We’re in the midst of wedding season, which means everyone on your Instagram feed is getting hitched in overt fashion — ceremony hashtag included. Since I can be a relationship masochist — especially when I’m feeling particularly raw about my solo status — I sometimes find myself scrolling through these hashtags, looking at the photos tagged with them, and reading the sentiments in the captions. And regardless of the couple, there is a line that I see all the time, and it makes my eyes roll with such force that Liz Lemon would be proud. One half of the partnership will always declare, “I knew from the second we met that I was going to marry you.”
Sorry, guys, but I’m going to say that’s fake.
The idea of “knowing” is actually something that so many of us are taught from an early age. Romance novels and chick flicks have embedded the idea into our minds that once we find the person we’re meant to love forever and ever, we’ll be struck by some divine awareness. Some see it as a sweet, harmless platitude couples share about the beginning dates of their courtship. Those people are much less dramatic than I am.
Since I can’t have nice things, I used to take this statement as less of an idea and more as an inevitability. When I started dating, I looked for “the thunderbolt.” I’d sit on first dates with a man and scan myself, looking for clues of the “knowing” I was supposed to feel. Were those butterflies I was feeling? We both loved emo music from the early aughts — that had to mean something, right? From a logical standpoint, I’ve yet to get married, so I haven’t actually known yet — right?
Well, that’s not exactly correct. When I was 24, while swiping around on Bumble, I matched with Caleb* — one of the many graphic designers I’d come to match with on the app. (Seriously. Bumble is like a holding cell for guys in Manhattan and Brooklyn who are proficient in Adobe Creative Suite.) Caleb seemed to be everything I was looking for. He had a great job that was also creative. He played guitar. He loved his family. He had a half-sleeve tattoo and loved taking weekend trips to the Hudson Valley. By the time he asked me to meet him for a drink in the East Village, I’d already imagined the Instagram photos we’d take on Bear Mountain and the decanters full of whiskey that would line the bar cart in our loft.
Our first date was a total hit. We bonded over our deep love for the show Portlandia and shared our dreams of having cozy cabins upstate to escape to on the weekends. I had yet to travel to Paris, which at the time was a dream of mine, and he gave me suggestions of cafés to visit when I finally made it there. After a few whiskies, we stumbled into a karaoke bar and traded off singing Meat Loaf songs. And when he kissed me, I knew. I was certain that this was the guy for me. Finally, after years of being told that I’d know, I did! We parted ways with plans to meet again very soon. In the cab, I texted my mother: “I think I just met my husband.”
In the morning, I woke up with a hangover and no texts from Caleb. I sent him a message thanking him for the fun night, and he responded saying he’d had a great time, too. I told him to let me know if he was free later in the week for round two, and he told me he would. As you can probably guess, I never heard from Caleb again.
I was devastated. For days, I freaked out about the fact that he wasn’t texting me. I asked my friends why they thought he’d disappeared after what I considered a fantastic date. I took to Google, looking for answers, and then decided I was just going to die alone. I made myself sick over the loss of this person. I was convinced that Caleb was the guy — the one that everyone had told me I would recognized when he showed up. I was legitimately sad, which was a feeling I’d never felt in any of my “real” breakups. (I’m actually the worst kind of ex and get extremely “woman scorned” post-breakup, but that’s a story for another column.)
A couple of years later, in therapy, I mentioned Caleb when my therapist and I were discussing this idea of “knowing.” I told her how betrayed I’d felt when he didn’t call, even though we never actually broke up — or, you know, dated — and how confused it had left me over the idea of just knowing. I loved my therapist for her candor, and she flat out told me that the idea of knowing is total bullshit. She equated it to everything else in life that we can’t possibly know — if we’re going to get a job, when we’re going to die, or when the next subway is actually coming. You can have a feeling. You can’t know.
She also pointed out that I wasn’t upset over Caleb. I was upset over the idea of him that I’d built up in my mind — a very common thing that happens in online dating. But I shouldn’t write off the experience as wholly negative. By creating an idealized version of Caleb in my mind, I’d unintentionally pointed out some qualities I found very important and attractive in another person. “You’ve hammered out your list,” she said. And while she reminded me that my list should be flexible, my therapist did say it was an important tool to have.
So I’ve given up on the idea that you automatically “know” the second you meet the right person. People still tell me that I’m being cynical, and that I’ll have the divine realization once I meet the right person. And hey, anything can happen. But I barely know what I’m going to eat for dinner tonight. That’s probably a more manageable place to start.
After being raised on a steady diet of Disney movies, I expected to meet someone and fall passionately in love — but wound up collapsing under the pressures of modern dating. Luckily, I eventually realized that there's no "right" way to date, and that I need to find happiness within myself, no partner needed. It’s Not You is where I write to calm the voices in my head — and hear from all of you. Follow me on Twitter, on Instagram, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.