conjunction with his addictions) and I knew that there was no way he could ever give me what I was looking for in a partner. Which didn’t change that I love him.

    Meanwhile there was the PA. He was so very patient and kind and understanding while I was trying to get over whatever it was with the other guy. We danced around a relationship for probably a year and a half before I just gave him. Perhaps not too gracefully. It was probably about two months before he proposed that I realized that things with the PA were right. I was living far from family and working a crappy job while finishing my dissertation, losing my hair, and grinding through my crowns. The PA was coming for a visit and I was frantically cleaning the apartment in advance of his arrival. As I was putting clothes into the washer, I suddenly felt calm. He was on his way and everything else was just messy details.

    I realized then that I was better with him than I was without him…and that all the things I wanted, he was willing to help me achieve. The things I wanted, were the things he wanted. And he loves me like there’s no tomorrow. I choose to love him every day, and honestly, after making that choice for the last year and a half (we’ve only been married 2.5 months), I don’t know what I’d do without him. He is everything I ask him to be, without asking most of the time.

  • Denzi

    I asked Tom, and he said, “I thought about what my life would look like without you and what it would look like with you. The life with you looked better.”

    I, on the other hand, Bolt of Lightning-Style KNEW at the beginning of our relationship, and then have had the big doubts and the little doubts ever since. Maybe I should have married someone who is a night owl instead of a crazy morning person. What about the part where he’s afraid of my attempting to make career choices because it was really hard for him when I made ones that didn’t work for me and had grand meltdowns afterwards? What about the part where he never ever wants to live in San Francisco? When other people say their relationship is “easy”–is mine not easy enough? We are still fighting over the big important religion issues, and over our respective mental illnesses and physical disabilities.

    So, while I had a grand Romantic relationship beginning, now I’m afraid that my “knowing” is dingy and small next to others’ romances. But I like him. And he likes me. And most of the time I’d rather have him around. And today he kissed me and reminded me that I’m amazing before I went to apply for a job. So I keep saying, “Yes, this.”

    • And the two of you are so good together. (And fun. Lots of fun!)

    • Brefiks

      My husband claims he “knew” after the kiss at the end of our first date, and said “I love you” before I did. He somewhat-jokingly opines that this makes him superior to me. I think you should own your certitude : )

    • anonymous

      wow, yes , exactly for me. We have both been lightening bolt for a while now, and all of the sudden I’m getting the weird anxieties and doubts. And over thinking everything and pretty much driving my neurotic paranoid brain crazy.

  • amigacara

    My mom always used to tell me that you shouldn’t marry someone unless you couldn’t stand *not* to marry them. It worried me for a while because I felt like, while my boyfriend brought me great joy, if we had broken up, I would have survived. I would have been sad, sure. But I don’t think I would have been devastated for life.

    Eventually I got to a point where I realized that you can never know if this is the one person you are meant to be with for eternity. I don’t think love works that way–I think it is theoretically possible to make a relationship work with any compatible person if you both work hard on it. When it comes down to it, you just have to choose.

    I think I always used to think that deciding who/whether/when to marry was an almost moral issue–that there was a right and a wrong choice. It was incredibly empowering to choose whether to be with him or not while keeping in mind that I will be happy and blessed with him or happy and blessed with him. Both are good. I just had to pick one! And picked being happy and blessed with him. :)

    • amigacara

      oops, I meant to say happy and blessed with him or happy and blessed *without* him.

    • Ruth

      That sounds like the advice my mom gave me, “don’t marry someone because you think you can live with them, but because you can’t live without them.” That is definitely true in our marriage. :-)

    • This may have been the most helpful comment here for me. I recently explained to my mom that while I love my boyfriend, I’d of course be fine without him (eventually) if we broke up–I don’t depend on him for my happiness. She and my dad “just knew,” and quickly, too–they got engaged after dating for six months. I don’t feel strongly one way or another about marrying my boyfriend, but it’s good to know that you eventually make that choice. I wish I COULD feel strongly one way or another, though–I’d feel a heck of a lot better.

  • Anon for this

    I think this is the hardest question, but I think the people upthread who have said the knowing is in the choosing of the person every day probably have it right. This is kind of a long comment, but hopefully it helps those who struggle with “knowing” and those whose parents don’t necessarily model a great relationship.

