One of my favorite things to do is ask married couples how they knew they wanted to get married.

As a result my favorite answer from married couples is when they reach deep into their pockets of wisdom to produce the answer they all seem so collectively proud of. They stand up a little taller, shrug their shoulders back, and get a little twinkle in their eye as offer up their token piece of advice:

“You just know when you know.”

At first I found this to be very sound advice. It was just vague enough to allow for interpretation, yet hopeful and elusive enough to be romantic. Perfect. I would just know when I knew–it would be emotional and magical and there would probably be a spark.

So I tried dating with my emotions.

After a lot of hurt and pain and breakups, I bitterly decided that knowledge, rather than emotions, would help me know when I know. It seemed like a much more reasonable way of discovering one’s life partner.

I ran my boyfriends through an imaginary checklist of ideals I thought would surely steer me in the right direction and keep me safe. Did he have tattoos? Did he drive a nice car?

You know, really solid criteria to help you determine your potential life partner.

But eventually I began to realize I didn’t know much of anything. If I didn’t know how to properly file my taxes or what the hell a co-pay was, how on earth could I know who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with?

Plus, most people look great on paper until you discover what’s below the surface. Just because someone seems great in theory doesn’t mean they’re great in practice. I trusted facts to keep me safe and secure so that my relationships wouldn’t fail. Facts and figures can’t support the weight of love and marriage.

When it came to dating, I suddenly felt as though I couldn’t trust my own judgment.

I abdicated my dating responsibility and turned to the opinion of others to tell me how I would “know”. I combed through relationship books and blogs. I took quizzes and read horoscopes. I forced boyfriends to take personality tests so I could analyze our compatibility. Anyone with a willing ear or who simply happened to get stuck in an elevator with me got to weigh in on my relationships.

I was so scared of getting it wrong and taking a risk that I allowed everyone else to take risks for me. Because it wasn’t my decision or opinion it somehow felt safer just in case the relationship failed. I hid behind everyone’s recommendations rather than taking ownership of my life and deciding for myself.

Governing your life around other’s opinions aka people pleasing is no way to determine relationship compatibility and it’s definitely not how I wanted to spend the rest of my life.

After playing Goldilocks with my dating life I’ve finally settled into a place I’m okay with when it comes to deciding about marriage.

“You know when you know” is really just a fancy way of saying, “I don’t know.”

I think what those married people mean to say is, “We made the best decision we could with the information we had.” Most people, most of the time, are simply just doing the best they can with what they have. Their decision to get married was one built not on quizzes or opinions or emotions but on a firm foundation of trust, love, and respect.

None of us have all the answers. 

The truth is anyone who gets married will end up marrying the wrong person. We can’t foolproof it or safeguard ourselves from the hurt and pain that inevitably come with intimate relationships. We aren’t guaranteed success. But what we can do is start being honest with ourselves and with one another. We can ask good questions and we can contribute to the conversation. We can share our hard-earned wisdom and be a safe space to explore what it looks like to really do life with someone else.

Relationships aren’t formulas to solve or codes to crack. Real relationship requires two people who are willing to show their brokenness and welcome in help as they try to pick up the pieces.