After my third date with a guy I met by swiping right, I had one question burned into my brain before I agreed to a fourth. Was he the one? Now, before you call me a total stalker, hear me out. In New York City, third dates were rare. I'm talking blood all over the plate of your date's steak rare. Because so many of my first dates in the city had gone horribly wrong, I learned quickly not to waste time on bad seeds. To recap: There was the guy who texted me he was horny on the way to the date, the guy who kissed like he was a sloppy high schooler fumbling for my mouth, and of course, the guy who once detailed a 20-minute story to me explaining how he once made a girl cry in college. Needless to say, I didn't feel like going on another date with this current guy unless I knew it was going somewhere, and shockingly, he hadn't done anything wrong yet. I was actually starting to like him. So now I needed to know: Was he the one?
The idea of "the one" is one of the first things you hear about in the telling of anyone's love story. You're always hearing someone say, "I knew I was going to marry him on our first date," or "I knew she was 'the one' the second I saw her." Entire movies are built around the premise of finding "the one," not to mention all the movies about breaking up because the character realized he just wasn't the one. According to a 2017 poll by Monmouth University, a whopping two-thirds of Americans believe in the idea of a "soulmate," or that there's only one person out there who's made for them. That number was even higher for women who were currently in relationships, with 82 percent of women in relationships saying they believed in the idea of a soulmate.
OK, so clearly I wasn't the only one who was looking for this unicorn in the dirt and concrete pit that is New York City. (Don't get me wrong; it's my dirt and concrete pit and I love it.) I needed advice, so naturally, I turned to one of my fellow 20-something friends, because we very obviously know what we're doing at all times.
I only have one friend who's married (welcome to city life in 2018!), so I messaged her to see if she could provide some insight. She got married this past September, and I've watched her love story grow from its beginning. If anyone would know about soulmates, it would be her. I quickly explained I had been on a few dates with this guy I was really starting to like, and asked point blank, if she knew her husband was "the one" when they first started dating.
Her response totally stunned me. She said, "Well, I don't know about 'the one,' but I guess I could tell that he probably wouldn't be a fling. I assumed we'd at least date seriously." Um what?! I'm sad to report that my first thought was, "Wow my friend who just got married and committed her life to one person definitely chose the wrong person." How could she really be in love if she didn't know he was the one from the first interaction?!?!
Clearly she wasn't helping me, and thankfully I'm in therapy (at a very discounted rate, mind you. It's possible to find someone who is flex!), so I figured I'd bring the question in with me to my next session. I told my therapist all about my first few dates, how shocked I was that they were going well, and how I felt totally lost and sure that something was wrong with me (or him!) because even after three whole dates, I still didn't know if he was "the one." I just didn't have that feeling everyone said I should have that I had just met my husband.
I just didn't have that feeling everyone said I should have that I had just met my husband.
My therapist looked up at me from her chair, and simply asked, "Why do you need to know?" I filled her in on countless movies and TV shows and general notions I've stockpiled in my brain about finding my soulmate. Here was a very sound list of evidence that proved I simply must not have found my soulmate if I didn't see red heart alarms going off in his eyes every time I kissed him goodnight. Then she said something totally wild. "What if you rejected the idea of 'the one' as an act of self-care?"
Self-care? But I was having so much fun beating myself up about this. This concept totally freaked me out, and immediately, I thought back to my married friend who didn't use the exact phrasing of "the one," either. Of course her marriage wasn't a sham just because she didn't know at first glance she was going to marry her future husband. Suddenly, every worry I had seemed to be a little erratic. At the very least, I knew it wasn't helping me; I had gone from being excited about a new guy to totally dreading having to agree to a fourth date, even though I liked him. That, my friends, is self-sabotage at its finest.
I wasn't exactly cured at all once from this notion of "the one," but I could feel something inside me crack open. I realized my internalized fantasy of love actually came with a lot of barriers, and I was walking around with a heart more like a cinder block than one that was healthy, beating, and open to anything. I decided I wanted to find out more about this concept and if it was really even real at all. Was "the one" just something totally made up for plot lines and movie scripts?
To find out, I spoke with Dr. Wyatt Fisher, a licensed psychologist, marriage counselor, and couples retreat founder. Though Dr. Fisher has never treated me personally, he had some great insight to share with me about the concept of soulmates as a whole.
For one, he's not totally convinced the idea of "the one" is set in stone, either. When asked if "the one is real," he simply answers, "It can be." He continues, "Some couples report feeling early in the relationship how they knew their partner was their soulmate. However, many other happily married couples didn't have this experience but still developed great relationships." OK, so my married friend, my therapist, and Dr. Fisher all were on the same team... I was starting to seem more and more like the one who was wrong.
In fact, Dr. Fisher confirmed point blank that I was headed down the wrong, self-sabotaging path. He says you actually should not know if your partner is "the one" upon first meeting them. "Falling in love and discerning if your new partner is a wise choice for marriage takes time. Don't rush the process in order to make a careful selection."
He's even skeptical about love at first sight. "It's very rare for a couple to have love at first sight. They're most likely referring to attraction at first si because love only happens over time as you become emotionally connected to a person," says Dr. Fisher. So, yeah you can totally feel attracted to someone the first time you see them, and yeah, you can totally notice the chemistry from the first interaction, but that, my friends, is not love.
So how about that self-care bit? You know how they say you need to help yourself before you can help someone else? Well, in my experience, the same is true about love. You have to first be kind to yourself before you can open yourself up to love and be kind to another. And what better time to start practicing kindness toward yourself than when you first enter a new relationship? According to Dr. Fisher, rejecting the idea of "the one" is "an act of self-care because it lowers expectations by taking off the pressure. Instead, focus on just getting to know the person and having fun together. A relationship must go through the test of time, experience highs and lows, and be verified by trusted family and friends to feel confident the person is 'the one.'"
Luckily, I decided to listen to everyone else around me for once, and chilled TF out about dating. I accepted that fourth date and then another and another. He's my boyfriend now, and we're still enjoying those little milestones, like saying I love you for the first time, and going on our first trip together. Once I slowed down and started enjoying what was happening, I realized there are literally no rules when it comes to dating and a new relationship. If it works, it'll work; if it doesn't, it won't. I know it sounds cliché, but take a minute to think about what "true love" looks like in your own fantasy head-space version of it. Even if true love is the thing you want most in the world, it could be hiding in the back of your mind with a lot of unwanted barriers.