    My now husband and I got together in college – I chose him, long range, and put myself consistently in his orbit until he chose me back. I chose him, without knowing him hardly at all, because he was kind, and patient and self controlled, and tall with broad shoulders. An adult. In retrospect, I didn’t choose him, per se, I chose the opposite of my father and all the boyfriends I had ever had.
    And then after we had been together for 18 months, and I had chosen him for him – funny and so smart and completely loving and accepting of me, he said that he couldn’t see why we would ever break up.
    For me, looking back, I realise how scary I found that, but at the time, it was OK. Weird, but OK. It wasn’t until I was in graduate school and he was working, and things were not good between us at all – him living at home and me visiting at weekends and him lonely and exhausted and me a student and frustrated and frightened. Frightened because I knew I couldn’t make him break up with me. Couldn’t make him love me less, because he could see through the temporary misery and to the long term.
    And so I left for a year abroad. The only thing that means I retain a modicum of self respect about this period is that I had the courage to break up with him before I started dating other people. A lot of other people, to erase the memory of the man who could see our future, who made me feel safe and centred. Who made me feel like an adult. Who I wasn’t ready for, couldn’t admit to, was so frightened of.
    Worse – I came back. We got back together and I left again for two years of working abroad, during which I occasionally confused loneliness, drunkeness and insecurity for wanting someone else. Finally, I looked myself in the face and grew up; told myself that this was not OK, that my father’s behaviour did not define mine and that it was time that I grasped the happiness that was being held out to me with courage and strength.

    Finally, we are married and have been for three years. We moved in together six years ago and all final doubts and fears disappeared that first year of living together – happy together and fine apart. Shared goals, shared responsibilities, shared futures. I didn’t KNOW for those first years, in my conscious mind. But I have been confident for the last five years that I choose him every day when I wake up, and every day when I go to sleep, and usually a couple of times in between, that I made a good decision. That we are right.

    Coda to this novella – I feel like the 6 month period when I went quite mad (privately, because who was this crazy person, I certainly didn’t recognise her….) because I was ready for marriage and he wasn’t ready to propose gave him the confidence that I was sure, that I had chosen. I don’t feel like I am in much of a position to give advice, but to those who have been publicly unsure, I would definitely say that being able to make yourself deeply deeply vulnerable, privately and publicly, can make you very certain that you are making the right choice.

  • Ambi

    For me, I had a moment the first year that we were dating when, after I finished my classes on the a really warm and beautiful early Spring day, I walked to his house as usual, expecting our comfortable weekday routine of cooking dinner and then studying together, only to find him sitting on the front porch with a beer, listening to Bob Marley, and enjoying the beautiful day so much that his contentment and happiness was almost palpable. It is impossible to describe, but just being with him when he was so full of joy and contentment and appreciation for that beautiful day was enough to fill me with the same emotions. I joined him, he handed me a cold beer, and we sat in silence enjoying the late afternoon sunlight for a long time. And I remember thinking that I was finally calm and at peace for the first time in a really really long time. I think I even got a little bit choked up about how happy and peaceful I felt, because we ended up talking about it, and he agreed. I didn’t know at that moment that I wanted to marry him. I just knew that being with him felt more right than anything else had ever felt. But looking back now, if I was to pinpoint one moment when I “knew” – that would be it.

  • Blue

    I don’t think anyone ever really knows for sure. Just as we rarely are 100% of any decision we make in life. Choosing one path means NOT choosing another, and that’s the same for marriage. I’m skeptical of anyone who thinks they are totally sure that they’re making the right choice. I think it’s much healthier to approach your decision to get married as “the best choice for us where we are right now.” Running around talking about “I just knew!” or “the one” etc. just breeds the kind of anxiety that the WIC cashes in on. The statistics don’t lie – lots of marriages don’t work out. The sooner we acknowledge that openly and accept that it’s ok to have mixed feelings about huge life decisions, the better off we’ll be.

    • Different persons have different experiences, Blue. For some of us, the feeling of magical connection was very real at the time of making the decision to marry.Does that mean that without that a marriage is doomed? absolutely not. Does that mean that only those who feel that way have a good chance at staying together? Nope. How we each arrive at the decision to marry is different, but I think that building a happy marriage requires work and commitment on the part of both partners, regardless to how we decided to get hitched.

