How will I know if he really loves me, queries Whitney Houston. I’m asking you, because you know about these things.
This conversation happens all the time, at least to me, and I’m often surprised by the ages of the women who begin it. Shouldn’t you be asking how you know if you really love HIM?
If you have to ask if it’s the right person, it isn’t.
If you’re in the habit of asking other people for advice about your emotions and your personal life, question that. Why would anyone else have better information on what’s right for you than you do?
Whether it is the right person or whether it isn’t, there’s no way the person you’re asking will have the answer. That’s because you’ll be the person in the relationship, not anyone else. Not your mom, not your best friend, not your therapist or your manicurist. It’ll be you.
When you link yourself to someone, you’re getting the whole package, good and bad. You marry his credit report, his kids (whether he knows he has any or not), his medical history, his criminal background, his extended family, his pets, his living situation, his vehicle, his exes, everything. Nobody but you is going to have to deal with all of that.
Of course, if you’re right about the potential of this merry, fine fellow, you can gloat about it for many years to come. Your guy is the most reliable, the funniest, just the most wonderful stand-up man. (Although if he really is so great, I wouldn’t advertise it, lest someone else decide to start playing reindeer games with him). Most people are basically trustworthy, after all. It’s your job, in the early days, to weed out the pretenders, the liars, and the cheaters.
When you bring someone into your life, you’re exposing everyone else you care about to this person. Whether it’s an investor, a tenant, a babysitter, or even a dog walker, if you’re introducing him or her to your friends and family, you should know if they’re okay. Most people are, and a few are not. Your job is to vet them before you vouch for them.
If you introduce A Boyfriend or A Girlfriend, everyone is going to assume that you did your due diligence. They’re going to assume that you trust and approve of this person. They’re going to accept your judgment. What they won’t do is to tell you if they have mixed feelings. You can’t really rely on your friends or acquaintances to say, “Hey, this guy seems shady to me.” They won’t tell you that until after the breakup, if then.
A few stories from Reality Romance:
The girlfriend who stole wallets at a baby shower
The husband who turned out to have an alias and a prison record under his real name
The boyfriend who was a registered sex offender and had a probation officer
The boyfriend who served five years in the penitentiary for armed robbery
These are all people I have personally met. They all looked and acted perfectly ordinary, or maybe a little cuter than most.
Most people fall in love backward. They develop strong feelings for someone, which are then gradually eroded by further information. What a mess this is! It’s so much harder to move forward when you’re chemically and physically entangled with someone who is not suitable for you. Everything becomes so much simpler when you start with the assumption that everyone has secrets and dirty habits, everyone has baggage, and only allow yourself to get attached after you find out what’s in that baggage.
When I met my current husband in 2005, he was fresh out of a contentious divorce. It had only been final a little over a year. Custody arrangements hadn’t been settled in their final form yet. I had been divorced for several years at that point, and I knew the emotional arc of divorce drama. I knew how to be a good friend to someone going through that bitter process. We talked money, we talked parenting, we talked breakups, we talked boundaries. By the time we started thinking about romance in any form, we already knew 90% of each other’s dirt. We went in with our eyes open.
It takes three years to “get the crazy out.” That’s what my husband and I say. Everyone has some kind of “crazy” and that’s normal. You just pick the kind of crazy you can handle. Anyone who seems too perfect, too good to be true, has not yet released the crazy. It will come. Never fear. That crazy IS in there and it WILL come out. Just like everyone knows that new babies cry and new puppies chew your shoes, a new romance comes with a history and a little baggage.
Don’t fall in love with an unknown quantity. Who is this person? What is he like? What does he do? More importantly, what does he do in a crisis? What is his worst habit? What’s he like when he’s angry or in a bad mood? Are you sure you’re seeing the real him? Are you sure he’s seeing the real you, for that matter?
If this is the right person, it will still be the right person five years from now. No rush. If you’re going to be waking up with him every morning, you’re the one living with that choice. Can you trust him with access to your bank accounts? (Don’t do it). Can you even trust him not to finish off the last of the ice cream? (Probably not). Would you adopt a dog with this person? Would he pick you up from the airport or take care of you after surgery? Does he snore? The right person will still have some serious flaws, because we’re all only human, but... do you know what those flaws are?
Marriage to the right person is the best thing ever. Marriage to the wrong person is a nightmare. It’s one of the most important decisions you can ever make, and it can ruin your life like almost nothing else. Falling in love, in that context, should be a solemn and somewhat intimidating, imposing event. What if we saw it as something like sailing across the Atlantic, or landing on the moon? Awe-inspiring, dangerous, life-changing, pretty darn cool, but not for everyone and not something to do on a whim. Don’t trust your feelings until after your rational mind has had a say.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.