I called off my wedding 18 years ago this June. It was canceled quickly and quietly, long before any invitations were mailed, with no hysterical scene at the church and no frantic telephone calls to 300 guests. While last-minute drama might have made for a more entertaining story, canceling a caterer, a church and a reception hall five months before the big event was dramatic — and traumatic — enough for me.
In the aftermath of this very public and embarrassing breakup, I spent months — years even — figuring out why I almost married the wrong guy. I had to look in the mirror and admit what I had known deep down all along: He was wrong for me. I also had to admit that I didn’t have a clue about how to find the right guy or even who the right guy was for me. So how could I find him if I didn’t know what I wanted in the first place?
I was fortunate. I eventually figured it out and found the right guy; an old friend, who had been in my life long before my near-miss at the altar. Now, with three kids and almost 17 (happy!) years of marriage, I’m sharing my story. And after hearing hundreds of women tell me about their own misguided marriages and close-calls with Mr. Wrong, I realize this happens all the time.
Women remain “stuck” in relationships with the wrong guy for the wrong reasons. Why? Because if they don’t know what they want, they can’t tell the difference between Mr. Right and Mr. Wrong. Sure, we all joke about that “list” of must-have qualities: great looks, intelligence, sex appeal, etc. But do the qualities we seek add up to the right guy — and in turn, the right relationship?
Unfortunately, the answer is often no. So how do you recognize the right guy? The first step is to articulate what you want and need. That list is different for everyone. But the second list is universal. And that’s a clear understanding of the qualities of a healthy relationship. As we researched our book, my co-author Jennifer Gauvain and I talked to hundreds of women and we’ve observed five universal signs you’re dating the right guy:
1. You bring out the best in each other, not the worst. You encourage each other to grow personally, professionally and emotionally, recognizing that change is positive and healthy.
2. You trust each other and can count on one another to do the right thing. There’s no jealousy or second-guessing in the relationship.
3. You have fun together. Playfulness adds spice, and laughter is an aphrodisiac.
4. You share common core beliefs and values. Connecting on an emotional and spiritual level can be just as powerful as a physical connection.
5. You communicate with each other out of care and concern instead of judgment and criticism. Think about it this way: What’s your tone of voice like when you’re critical and judgmental? It’s hard to have a harsh tone when you speak out of care and concern.
Do you have these qualities in your current relationship? If not, it’s time to pay attention to your gut feelings. Deep down, you know whether or not he’s right — or wrong — for you.
Keep in mind that loneliness, lust and butterflies can cloud even the smartest woman’s judgment. But a solid understanding of what a healthy relationship with Mr. Right feels like will help you clear your head so that you’ll say “so long” to Mr. Wrong — and recognize the right guy when he comes along.
Anne Milford is the co-author of How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy: Is He the One or Should You Run? (Broadway Books, May 2010). Milford writes and speaks extensively on the subject of dating and relationships. Jennifer Gauvain is a marriage and family therapist with clients around the country. For more information visit their website at coldfeetpress.com.