  • M

    Thank you all for this! Some days I have doubts, but your sentiments really echo with my own feelings. So thank you for providing this pre-engaged lady a little clarity on knowing!

  • April

    I knew within 72 hours of meeting my husband that I would eventually marry him. We clicked in a way I never had with anyone else I’d ever met before. Being in his company just felt easy, secure and good. Add to that tons of chemistry and the combination was epic.

    No doubts, no cold feet… but I think I was slightly naive about marriage as well. The idea of marriage didn’t scare me.. the “what could possibly happen *while* we’re married” and “what might test us” did.

    After we’d been a couple for a few years, and went through some serious family drama, followed by a health scare, followed by nine months of him being deployed to a $hit country the gravity of what commitment, partnership and marriage really meant just hit me and I thought: Yep – this is IT. He is the one. Forever and ever. Good or bad, happy or sad.

  • I knew when he pushed me down and broke my ankle.

    I kid (a little)! When he and I were still “just friends” one of his playful shoves knocked me so off balance that I spent the next few months with my ankle in a cast. As he was caring for me that night I was so distracted by the sudden realization that I was going to marry him that I could barely feel the pain. About a month later he awkwardly asked if he could finally call me his girlfriend. Three years later, we were married. I was not looking for a relationship at the time, but I’m glad it found me anyway.

  • Liz, you so completely described exactly the reasons I know I’m ready to marry my guy (in 3 weeks!). I’ve actually never seen it described so perfectly, so thanks :)

  • ok, i was only going to write the above but I think I can maybe (hopefully) add more to the conversation.

    Before I met my guy, I found 3 questions for myself that I stand by today. 1) Am I happy? 2) Is this what I always wanted? 3) Do i love him? In that order! Finding the answer to your question is more complicated but those questions are a good start I think.

  • I’ve really enjoyed reading the diversity of opinion whether or not one can “just know” their partner is “the One.”

    I guess I am of the thought that each of us are so very different that there is no one right way. Just because I “knew” deep down somehow that I had found my person doesn’t mean that everyone has to feel this way. (And I like how somebody said knowing you want to spend your life with someone is different from being ready to get married.)

    And just because some people decide more rationally to choose their person (and decide every day to keep choosing their person) doesn’t mean that everyone needs to feel that way either.

    Personally I think both approaches (and those in-between too) are perfectly valid ways to conclude to marry someone. And I think both approaches are wildly romantic in different ways. I love hearing stories of the lightning-bolt moment where someone just *knew*, and I love hearing the stories of people who beautifully choose their love every day because they recognize how incredibly special their partner is, how well-matched they are, and how they want to create a life with that person.

    Yay for so many inspiring, beautiful and diverse stories about “knowing” or “choosing” or concluding or otherwise coming to the decision to share a life with someone.

  • Carrie

    I never did “just know.” I agonized and went back and forth in my head about it for literally years before I proposed. Looking back on it, though, none of my doubts and fears were about being with him. They were all about other things — mostly about whether I “should” want to get married, and being unsure and worried about whether he wanted to get married. (Because the whole cultural thing about surprise proposals and nagging girlfriends had gotten so far into my head that I did not consider the obvious choice, which would have been talking with him about it like adults.)

    For me, what finally made the decision was realizing that we were both already assuming we’d be together for the long haul. We were already discussing long-term career and location plans with each other, with no doubt they’d involve both of us. I ultimately felt like, dammit, let’s quit messing around pretending that this is still an “if” situation. I want to go ahead and say out loud that we’re committed.

    (P. S. I would like to state for the record that the headline of this post has caused Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” to be stuck in my head for two days.)

  • Kathleen

    My advice to anyone who feels like they don’t know is to wait it out…there will come a time when you will know one way or another. I think this “not knowing” comes from pressuring ourselves to know when we’re not ready. I remember there being a time in the 3rd year of our relationship when I most certainly did NOT know and was not ok with the not knowing (whereas early in the relationship it felt ok to “not know” because that’s the whole point of dating). This feeling almost caused me to break up with him. However, I stayed and guess what? There came a time where I just knew (and the knowing has lasted 3 years). Previously, I thought this knowing stuff was complete BS created by the media to make the rest of us feel like crap. There’s a difference between “knowing” and being 100% happy all the time. Do I have doubts? Yes. But I still “know” that this is it…this is my person. Part of this comes from choosing (as stated on APW before and in the comments above). I’m choosing to be his person and he to be my person.

