“How Will I Know When I’ve Found ‘The One’?”

I’m 26 and have been with my 34-year-old boyfriend for almost two years now. We have been living together for almost a year. Lately, I have been struggling with us. There’s nothing wrong with him; he hasn’t cheated on me or done me wrong in any other way. He’s really sweet, but I do not believe I see a future with him.

We are coming to the end of our lease and have talked a little about re-signing it, but if I do re-sign, I am here for another year unsure about my feelings. If I stay, I could start to love him again—-maybe by putting more effort into the relationship. But I could also be wasting our time in the process when there could be someone else out there for each of us just waiting.

I have talked with my boyfriend briefly about my feelings. I have told him that I don’t want to get married, that I don’t want kids, and that I am afraid of our possibly breaking up, but I have not told him that I may have fallen out of love with him. How do you tell a person that who thinks you are so incredibly wonderful? He tells me daily how much he loves me and how his love for me will never change—and how he wants babies with me and to get a house together. I feel all awkward and try to change the subject when such conversations arise.

I did come from a roller coaster ride of a relationship only two months before dating this new guy. My old boyfriend was a manipulative and emotionally abusive bully who made me feel that no one out there could love me or would. I feel like I have convinced myself that I am incapable of love and that I may have never felt it before. Plus, how does a person know when they meet the one they are to marry and/or spend forever with? All I ever hear is “you’ll know.” Well, how? How will I know? How does it feel? How is it different? What if I never find it?

What are your thoughts? — How Will I Know?

Well, I think you know your boyfriend isn’t right for you. Not only are you unsure about your feelings for him after two years together, but also you want different things in life. You don’t want to have kids and he does. That would be a dealbreaker even if you were madly in love with him. How do you negotiate such a difference? You don’t. When one of you wants kids and the other doesn’t, you wish each other well and go your separate ways so you can both be available to partners who DO share your goals. The good news here is that that makes it easy – well, easier – to walk away from this relationship and you have a built-in excuse that might help spare your boyfriend’s feelings. You tell him that you don’t want what he wants and it’s time to break up. If he tries to convince you that there’s room to negotiate or that you’ll change your mind in time, you hold fast. If he continues pushing you, you tell him that not only do you not want what he wants, but also you’ve realized that your feelings for him have changed and, though you still care about him, you do not love him the way a woman should love a potential husband and that there is no chance for a future together for you. None of this will be easy. That doesn’t mean it isn’t the right choice. Breaking someone’s heart is never fun. That doesn’t mean honoring your own feelings and goals isn’t the right choice.

I’m concerned that you feel incapable of love. It’s one thing to have never felt romantic love before — which, at 26, isn’t as uncommon as you might imagine, but to think you aren’t capable of feeling it or, even worse, that you don’t deserve love, is something else completely, and I urge you to seek therapy to work through this. You absolutely ARE capable and deserving of loving and being loved, but you have to love yourself first before you will recognize love for and from someone else. Again, therapy can help with this. When you begin to feel deserving of love, and when you begin to love yourself, you will start attracting similar love from others.

You ask how a person knows when they’ve met the one they are to marry, which I think is the wrong question to ask. People don’t know upon meeting someone that they’re going to marry him or her. Sure, in romantic re-tellings of cute-meet stories, you might hear someone say, “I knew when we met: we were destined for each other,” or “I told my best friend then and there that she was the woman I was going to marry one day,” but they don’t really know that. They very likely did feel an instant connection and even lust or a warm feeling that, in retrospect, is easy to label as love. But romantic love builds over time – it’s fostered by time spent together and sharing vulnerabilities with one another. You’ll know you’ve found a good long-term match — a potential spouse, even — when the love between you continues to grow instead of petering out. The “knowing” that you seek is as much about an absence of certain feelings as it is about a presence of others. The “knowing” is the lack of not knowing. It’s the lack of uncertainty. It’s feeling excited about the prospect of building a future with someone as opposed to feeling scared and claustrophobic by such a notion.

You do ask a fair question: What happens if you never find it? First, I think you will. Most people do, eventually, find the kind of love they seek if they’re open to it and they’ve done the work to make themselves emotionally available to it. But what if you aren’t among these people? What if you never make yourself emotionally available to the love connection you seek? What if you don’t recognize it before it leaves? What if it never really finds you? Or, what if you find it and you lose it? What happens then? You grieve, you pick up the pieces, and you move on. You build a life for yourself full of different kind of love: self-love, platonic love, animal love, community love, familial love. You spend time with people who lift you up. You spend time doing things that sustain your physical, emotional, and financial well-being.

Romantic love is a wonderful thing that you are capable and deserving of and that I believe you will find, but it certainly isn’t the only path to personal fulfillment and happiness. You can have a rich, full life without it. What will you do if you don’t find “the one”? You’ll live your life with the possibility of anything happening always within your reach.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.


  1. Wendy, this is a beautiful and thoughtful answer!

  2. I agree that you should break up with this guy. They honeymoon period typically ends around month 18, and that is when all the initial lust hormones tend to wear off. You’re then left with the reality of the person you’re with. It doesn’t appear that the reality is what you want, and Wendy is right, the kids thing really is the deciding factor.

