by Curt Degenhart
What's a reliable way to know if someone's right for you? There isn't one.
How do you know for sure if you're ready to settle down? Who knows?
Believe me, I've been trying to figure out these issues for myself for some time now, and it is difficult.
Who hasn't had a nagging feeling like, "Is this the one for me?" Maybe you've got a great relationship going until you finally get down to the decision to move in together. Then you get weak-kneed, anxious, and stressed.
Or what about marriage: "Oh my god! Marriage! Is that where we're headed?"
Here's a question from a reader that really addresses the sticky situation of trying to decide whether a lover is the right one:
Mensch_Wench writes: "I'm supposed to be engaged. I'm living with the guy and we'll get married. We're both 50 so I guess it's just routine, but, as I keep telling him, I don't marry every guy I date, so this is a big deal for me. I can't tell if I'm suffering from settling-down fever and I'm not used to it or if he really isn't it. I want something to happen soon. When I ask, he says, "Of course..." It's obvious to him that we're it, together, forever, etc. So why am I writing this note?"
Move up the Commitment Ladder
OK, Mensch_Wench, here's the deal. It isn't clear to you that you and your fiancé are "it, together, forever." That doesn't mean that he's not the one for you. It just means that it isn't obvious to you. Let me just say here that this uncertainty in the face of increasing levels of commitment is common. In fact, your future husband might at this very moment be wondering, "Is she the one for me? What horrible feelings! I can't let her know my doubt!"
For many of us, each step up the commitment ladder is tough--whether it is marriage, deciding to move in together, or even deciding to date just one person. As you point out, you don't marry every guy you date and that this is a "big deal" for you. And it should be. Even at age 50, marriage is never "just routine."
Sometimes the Most Wonderful Things Aren't Initially Clear to Us
So how do you decide which it really is: "settling down fever" or wondering whether "he really isn't it?" Is this just a crush gone bad? Let's look first at 'settling down fever.' If you have some last minute jitters, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't get married. You need to examine what that "fever" is all about. You may already be in a great relationship, but for some reason you can't quite feel its benefits. Sometimes the most wonderful things aren't at first clear to us. We live through rough patches with lovers, jobs, crushes and friendships that have ended, but only later discover just how positive their effects have been on our lives. Maybe as you make the move to get married, you see only the bad, little of the good. You might think that commitment means a loss of 'freedom' or 'passion' or 'spontaneity' or of love itself. So you might have a good thing with your fiancé that your "settling down fever" obscures.
On the other hand, maybe "he really isn't it." What would it be like if he really weren't the one? Of course, only you can know this, but here are some starter thoughts. Would you feel sad? Angry? Hateful? Or could you feel that way even if you were madly in love? (My bet is that we can all feel such strong negative emotions about our partners.) Are you worried that the love will dry up? Why did you get engaged in the first place? Maybe you believe you have 'too many' issues to work out between you? There's no fun there? No passion? You might be downright wrong for each other. Are you dragging out a process that you should have ended long ago just because you're scared to end it?
The Consequences of Upping the Ante on Love
How is it possible to know beforehand what sort of relationship you've got? It doesn't really matter until you realize that when you up the ante in love, you up both the positive and negative consequences. Any change in you and your partner's level of commitment can lead you to feel more of the greatest love and warmth you've ever experienced in your life. And subsequently you increase the chance that you'll endure the most profound rejection and pain you've ever imagined.
Here are just a few of the emotions you might feel when you go from dating many to dating one; from seeing each other five nights a week to living together; from being a couple to getting engaged; and from engagement to marriage and beyond:
Joy. Panic. Contentment. Sadness. Glee! Boredom. Relief. Indifference. Anger! Satisfaction. Terror. Peace. Anxiety. Dread. Fulfillment. Repression...you get the idea.
Talk to Your Partner
Notice that these feelings can't all be just wrapped up in a tidy little package. They're messy, complicated. Worse, you experience them all at the same time. Here's my advice: If you're fairly secure in your relationship, perhaps you could sit down and talk with your partner in the same honest way you've written me. Mensch_Wench, you're making a great leap--acknowledge it. Then, if you can trust your partner with some heavy stuff, let him know that you might be suffering from "settling down fever"
Honesty is important in any long term relationship, so why not let your future spouse know that you've wondered whether "he really isn't it." Who knows, maybe he'll tell you that he, too, was worried just like you are, but that he got over it. Maybe he'll even tell you how he resolved his concerns and you'll feel greatly relieved--like it was just "settling down fever" all along. Or maybe you'll find out that he doesn't really want to be married, but couldn't bring himself to tell you.
Either way, as you up the ante on your relationship, it is time to talk. Maybe what you find out can help you get clear on the next step to take, whether it's up another level, or down the back stairs and out the door.