Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I'm 26 years old and have a bit of a dilemma that I hope you can help me sort out.

How do I know if I love someone because we have a history together -- because I have known him for almost 15 years, because our families are interconnected, because I enjoy his company and because we are good friends -- or if he is truly the one for me?

Thank you,

Julie

Dear Julie,

We know that a lot of people are hung up on the distinction between I love you and I'm in love with you, but from the perspective of two women who have been happily married a long time, and who work with singles on a daily basis, we think that focus is misplaced.

First of all, love is only one of the ingredients that a couple needs in order to be right for each other. We don't even like to use the word love, because it means different things to different people; we think affection is a more appropriate term. If two people care a great deal for each other and have all the other ingredients for a good marriage, then they are right for each other and have the foundation for a loving, enduring life together.

The other ingredients are as important in the mix as love. Popular culture has influenced us to think that all you need is love, but we know that is not the case. In order for a marriage to work, a couple should have similar value systems and compatible goals in life. Similar and compatible doesn't mean the same; it means that their overall view of life are harmonious and they are moving in the same direction in terms of expectations for the future. Two people can feel love for each other, but if their values or goals are on a collision course, or if they are very far apart, the relationship will be troubled and will ultimately not endure.

Further, two people must also are admire certain qualities in each other; accept each other's personalities, quirks, and background without expecting to change the other person; have developed emotional intimacy (feeling an emotional bond, liking each other as good friends, trusting each other and wanting to give of themselves to each other); and respect each other.

And finally, the two must also be physically attracted to each other. (Don't confuse this with the unbridled passion that contemporary culture conditions us to expect; that rarely happens and when it does it fizzles out pretty quickly.)

You're not the first person who believes that someone they've known for much of their lives may be right for them. They may have been friends since childhood, teenage confidents, college buddies, or their families have always been close. Gradually, it may dawn on them that they are very comfortable with someone they've grown up with, really care for that person, and think this person would be a good spouse for them. If the two have all the qualities we've described, and you both feel the same way about each other, then they are certainly right for each other.

We hope this helps you determine if the important elements are present, and whether this life-long friendship should move on to the wedding canopy.

All the best,

Sherry and Rosie

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