  • Teresa M

    I knew because we survived getting together the second semester of my senior year followed by 1 year distance, applying to graduate school together, and then moving in together. We dealt with his health issues that caused him to lose 30 lbs and have no appetite for 6 months. We dealt with me changing labs and losing 1 year of my PhD work. We dealt with his spending 6 months in Canada a year ago… and let me tell you distance after you have lived together so long is TOUGH!!!
    After living together it’s not just out of habit that I can’t imagine waking up without him or not having him in my life. It wasn’t like a switch flipped one day at all. But this is undeniable and next April we are getting married.

  • Brefiks

    I read this post the day it went up and haven’t had time to answer, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

    To the questioner, this might sound weird, but I think a lot of what helped me be ready for marriage and have clarity about the right one was legitimating divorce in my own mind. Meg had a good post about this in the early days of APW. Many of us who value marriage somewhat uncritically think that divorce would be a complete catastrophe that would alter our sense of who we are and our values forever, and not all of those things have to be true. Not that I hope my husband and I ever divorce, of course, but I think it helps you to make a realistic decision if it’s not coming from a place of OH MY GOD THIS IS FOREVER EVEN IF WE’RE BOTH MISERABLE. If you happen to be of an overplanning temperament, the idea of getting comfortable with “failure” can be very helpful in leading you to make decisions. This is true in creative endeavors, etc.

    As far as how did you know your partner was the one, I just feel like I had so many moments of finding more security, connection, happiness than I had expected, and vanishingly few moments of hesitation. Be it discussing what religion we might raise our kids after a few months of dating (and finding not only that his answers jibed with mine but that he was comfortable with the conversation), to seeing him interact with my family, to fighting and not feeling like “Now we have to break up,” to picking him up on our fourth date and finding to my surprise that as I was driving, I had placed my hand on his leg. There were so many moments where I was like, “Wow, this is better than I had hoped,” and almost no moments of “Hey, wait a sec.”

  • MEI

    I didn’t “know.” I chose.

  • I knew pretty soon after we met that he was “the one”. There are SO many reasons I know this but here are some highlights: He balances me out (I’m a worrier and he is very laid back), he laughs at my inappropriate jokes, he makes me want to be a better person (cliché, but true), we survived 3 years of long distance, we’ve now lived together for 3 years and aren’t sick of each other and we see eye to eye on the important things in life. And after 6 years together we still get that warm-and-fuzzy feeling for each other. I hope to get that feeling for many more years.

  • I was one of those people who “just knew” within a few days of meeting my fiance. It felt like a part of me just woke up when we started dating and was experiencing everything for the first time. I loved him instantly and was constantly amazed as that love grew, and grew, and grew. It changed too, of course. We went through passionate phases, and friendly phases, supportive phases, and yelling phases, but I knew through all of them that I couldn’t imagine having all that with anyone else.
    That said, “knowing” doesn’t mean that there are no doubts. I constantly wondered if I had just “talked myself into” the strong feelings I was having, especially when it took him some time to catch up to the intensity of my feelings for him. I also felt like I couldn’t talk to anyone when we were fighting or I was doubting, because I had already proclaimed that “I knew”.
    It’s taken me until now, a month before our marriage, to realize that even though I “knew” all along, it is the choosing, on both of our parts that confirms the knowing. You need both to have the kind of sturdy kind of relationship base that weathers hurricanes and earthquakes.

    • anonymous

      Wow, I wish I could talk to you more about this. I am feeling the EXACT same way right now. My partner and I have both proclaimed the we KNEW from the beginning. Since the day we met we’ve seen our lives together and talked about the big, future things to together. I have grown and become more grounded in us every day. BUT a few weeks ago out of nowhere I started feeling panic about it all, all the sudden wondering if I , too, “talked myself” into the strong feelings and the whirlwind of it all. However, I have never felt anything but SURE and EXCITED up until then. I think it’s because we’ve kind of plateau-ed in the past few weeks, various things going on, and I’ve been missing some of the “lovey” feelings that I have always felt, that made me gush to anyone about her. Reading these posts are helping me understand that there are ups and downs and weird feelings are normal, especially if you’ve been on a high for so long. Also, we’re at that point where engagement seems just around the corner, which is probably subconsciously making me over think and analyze every little thing and deal with anxieties I’ve never felt.