    Now here’s the but… This guy might actually be the one for you, but your head is not on straight enough to know it. You jumped straight from a roller coaster relationship into this one. When I was younger, I thought love had to be dramatic and exciting, and if that was missing from a relationship, it was boring and dispassionate. It took growing up a little and realizing that was NOT was love was. It’s very possible that what you have right now is actually a great thing, but you’re judging it on the yardstick of the roller coaster you were previously on. It seems to me that you need some time alone with possibly some therapy (who doesn’t need it?) to go into the next relationship with a better mindset of what you really want.

    1. anonymousse says:

      I think your second paragraph is really unfair. “Your head is not on straight enough to know it.”

      He is not the one for her if they want completely different things in life.

  3. anonymousse says:

    You are not with the right guy. He can be perfect in all the ways you think you want, and still not be right for you. But he’s not, because you want totally different things. Don’t sign the lease.

    Read this:

    I think often women think we should just be satisfied when we’re with a good person, like that is the ultimate goal- but it doesn’t have to be. Your not being too picky or asking for too much.
    You owe it to yourself to do what you feel deep down is the right choice.

    I used to hate to hear “you’ll know the difference.” I’d roll my eyes at all of the cliches. But it is different and somewhat unexplainable until you get there.

    I would like to suggest seeing a therapist to work through your previously abusive relationship.

    Take care of yourself. Don’t worry about finding the “one” or even dating right now. Focus on yourself, reflect on your relationships and spend time with people you care about. You have plenty of time to find love.

    1. Allornone says:

      It’s true about it just feeling different. I know how stupidly cliched it is, and I hate saying it, but it’s true. I had an awful habit of pretty much chasing away any decent guy who liked me (creeps, however, that’s another story). I knew I was doing it, and figured I’d end up alone because of it. But I just couldn’t stop. No matter awesome these guys were, I just couldn’t be with them. Not helping was the fact I’m an introverted nutjob who finds extended social interaction with anybody, even loved ones, exhausting. But it wasn’t like that with PoA*. I don’t want to say I ever knew he was “the one.” I still don’t. Who does? I just knew/know I wanted to be where he was. I wanted to be in his life. Yeah, there was the whole honeymoon-passion-butterflies phase early on, and that does fade a bit. But after nearly six years, I still want to be where he is. It’s easy being with him. And it gets easier every day. He doesn’t tire me out like literally everybody else I know. In fact, he fuels me. We have disagreements, we piss each other off now and then, but at the end of the day, there’s peace and joy and contentment. I know. I don’t know what I know, but I know something.

      1. Allornone says:


        *PoA- Partner of Allornone

      2. My first read was that you were calling your partner “Piece of A*s”

  4. I like what Wendy said about “I knew as soon as we met.” nonsense. What isn’t included in those lovely retellings are all the times they felt the same way about someone else but it didn’t work out.

    LW – do yourself a solid and breakup. I’m sure he’s a lovely person, but “isn’t a dick” isn’t the best reason to marry. You don’t see a future with this guy, and that’s OK and it doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or he’s a bad person.

  5. katmich15 says:

    You know, you had just gotten out of an abusive relationship and then met a guy who is the complete opposite, who shows you the love, respect, and kindness that your POS ex never did. That’s exactly what you needed at the time, but it doesn’t mean he is the one for you. The fact that he is a good person and loves you isn’t enough, and it’s clear to me from your letter that you don’t feel about him the way you will when you meet someone who is right for you. I didn’t say “the one” because there isn’t just one. But he isn’t one of them and I think deep down you know that but maybe you feel that since he loves you so much maybe you should stay because you may not ever find anyone else who will? Because your abusive ex put that idea into your head? Well it is NOT true. That’s what abusers do, they try to make the other person feel worthless and unlovable so they will stay with them. Congratulations by the way for leaving him, good for you! You are obviously a strong person and it will take strength to leave this relationship as well but that’s what you should do in my opinion. Even without the extremely important fact that you don’t want to get married or have children and he does.

    Wendy gave great advice, that is how you will feel when you meet someone who is right for you. And what Allornone said is so true as well, you will find that you want to be with them, to be wherever they are, I still feel that with my husband. But I didn’t know what I was looking for either when I met him, I just hadn’t felt that way about anyone before. And if you are still feeling unworthy of love, please see a therapist to work through that, the damage abusive people do can be hard to undo on your own. I have a feeling once you leave your boyfriend it won’t be long before you know the answers to the questions you are asking. 🙂

  6. I don’t know when one has “found the one” but I know that this isn’t a close question.

    “Lately, I have been struggling with us. There’s nothing wrong with him, he hasn’t cheated on me or done me wrong in any other way. He’s really sweet, but I do not believe I see a future with him”

    If you’re with a potential life partner, your first sentence isn’t “there’s nothing wrong with him, he hasn’t cheated.” You first sentence is a bunch of stuff you like about him.

  7. He’s not the one. You have to go with your feelings. This will help.

  8. allathian says:

    Listen to your gut. He’s not the one. Just the fact that he wants kids and you don’t should be a dealbreaker, even if you’re head over heels in love. Since you aren’t, breaking up should be easier.

    It’s better to be single than in an unsatisfactory relationship. I recommend some time to yourself to learn what you really want out of life and relationships.

    20 years ago I was like you, wondering if I’d ever meet “the one” and find a true partner. When I met my husband 15 years ago, I had been single for most of my adult life and the relationships I’d had were less than ideal. Not abusive, but I liked having a boyfriend more than I liked the guys in question, which wasn’t really fair to any of us. But when I met my husband, by our second or third date I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. Like any couple, we’ve had our differences, but he’s my partner, confidante, and soulmate. I wish you luck in finding yours.

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