Is there a way to know when you’ve met the right person?
I’m 23 and have been with my girlfriend for five years, since our first week of college, and she recently proposed to me. I’m really excited, but am also scared to say yes. She’s the only woman I’ve ever dated or really had sex with. I’m afraid that if I get married to her, I’ll always wonder what it would be like to be with someone else, and if I might have an even better relationship with someone else.
We really love each other, have a lot to talk about, enjoy the same things and have really good sex. Still, it seems kind of crazy to marry the first gal I’ve been with.
There are so many possibilities out there. Sometimes I meet a really cool woman through my work or socially and wonder what it would be like to be with her. But because I met Beth before anyone else, I am with Beth.
How can I know if she’s the best possible partner for me? And if I am not sure of that, how can I marry her?
Rather than looking for the best possible partner, how about picking a person who is imperfectly wonderful?
Relationships are complicated and never perfect. The same is true for our spouses. The person with many great qualities is bound to have some not-so-great qualities as well, most likely noticed after you have been with her long enough. And keep in mind that your wife will have the same experience of you.
Instead of trying to find a relationship that will give you the loveliest ride possible through life, think of a relationship as an adventure that is going to give you ongoing opportunities to become a stronger and therefore more interesting person. When you’re picking the person to take this journey with, your ideal candidate is not a flawless person or someone with whom you mesh perfectly. There actually is no such person, of course; and part of the fun, heartache, and growth that relationships offer is figuring out how to live with someone who is different from you in important ways, sometimes irritatingly so. While we all hope that our relationship will give us many wonderful times, relationships are also great laboratories for learning how to deal with adversity and disappointment.
I’m certainly not saying you should pick someone who will make you miserable. I’m saying it’s unavoidable that anyone you pick will seem like a less-than-ideal match at times. Part of what will actually make her a good match is that being married to her will give you the opportunity to figure out how to have a great marriage with a person who isn’t a perfect fit (as no one is).
If reading this makes marriage sound difficult, keep in mind that struggling to live with an imperfect partner is unavoidable if you choose to be in a long-term relationship. The good news: Doing so, over the course of your lifetime, will help you grow into a strong, resilient adult.
Back to the idea of picking a wonderful — though not perfect — partner: If you want to have a shot at a happy marriage, I suggest that in addition to physical attraction, you look for shared values, some shared interests and a shared vision of the future. You want a fair amount of agreement in these areas, because it’s important that the two of you are seeking to go in the same overall direction as you move forward in life. Rest assured that even if you are a great match in all of these realms, you will inevitably run into some major differences, going forward, that will challenge you to figure out how to stay married to each other. And, keep in mind that major differences need not stand in the way of your being happily married.
You may or may not decide to be with Beth. From what you describe, the two of you certainly have a lot going for your relationship. If you do look for someone else, you may find that she is even more wonderful than Beth is, in some ways.
But then again, you cannot have a guarantee that she will be as wonderful as Beth is, in other ways.
Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.