    • anonymous

      Oh, and it’s been great realizing that there isn’t “one way” to feel.

  • “Knowing” has been hard for me- I’m a very indecisive, risk-averse person who’s exceptionally good at seeing worst case scenarios. My fiance had to sneak this whole marriage thing up on me- first we were friends for a while, then really really good friends, then kinda dating friends, then actually dating friends, then officially a couple, and now engaged. And at this point, six months out from our wedding, I’m 100% sure we should be doing this about 95% of the time. There are still some days when I get scared and wonder just what I’m signing myself up for- after all, I’m far from a perfect person and so is my fiance, and what if we eventually drive each other crazy? Not to mention, I’m pretty young and still working on getting my career established, and sometimes getting married seems like a step in the wrong direction in that regard.

    But then I have those days like today where I know with 110% certainty that marrying my fiance is the exact choice that I should be making. Sometimes those are on the wonderful, happy days where he makes me smile and we laugh together so much that my cheeks ache. Or they’re the frustrating days when nothing I’m working on is going the way it’s supposed to, and he’s there to support me and encourage me to keep going.

    But the days when I’m the most certain are the really hard, heart-aching, gut-wrenching days. See, both my fiance and I have bodies that like to conspire against us. And he’s been there for me on the days when my back is acting up and I can barely move off the couch and on the days when my anxiety disorder gets into a tizzy and makes it hard to even leave the house. He reminds me to stop and breathe and do all those things I know to do but forget in the moment. He has Crohn’s disease, which has a nasty habit of flaring up and causing him excruciating pain. We’ve spent too many nights in the emergency room chairs clutching hands and praying that the wait time isn’t too long this time. And it was on the first of those such nights in the ER when we were actually dating (I was his go-to ER buddy before that) that I realized that I never wanted to be anywhere else but there. I wanted to be there to fight through the incredibly hard, painful parts of life with him, even if sometimes it felt like a piece of my heart was being torn out.

    Fortunately these parts have been fairly infrequent for us- thanks to good doctors both our bodies have been behaving quite well in general. And most days are the more joyful, comfortable kind of days. But marriage is a promise to be a team in sickness and in health, good times and hard times. And I guess it’s in the latter that I’ve felt that I’ve really known. (Plus, as others have said about marriage before, it’s more than just the squishy feelings. We haven’t had too much trouble in the past outside of one isolated incident, but in six months, if we have to make an ER trip, I will be a “wife” instead of a “girlfriend,” which, like it or not, carries far more weight with the medical personnel.)

    And if I was having any doubts, I think the last days have really driven home my “knowingness.” Yesterday, my fiance started having a particular nasty flare-up, and a good friend of ours had to make the ER trip with him last night because I’m two states away working a temporary job that is basically my dream job and an incredible stepping stone. And it’s taken all my willpower to not just get on a plane right now and fly there (even though he’s told me not to) because, as I’ve realized, if it came down to my career or him, I’d choose him (fortunately I don’t have to make this choice because he is very supportive of my career). Together we are a team and far better people than we were alone, and I want to be with him through the good times and the bad times. And that’s how I know.

  • I didn’t know right away. I was a terrible judge of relationships, especially my own. I dated 3 guys before Jeremy. And was also dumped 3 times. It’s hard to think that while you are trying to make a relationship work, the other has already quit. Looking back, I know that those guys were wrong for me. But it’s easy to look back.
    Jeremy came along at the right moment. I had stopped searching for a guy, which made becoming friends with Jeremy so easy. Somehow we became a couple. But we were in college. I was spending hours pouring over project after project (yay design!). He would get frustrated that I wasn’t spending very much time with him. Well duh, I wanted those A’s, dammit! We would have constant conversations (that ended up with me crying and him apologizing), and it took me a while to know why I was crying. I was afraid to lose him. I had been broken up with too many times to deal with it. Then one night, he said something that didn’t truly hit me for a few months. It was after a particularly bad conversation. He told me that he would never break up with me and that if I wanted it over, it was in my court. What?! I didn’t give it much thought until way later, when I realized that hey, he’s the one. And he will never give up on me. No matter how frustrating I can be, or how much of a cry-baby I can be. And he told me straight out so long ago. Yet then, I still hadn’t believed him. I was so wrapped up in my own insecurities over men, that his promise was lost. Was taken for granted.

