It was our first date. He was handsome but clearly nervous. And he spent much of the date trying find as many ways as he could to impress me. He couldn’t even finish his dinner. He was too busy and distracted with his own talking. When I teased that he wasn’t in the clean plate club, he was inspired to take me out for ice cream, so I would know he actually had a healthy, manly appetite.
It was a beautiful summer night, so we went for a walk with our ice cream cones. The walk was calming. The movement, being outside, looking forward with little glances at each other as we talked—this made the conversation more natural. We both started enjoying ourselves a little more. He even held my hand as he walked me home, and left me with a little kiss at the door.
I went into my apartment and told my roommate that he wasn’t the one. “Nope,” I said, “too cute, too young, too awkward.” But he was sweet enough to go out with maybe one more time.
Six years later we’re married with two children, and very much in love. Go figure.
Sometimes dating is confusing! It seems like a miracle when two people meet, date, and get married.
How do you really get to know someone and let them get to know you? How do you know whether they are the one? And when do you start talking about marriage?
As perplexing as love can be, there are some things you can do while you are dating that will help (hopefully) to lead you to marrying the right person. While I can’t speak for everyone, prioritizing the following really helped me get a sense of where things were headed when I was dating my husband.
Having active dates
My mom used to tell the story of going ice-skating with a group of college friends. Her boyfriend took himself very seriously in their friendly game of hockey, getting upset when a play didn’t go right. Her friend Joe was still learning to skate, but was just out on the ice having fun, laughing it off when he fell. She was struck by the clear difference in their characters. Guess which one is my dad.
With focus on the activity—like bowling or walking in a park—the pressure of making conversation is lightened. Questions come out more naturally, and you catch glimpses of the other person’s character. Just like I did in the second half of my first date with my future husband.
Taking time to get to know them through conversation
I once dated a guy who was a financial something or other. When I told him I loved growing up in a big family and wanted a bunch of kids, he was totally flustered. He asked if I knew how much it cost to raise one child. I didn’t know, and didn’t care. It wasn’t clear to me yet that it was a deal-breaker, but it led to other conversations that showed us we weren’t really meant for each other.
Talk about your families, work, characters on the shows you watch together—you can get a good sense here about someone else’s values and views on life. As you become more invested in each other, you might begin to broach more serious topics that might determine if you are compatible long-term. What do you want for your future family? What are your hopes for a career? What would a life together look like?
Doing routine life stuff together
One of the most romantic days I spent with Kyle when we were dating was just a Saturday of errands. He had gotten a new job in a new city and had to spend the weekend packing and running to Half Price Books and Goodwill, so I just tagged along.
It was fun to see him organizing and getting things done, and to be included in his “real” life. Then, more and more, we spent time with each other’s families and friends, outside restaurants and our own living rooms. More and more, we felt connected and fell in love.
As you get more serious, your lives naturally begin to intertwine. If this is the right person, the process should feel good. After all, if the end goal is marriage, most of your relationship will be spent doing regular things together (laundry, Netflix, diapers, Home Depot), highlighted by moments of intense personal meaning (birth of a child, weddings, illness).
So how do you know if things are going well? When you can enjoy the ordinary days as well as the extraordinary moments together. These make up a beautiful life together.