How Do You Know When You Know?

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

One of my favorite answers 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. How lovely and mysterious, I thought. I went forth armed with the knowledge that I would know when I know when we knew. It seemed like such an idealistic and emotional response.

It seemed the key to knowing if you wanted to get married was in your emotions.

It inspired me to I really throw myself wholeheartedly into relationships. I ended up being a little too much and over investing in places I really shouldn’t have. I gave away parts of myself in an emotional quest to discover if I knew when I knew.

After a lot of hurt and pain I bitterly decided that knowledge, rather than emotions, would help me know when I know. 

Thus I swore off emotions and began to look at the facts on paper. It seemed like a much safer and 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 from getting hurt. Did he have tattoos? Did he drive a nice car?

You know, really solid criteria.

But eventually I began to realize I didn’t know much of anything. In fact, I didn’t know how to properly file my taxes or what the hell a co-pay was, let alone who I should date or marry. When it came time to get married would I just magically know not only who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with but also how to garden and cook a soufflé?

Plus, most people look great on paper. But people aren’t paper. They’re living, breathing, messy individuals. Just because two people seem great in theory doesn’t mean they’re great in practice. I wanted to feel so safe and secure in the facts so that the relationship wouldn’t fail. Facts and figures are no way to determine love or marriage.

I suddenly felt as though I couldn't trust my own judgment.

Hurt and at this point a little cynical, I decided I couldn’t be trusted to know when I knew. I decided that if I couldn’t trust my own judgment I would just trust everyone else’s. And by everyone else’s I literally mean everyone. I didn’t subject my relationships to the opinions of a select few and wise friends.

In an effort to know if I knew I turned to the opinions of strangers.

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.

Eventually I realized I didn’t know much but I sure as hell knew that was no way to live a life let alone navigate a relationship.

After a lot of years of bitterness and cynicism towards the whole, “you know when you know” mantra I think I’m finally settling in to see what they actually mean.

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

Because at the end of the day do any of us actually know much of anything? We can think that we do but in hindsight we realize we’re all just simply doing the best we can. I think what those married people mean to say is, “We made the best decision we could with the information we had.”

After so much pressure to "get it right" and "know when I know" I'm starting to think maybe there are better questions worth asking. 

Like how does he make you feel? Do you feel seen and known and accepted? Or do you constantly feel the need to perform? Do you like this version of yourself? Does he make you better or is your relationship making you bitter? Do you share the same values and expectations of yourself and your relationship? Does he make you laugh? 

I think it would help us all take the pressure off ourselves. Married people wouldn't feel the need to seem like they've got it all figured out. Instead, they could just aid in a journey rather than provide an unrealistic expectation. Single people wouldn't feel this unnecessary pressure to get to a place where they do have it all figured out. Rather than performing for each other we could just be present with one another. 

None of us have all the answers. 

But we all have a little to contribute to the conversation. May we start engaging in conversation, real deep and intimate conversations. I don't know much, but I do know that people who will take the time to share a space and say "I don't know" or "I'm scared" are exactly the type of people worth sharing a life with whether as a friend or as "the one."