    Well, Never again :)


    I knew two years ago, just a couple of months after we had started dating. We were driving back late at night and I was falling asleep and looked over and he told me to not worry and just fall asleep, and I knew he would always look after me. Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to know yet (being the overthinker that he is), and I’m going super crazy (the pre-engaged stuff on APW helps!) especially since I’ve given him two deadlines, both of which have passed, and been told “sorry I can’t do this now.” I’m just trying to see how much longer I can hang in there – any tips on how to wait it out without going insane would be greatly appreciated. =( I’ve been badgering him about it every day, and am beginning to hate myself for doing that, and doubt how awesome I am, which really sucks because I am super awesome!

    • Anon

      It depends what the “hang in there” is referring to – hang in there before you get a wedding, or hang in the relationship not knowing if he really wants it to last?
      If it’s the first, but you both know that you are heading there eventually, try satisfying yourself with secret planning and bad wedding movies, whilst reminding yourself that a wedding is one (important) day in the relationship you are already living.
      If it’s the second, talk to him. Find out what his reservations are. They may be hard to hear. Work through it together, if you can. If it’s less “I’m not sure I want to marry *you*” and more “I’m not ready for this now,” explain to him the things that show you that you are loved and tell him that at this stage it’s particularly important for him to make you feel loved, to even out that (perceived) imbalance of you being ready and him not.

  • The story’s a bit convoluted. We dated back in high school for years, but I left due to spiritual differences and a belief that I would be “lost” if I stayed. Five years passed, and we both grew in many ways. I cut off contact for a few of those years, but when I visited recently, we both realized that we still loved each other deeply. Exploring this relationship again led to pre-marital counseling (which was really pre-engagement counseling) after just a few months, and it was during that counseling that I realized, despite being almost polar opposites in many respects, we love and accept each other for who and where we each are on our journeys.

    It was during pre-marital/engagement counseling that I realized that he was “the one”. I love him, and we accept and challenge each other. It’s the most beautiful symbiotic relationship I’ve ever been in. :)

  • Frankie

    I don’t think I really realized that I *knew* until, in the weeks before our wedding, my mom asked me whether or not I worried about divorce. She didn’t ask me because she was worried about the strength of our relationship or the character of my husband, but because she and my father are divorced as are my husband’s parents. Divorce is really an unavoidable topic for our families and it helped to discuss it.

    My response was that there is nothing about my husband that I wanted or hoped to change once we got married. I didn’t think that marriage was going to fix something. I didn’t hope that he’d start cooking more, or wish that he’d read more books – I was accepting him and US for what we are, and that’s why I’m confident that he’s the one and this marriage is right.

    So while I know that such confidence doesn’t mean that a happy and divorce-free life is guaranteed, I do think it gives me a leg up.

  • Kristin

    I loved all of these posts. My aunt and my mother have always told me that when I found “the one”, I’d “just know”. When I dated a nice guy who I loved and who loved me for three years and I never had that moment, I started to get really pissed. I agonized about it. I thought it was a healthy relationship, so I never made a move to end it. He was very outwardly NOT ready for marriage (he liked to remind me on a regular basis), so I didn’t feel pressured. Around the three and a half year mark, we started talking about little details. I was beginning to imagine my life with him. SUDDENLY, HE POPPED THE QUESTION. I’d like to label my preliminary emotion as “confusion”. I asked him a billion questions, but then I was excited, and I felt like things had fallen into place. Our family and friends were supportive, and I felt good about it all, in general. It felt like we had done everything right. About two days after getting engaged, I started having some anxiety. By the fourth week, I was virtually incapacitated. I talked to people close to me, wrote journal entries, and then just stopped eating. It would go away for awhile, but would always come back stronger than before. I told myself that it was wedding stress, or marriage in general stress, and couldn’t have anything to do with my fiancé. I was on the verge of going to a therapist because I thought I was losing it. I’ve always had a difficult time with decisions, initially, so I didn’t think much of it in the beginning. I had the opposite of what we’re talking about here…I had a “knew it wasn’t right” moment. I talked to my grandma on the phone one day, and I was just beside myself with panic. She was the very first person to say to me, “you know, Kristin, if you’re not ready to get married or if you don’t want to marry him, it’s okay.” I immediately began to sob like I hadn’t in a month. The panic lifted immediately, and I KNEW beyond a shadow of a doubt that that was it. I didn’t want to marry him. In retrospect, our views on religion and money (two of the doozies, from what I hear) were incompatible. And I didn’t feel like he really listened to me or took my opinions into consideration. And what’s crazier is I was FINE almost immediately.

