How do I know if they’re right for me?

“I just knew she was the one for me.” “I knew the first time we met that we’d get married.” “It was love at first sight.” It must be wonderful to feel so certain about one of life’s biggest decisions. But what if you never feel sure? What if no potential partner feels entirely right?

It used to drive me crazy when I heard people say that they just knew they were meant to be with their partner, husband or wife. In fact, it left me feeling hopeless at times because my experience was the opposite.

I’d be attracted to a man, but I’d soon find a long list of reasons why he wasn’t right for me. When in relationships, I’d spend half the time feeling happy and the other half feeling uncertain – until I eventually ended it, thinking it couldn’t possibly be right if I had so many doubts.

I kept searching for that guy about whom I’d feel absolutely sure. I looked everywhere, but I searched in vain. Eventually, I began to look for my answers within.

I got to know myself better. I became more aware of my childhood experiences and how they had set me up to question, wobble, waver and doubt myself. I saw that I found most decisions excruciating and that I was terrified of making a choice in case I got it wrong. I saw that I found fault with all men because I was scared to commit in case I got hurt (as I had as a child when my darling dad moved out).

Ultimately, I learned that it was futile to compare myself to other people’s experiences of forming a relationship and falling in love. My process was different. And by expecting to just know that a man was for me, I was setting myself up to fail.

Armed with my newfound self-awareness, I approached dating and relationships differently. When I committed to my now fiancé, I did so in a way that worked for me. I outwitted my ambivalence and fear by telling myself I would commit to him wholeheartedly for six months – and then I could re-evaluate. I asked a friend for support and every time I questioned, doubted, looked elsewhere or wanted to get out of the relationship, she would remind me of my six-month commitment.

Six months turned into a year and our love grew. After a while, my partner proposed. Was I certain then? Was I sure? I answered ‘Yes’ in the moment, with tears of joy streaming down my face, but a few days later, doubt and fear kicked in and those old questions reared their ugly head. What if he wasn’t right for me? What if there was someone else?

Fortunately, by this point, I was aware of my process. I knew that ambivalence was part of my DNA. I knew that I was afraid. I knew that my sub-conscious used indecision to keep me out of an intimate relationship to try to avoid pain.

I also knew that I just needed to ride out the period of questioning and use all my tools – prayer, meditation, writing, beach walks, phone calls to friends – to support me and to stop me from doing anything rash. The uncertainty passed, and now, as we plan for our wedding next year, I am sure, wonderfully sure, and finally at peace.

But it has taken a while.

Despite years of personal development and despite my faith, peace doesn’t come easily to me. I am not a decisive person. I rarely feel certain. But I no longer allow my indecision and ambivalence to keep me stuck. I no longer hide from life. I make a choice, understanding there will be periods of doubt and knowing that choices come with risks.

I am not suggesting in this post that you override that intuitive voice that tells you to end an unhealthy relationship or that you ignore any red flags about a man or a woman you are dating. I have done both those things, with painful consequences.

However, I am advocating that you get to know yourself as best as you can and that you refrain from comparing your experience with other people’s. How do you roll? What is your process? Are you someone who feels sure or someone who frequently doubts? Do you expect that you should just know – feel absolutely certain about a man or woman – and are those expectations unrealistic? Are they keeping you single?

When faced with a decision about a partner, seek wise counsel. Spend time in prayer or silent contemplation. Ask the friends who know you best. Do what you can to find some peace about your decision.

But if peace doesn’t come easily to you in other areas of your life and if you have deep fears about being in a relationship because of past hurts, don’t expect to feel peaceful about getting close to a man or a woman. Instead, unless there are big red flags, give it a shot. Experiment. Move forwards. Maybe give yourself a timescale as I did – long enough to allow love to grow if your relationship is meant to be.

Life and love involve risk, but hiding from life is much more costly. So get all the support you need and then go for it.

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