I’d love to know at what point can I know for sure that I’ve found “the one” and should get married. Do you need a total lightning bolt moment of “he’s the one,” or is it enough that everything is there and there’s good potential? I could see the current person I’m dating working out, so we should just get engaged?
If you’re asking this question, there’s only one reason: you’ve watched a romantic comedy at least once. If you’ve never watched a romantic comedy, you wouldn’t be asking me about this.
I’ll tell you why I say that.
Romantic comedies are fictional portrayals of relationships, ostensibly based on a real-life concept of what a relationship should look like, with a bit of exaggeration thrown in to make it interesting. Sounds accurate?
Nope, not accurate. Ha! Gotcha.
I’ve been involved quite a bit in the visual media space – I’ve done voiceover work, documentaries, TV shows, movies, the works. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned about visual media, it’s that most people are not very good on camera. Why? Because most real-world people are not interesting enough to watch for more than a few minutes. Think about you and your life: if someone was watching your day, your work, and your relationship for 30 minutes, an hour, or two hours, would they change the channel?
This isn’t to insult or put anyone down; it’s just a fact. The only people and characters that work to capture an audience’s attention for the length of a TV episode or a feature-length film (which is even longer) are the most extreme and unusual kinds.
So the reality of a romantic comedy is not “our reality” with a little bit of exaggeration; it’s a reality limited to a particular and extreme type of person. A person who is all the way at the end of the bell-curve, in some way or another.
But watching one of those movies makes you think that whatever they’re experiencing as part of their relationship is also what I should be experiencing. Because, after all, where else do we get to peer into the private life of someone’s relationship? You don’t get to see real people’s lives up close unless it’s fiction, and if you watch reality TV dating shows, it’s the same problem. They’re all interesting to watch because they’re extreme characters! The producers look for those kinds of people.
Many expectations of what we’ll experience in a relationship are built on fictional accounts.
So what is a real relationship supposed to feel like?
It all depends on you, and who you are.
If you are very intellectually inclined, then don’t expect yourself to become a different person just because you’re in a good relationship. Yes, you can expect some new feelings, you might go for a little ride on some fun brain chemicals. But if somebody really starts to act not like themselves in a relationship, then a red flag goes up for me. It’s a sign of possible infatuation or immaturity.
If somebody is usually very enthusiastic about things, then if they are in a good relationship, I’ll be expecting a little more fireworks, because they get all worked up about a delicious breakfast. So why not this?
If you feel like yourself, and you also feel comfortable with the idea of committing to this person for the rest of your life, then that says something.
Other essential signs to look for: You’re physically attracted to the person, and it becomes more challenging to be shomer negiah. You find yourself smiling and having a good time on dates. You don’t feel internal resistance to the idea of proposing or accepting a proposal. You’re comfortable together. These are all your lightning bolts.
But if you’re not feeling good, if you have resistance, if you don’t feel like yourself, if you’re being pressured, if you’re really uncertain – find a good mentor who knows what they’re doing (and knows you) to work through your feelings. But don’t come into dating with preconceived notions of what “the one” should feel like based on what it felt like for someone else. Just come with an open mind and heart.
Rabbi Yisroel Bernath