    You ready for the really crazy part? That was seven months ago. Three and a half months ago, I met my now-fiancé.

    Yeah. I’m engaged again. Like I said, I was truly fine as little as a week after the break-up. I had my moments of sadness and guilt, but really, I was good. I was happy with myself for the first time in awhile, I realized. I hung out with friends, I talked to new guys, but I didn’t think I was ready for a relationship. Every guy who mentioned anything more than a drink made me want to run for the hills.

    When I met my now-fiancé, the spark was undeniable. I’d never been so attracted to or interested in someone in my life, and really, I just couldn’t walk away. I had no desire to. All the guys before had scared me. I found out that he was in the army the second night we hung out, and also that he would be leaving for officer training two months from that point. I decided to “try it out” and “have fun for a couple of months”, but I was head over heels from day 2.

    We were talking seriously about the future in the first couple of weeks, and somehow, I wasn’t scared to death. When he left for training, we decided to try out long distance for a month. I planned to visit him during my spring break the next month (I’m a teacher). The day that he left for training, I had my first panic moment, and I’ve been having them ever since, off and on, but I always managed to come out on the other side deciding I still loved him and possibly wanted to be with him forever. When I visited for spring break, he proposed. I said “yes”, and we’re signing papers in May and then having a ceremony and reception in July. I’ve gotten nothing but questions, doubts, and downright criticism from most, including myself. I’ve questioned whether or not I’m doing the right thing. I thought I had the “HE’S THE ONE” moment the day after I met him, but who can really trust that? I’m going to be changing a lot of my life for him. The uncertainty of marriage scares me, even though I know it’s exactly what I want. I’ve picked everything to pieces on an emotional and a rational level.

    What I come up with is this: love and marriage are ALWAYS a leap of faith. This man makes me feel like no one else ever has. He loves me to pieces and he SAYS IT all the time. He thinks I’m beautiful and he loves to hear me sing and he includes me in all his decisions. He’s fun and adventurous and the bravest person I know. I’m scared. I’m scared of letting go of being single and of things falling apart and of being far from my family. I feel guilty about my past relationship and how that ended for my ex. But I’m also so happy with him. We respect each other immensely. We talk about everything. Our ideas on religion, money, and family line up well, and I’ve felt like he’s been reading my mind since the day we met. Was I ready for him? Not really. Was I looking for a soldier? Hell no. Am I 100% certain that things will work out? Absolutely not. But I know that he wants to commit to me, I want to commit to him (even if I get scared sometimes), and that we won’t give up. I know it won’t always be exciting and it won’t always feel like a fairytale. A lot of it will suck. But somehow, I’ve been willing to wade through all the bullshit (other people’s opinions, my fears-warranted and unwarranted, an INCREDIBLY FAST engagement, and an expedited letting go of my single life) to be with him. He makes me brave and adventurous, and I do feel (notice I didn’t say “know”) that he will never, ever let me down.

    Will everyone always agree with us? PSH NO. Will I always be well-adjusted and calm? You don’t know me, but anyone who does would answer that with a resounding GIRL, PLEASE. But I do believe in marriage and so does he. I want to make that choice to love him every day for the rest of my life, even though it’s scary. Somehow, I think that’s all that matters.

    I’m not married yet. And I do have anxiety still…almost daily. But I can tell you all with almost absolute confidence that in 5 weeks, I will sign papers with a shaking hand to be his wife and then in 3 months, I’ll walk down the aisle to him, and then we’ll fight like hell to keep our relationship alive. He has already professed that he just “Won’t sign divorce papers.” I responded with a “Good. Me neither.” Not the most romantic of promises, but I appreciate the sentiment.

    I’m 24, and 2 years into a teaching career. He’s 25, and was also previously engaged…2 years prior to meeting me. He dated the girl for almost 5 years, I believe. When he came back from basic training she just “wasn’t the same”. Later, he found out that she had been cheating on him. He dated one other girl for a short time in between her and me.

    I meant for this to be a short post, but succinctness was never my strong suit.

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