In the movies, love is often portrayed as an uncontrollable force. The protagonists know it’s true love because they’ve been swept away in a frenzy of emotion. Love chooses the protagonists, not the other way around.
After years of being educated in rom-coms, gauging whether or not you’ve found your future spouse is hardly as easy as it looks on the silver screen. When our real-life experiences with love don’t match up with The Notebook, it’s tempting to wonder if something is wrong.
Most of us realize that deep, meaningful love doesn’t always look or feel like a montage scene of fun dates and passionate kisses. But what does real, healthy love actually look like? And how do we know if we’ve found the right man? It’s natural to look to other examples of love to compare and see if we’re on the right track.
Instead of getting advice from the movies, I asked 11 engaged and married women about how they knew they had found (and chose) real love. Here’s what they said.
Sophie: “Greg was so pro-commitment from the outset, but not in a weird or intense way — just very open and straightforward about his feelings. It was completely different from any other man I’d dated. He would never, ever ghost. If he picked up a weird vibe from me, he’d ask me what was wrong. He had no time for games.”
Emily: “From the beginning, Jeremy was very up-front about his intentions of dating me. There was no ambiguous ‘hanging out’ time — he was always clear that we were going out on dates. In the past, I was the chaser. I always felt like I had to prove myself worthy and play games to earn a guy’s love. But with Jeremy, he just liked me. I stopped being afraid of not being ‘perfect.’ He was so confident and consistent in his love for me that I was comfortable enough to be myself around him.”
Strength in difficult times
Ellen: “A few months after we met, a family issue turned his life upside-down. He dropped everything without hesitation and went home to serve his family. He drove six hours home and six hours back each week, for many months, until he found a way to move closer to home. In all of this, he still made time for me. I was amazed by his selflessness and determination in the face of his struggles. Ultimately, it was being together during that difficult time convicted me that he was the man I should marry. Knowing how your future spouse handles the ‘tough stuff’ is one of the most important things to consider when discerning marriage.”
Amanda: “It took seeing him with his family, watching the way he treated people, arguing over different opinions, talking about the future, and so many more little things before I felt a strong conviction to marry him. I’d say that the harder moments were the most eye-opening to me. We have really different personalities, especially in the way we tackle problems. But seeing how he handled hardship and how working though it brought us closer together and closer to God made me realize how good we were together. I remember thinking that if anyone could, Daniel could help me get to heaven, and I wanted to help him get there too. “
Katie: “Even during our early dating, he met every argument or conflict with compassion and heroic love. He constantly had the attitude of, ‘How can I love them better?’ Even when he was the one who was hurt. It boggled my mind that someone could be that selfless. I had never met anyone like that before. I knew then that I wanted to have that selfless, loving man by my side for the rest of my life.”
Always striving to be better
Victoria: “A couple of months into dating my now-fiance, I saw on his desktop a document titled, ‘My Ethos.’ He showed me the document, which turned out to be a personal mission statement describing the man he was daily striving to become. I had never met a more intentional man, and after reading that document and seeing the fruits of it in his daily life, I knew he was ‘the one.’”
Eileen: “When I met Ethan, I thought to myself, ‘This is the most virtuous man I’ve ever met. I would marry him.’ I could see myself spending the rest of my life with him because he’s so good and he’d also make me a better person. He always put other people’s needs before his own. He worked hard, was laid back, but always stood up for himself and his beliefs. Not to be cliche, but I knew I should marry him because I was always my best self with him.”
Help healing wounds
Cara: “I was carrying a lot of wounds from the difficult relationship I had with my dad growing up, and I was able to be open up about those wounds with Ben. His gentleness and patience with me, whenever those dad-struggles affected our relationship, really helped me heal. And his charity toward my dad helped me to have a better relationship with my dad, long-term.”
The social factor
Hannah: “A big sign that I had found the right man was that I was proud of him. In previous relationships, I often felt the need to make excuses for the boyfriends who weren’t right for me and explain why I was dating them. I would even sometimes be embarrassed to be seen with them in front of certain people. When I started dating Conor, I never felt that way — I was so excited to introduce him to my friends and family. I was proud to be with him.”
Katharine: “With other guys, I always felt like I had to alter my dreams and goals to fit who they were. With Anthony, my dreams and goals didn’t contradict our relationship — he was excited about my passions, even if they weren’t his own! I was different than him, but that never compromised the integrity of our relationship. Nothing about who I was phased him. He never asked me to be someone I wasn’t. He’s always supported my dreams and goals.”
Rachel: “Pat was the sweetest and gentlest man I had ever met, but I was so scared that because of my past mistakes that I would be too ‘tainted’ for him. I knew Patrick was my future husband because he made me feel like I was loved, regardless of past mistakes. As he continued pursuing me, even through a period of long-distance, he helped me to see how much God loves me and how he created me for heaven.”
Free to be yourself
Catie: “When we were dating, I realized I could be completely free with him. I was myself, and I didn’t need masks. He was super steady and consistent in his pursuit of me, which allowed me freedom and confidence to discern my own heart. I never doubted his feelings or commitment. That was a total game-changer for me. We prayed a consecration to Mary in the weeks before we got engaged, and I was amazed at how much peace and confidence that gave me in following this man into marriage. Even having struggled with doubt, I don’t question now for a second that this is the man for me. Marriage has been our best adventure, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”