When you were dating Drew, did you experience this? That you feel you have met the right person and you get so nervous thinking what if it doesn’t work out? I know deep down that, if it doesn’t, I’ll be OK, but I’ve been dating people for the past seven years and I definitely know a good thing when I feel it. And I feel it now. And I don’t want it to go away. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. — Feeling Anxious
I’m going to answer your letter with the same exact response I gave someone with a similar question who wrote into me a year ago because it’s a response worth repeating. Your question is a common one and hopefully my answer will resonate with you, as well as others grappling with the same anxiety. Here it is:
I’m not going to tell you “I just knew” because I didn’t. There was never a moment when “I just knew.” Hell, even when Drew proposed and I said yes, I didn’t “just know” it was meant to be or that we were going to be happy forever and ever. I did think those things, but I was not 100 percent, positively certain we were going to be well-matched and happy together forever. You can never be totally sure about anything in life. Everything is a risk — even marrying someone you love with your whole heart and want very much to spend your life with. There’s always a risk you’ll fall out of love or that problems outside your relationship or with your children will negatively impact you. There’s a risk that one or both of you will change so much that you’ll no longer share the connection you had when you said, “I do.” Life can throw so much shit on you and there’s no guarantee that you or your partner or your relationship is going to handle it with enough grace to pull you through the other side unscathed and still intact.
There was never a point I knew for sure that Drew was “the one” for me because I don’t believe in “the one.” I believe there are lots of potential “ones,” and timing, dumb luck, and open-mindedness are the three key factors in determining which “one” you end up with. Drew and I came into each other’s lives at the right time. We were both single and looking for love. A mutual friend who had a random thought that we might like each other put us in touch over the phone. I happened to be going to New York for a weekend trip and Drew was open to taking me out while I was there. Timing + dumb luck + open mindedness.
We had a wonderful date and spent most of the weekend together, laughing and sharing stories and having a great time. Then I went back to Chicago and Drew and I proceeded to long-distance date for a while. Every couple of weeks, one of us flew to the other for a long weekend. We talked on the phone every day — usually multiple times a day. We texted and emailed. We talked about the future.
After about six months of this, I decided it couldn’t work out between us and I broke up with him on one of my visits to New York. I decided that the risks were too great. I knew he wasn’t open to moving to Chicago, so that meant I’d have to move to New York if we were ever actually going to be together-together, and the idea of leaving my friends and my life behind was too sad and scary to fully embrace. Even for Drew. So I told him I couldn’t do this anymore, and I cried and cried.
I cried so hard that, when I got to the airport, I was so distracted by my grief that I missed my plane. I was sitting right there at the gate just thinking about how fucking sad I was, and one second the gate was full of fellow passengers-in-waiting and the next minute everyone was gone and so was the plane. I had been so lost in my grief that I’d missed my boarding call and last plane out to Chicago, and I had to spend another night in New York.
Heading back to Drew’s place on the bus, I had a sudden feeling. It wasn’t exactly “just knowing,” but more like the absence of knowing we weren’t meant to be. For months, I’d been trying to talk myself out of loving Drew because loving him and investing in a future with him meant taking some risks I wasn’t yet open or willing to take. I convinced myself — and tried to convince him — that we weren’t really meant to be in the long run. I said things like, “Isn’t this a fun summer fling!”
But summer came and went and soon it was October and staying with him meant being more than a fling and I wasn’t sure that that’s what I wanted, so I broke up with him. But on the bus to his place after I missed my flight home, I realized that not being together was a bad idea and that I’d made a mistake walking away from him.
I told him so as soon as I saw him, and, luckily, he welcomed me back with open arms. That night we wandered the streets of Manhattan and I felt like the luckiest girl around. I wasn’t going to take what we had for granted anymore. How long had I been looking for exactly what was right in front of me?
In past relationships, I’d had a nagging feeling in my gut that I was with the wrong guy. With Drew, I didn’t have that. It took me a few months, but finally I realized that THAT’s how I knew he was right for me. It wasn’t a “just knowing” he was the one that hit me over the head and knocked the breath out of me or anything dramatic like that; it was simply the absence of knowing he wasn’t. It was subtle and I almost didn’t notice it.
So, my advice for anyone trying to figure out if the person you’re with is the right long-term match for you is to check in with your gut. Is there a nagging feeling that things are off? If so, are those things that can be fixed without changing who either of you is? Are there circumstances muddying up your perspective that you have the power and willingness to change? If so, change them and then see how you feel. If things are still off, then maybe you aren’t meant to be. Or maybe you simply aren’t ready to decide your future yet, which is fine, too (unless one of you is in a rush, in which case, this may be an issue of your timing being off and there’s probably another “one” for you down the road when timing, dumb luck, and open mindedness are lined up better).
If you check in with your gut and there’s NO nagging feeling that things are off, then congratulations; there’s a good chance you’ve found a match.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.