I once met a couple whose relationship began with a false start. The pair, let’s call them Kate and Jake, went on a first date. Jake said he’d be in touch, and then proceeded to be silent for two weeks. When he finally did reach out, an irritated Kate said, “Let’s just end this before it starts.”
A few years later, they bumped into each other on the street and decided to give it another shot. Now they’re married.
Kate and Jake’s story begs an interesting question: Was Kate wrong to end things the first go-around?
Since I’ve started writing about dating and relationships, I’ve noticed that I’ve received many variations on the same question: How do I know? How do I know she likes me? How do I know he’s the one? How do I know I won’t get hurt?
Of course, the answer is: You don’t.
Kate thought she “knew” that Jake wasn’t husband material because he blew her off—a pretty reasonable assumption. But obviously, she was missing something.
Or maybe she wasn’t. Maybe they both needed time. Maybe the firm stance she took years earlier made Jake realize how stupid he’d been to treat Kate so carelessly. Maybe it was exactly the motivation he needed to step up and be a real husband. On the other hand, maybe if she’d given him another chance back then, they could have bypassed a couple years of loneliness and searching.
It’s understandable that people ask the “how do I know?” question. A good relationship involves a substantial investment and risk up front. For a time anyway, you give this new person your heart, your soul, your Saturday nights. You entrust him or her with your dignity. As much as you can try to “stay in the moment,” as the yoga teachers say, it’s tough. When things are going well, it can be hard not to occasionally fantasize about what your kids would look like. When things are tense, it’s hard not to worry about why it’s 11 p.m. and she’s hasn’t returned your text.
And as much as people like to think of dating as lighthearted and carefree, actually the stakes are pretty high. Hitch yourself to the wrong person and you could be setting yourself up for a lot of pain, heartbreak, and legal fees. Not to mention the opportunity costs—all that time spent in an unworkable relationship is time you’re not meeting a better match.
But I think the main reason we stress about knowing is that we don’t want to feel like an idiot. Is there anything worse than being asked about Mr. or Ms. Wonderful and confessing that you’re taking a little break?
But there’s nothing wrong with being an idiot sometimes—being an idiot is actually part of the dating process. It happens to everyone, except possibly that friend who married her high school boyfriend, and probably even to her too.
There is no book or expert or program that can tell you whether or not things will work out. In fact, I think some “expert” advice can actually work against you. All those “rules” about what it means when he does X or she does Y—as if all men and women have the same brain—will only cloud your judgment and alienate you from your instincts.
So the next time you’re tempted to ask an outside party if your new relationship is going to work out, ask yourself that question instead. Do you think it’s going to work out? Your answer may not be correct, but it will probably be a lot closer to the truth than anyone else’s.
Do you have a question for Sara? Go to saraeckel.com/contact and ask.