These 9 Nuggets Of Dating Advice Are Everything

By Brittany Taylor

We’ve all spent plenty of time asking friends, family, and even ourselves, "How will we know when we’ve found the one?” Ellen McCarthy, a reporter at The Washington Post, is really the one we should be asking. She spent years covering weddings and relationships for the paper’s On Love column — and has had countless conversations about true love.

When she accepted the wedding-reporter gig in 2009, McCarthy was 30 and recently single. She never suspected that complete strangers would be the ones to show her the ropes when it came to love, commitment, and happily(ish) ever after. Yet after chatting with hundreds of couples and more than a few sexperts, she’s written a book on romance: The Real Thing is loaded with stories and lessons on finding love, all from McCarthy's sweet beat. So, naturally, we asked her to hand over the keys to bliss — whether wedded, bedded, or just-for-now TLC.

1 of 9
We have this idea of, "I have two Ph.D.s and a law degree, so obviously I’m going to marry somebody whose pedigree stands up to that." Or, "I’m of Indian descent, and I have to marry someone else who’s Indian." Or, "I can’t date somebody who’s not into NASCAR." We end up not looking at people as people, but as packages. In reality, none of that stuff matters in the end. Ending up with somebody who is X inches taller than you isn’t going to make a marriage work.
2 of 9
People love to say, "My son-in-law, the doctor..." We fall into these traps of catering to what will make our parents happy or what our sorority sisters or our childhood buddies expected for us; we get boxed in. It’s all just irrelevant and can be damaging. If you’re busy fulfilling other people’s expectations of who you should be with, you might miss out on the real thing.
3 of 9
I think there is a lot of pressure for people to get married — to find the one, settle down, have babies, and get on with it already. It can become a real preoccupation; it certainly was for me. That was what led me to freeze my eggs. I was worried about finding the right person, but more than that, I was worried about making a bad decision because of that pressure. I wanted to push a release valve. I think anything you can do to make your own life as rewarding as it can be in this moment is only going to make you happier, and that's going to make you more attractive to others.

Related: How I Healed From The Terrible Anxiety I Had After A Messy Breakup
4 of 9
People kept saying to me, when they were talking about the early stages of dating the person they ended up with, "I just didn’t have that anxiety I had before. I was never second-guessing, or asking, should I call? or did I do the right thing?" This just kept coming up, interview after interview.

This was something I took seriously, because I had heard it over and over again from couples I’d talked to. I thought it was a sign. And, when I started seeing my husband, I felt like there was a sincerity from which we were both approaching things. I always knew there was going to be a next date.
5 of 9
When I would sit down with couples and ask them why they ended up with their partner, I can’t tell you how often they would hem and haw and dance around the subject. Eventually, they’d say, "I felt comfortable. I felt like myself. It felt natural."

And then, they’d backtrack and say, "I know that sounds horrible and like settling. I don’t mean it to sound so bad, but that’s the truth." Then, they would talk about previous relationships where they had felt challenged, but which had come with a lot of drama.
6 of 9
We don’t live in a society where our whole support system lives on one block anymore. I think that’s part of the reason we’ve come to expect our partner to fulfill all of these roles — best friend, activity partner, co-parent, financial equal. But that's not fair to him or her. We need to learn to use our village more and let our partner be our partner. He or she can fulfill some of those roles, maybe even all of those roles some of the time, but not all of them all of the time.

Related: How To Know If Your Relationship Doubts Are Deal Breakers
7 of 9
Sometimes, we expect that our partner will sit across from us at breakfast every morning and hold a cheerful conversation, when in fact he or she is not a morning person and doesn’t want to be verbal before that first cup of coffee.

Have these conversations in advance instead of assuming that things will just go the way you want them to go. It’s like giving somebody a how-to guide. That person may not agree with it, and he or she may not meet all your needs or expectations, but at least you'll both be on the same page. Then, when your partner sits mute across from you, poking at eggs, you won’t blow a gasket.
8 of 9
Studies show that when you fall in love, that initial feeling lasts for a few months. For most of us, the feeling that takes over is what scientists call "companionate love." Your marriage isn’t always going to take place on sandy beaches and across candlelit dinner tables. It’s largely going to take place hanging out on the couch, waking up in the middle of the night to take care of sick kids, and on long car trips. Whom do you want to hang out with while you're doing those things?
9 of 9
I tell this story of Betty and Edgar, this old couple who’ve been together for 65 years. They were so in sync. They both walked with their matching little canes and had this unbelievable rapport where they completed each other’s jokes. It was exactly what you want for yourself after a 65-year marriage. I said to them, "People of my generation spend a lot of time talking about The One. What do you think about that idea?" And Betty looked like she just wanted to slap me, frankly. She was disgusted. "What are you talking about? That’s ridiculous. Listen, if I hadn’t married Edgar, I would’ve been married to somebody else for 65 years. I would have made that work."

More from Sex & Relationships


R29 Original Series