Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I'm 26 and am dating for marriage. For the past nine months, I've been dating "Mark." From the very beginning, I could see that he was a very fine person – kind, considerate, dependable, pleasant to talk to, and treats me well. On top of that, he has a good job, comes from a nice family, and we have a similar Jewish outlook. He basically has all of the things I've been looking for. My parents have met him and they like him a lot. I believe he is going to be a very good husband.
Except I don't know if he's going to be my husband.
In some of your articles, you wrote that someone doesn't have to be "in love" with the person they marry, but they have to really like him. I like Mark, but I don't know if I like him enough to be married to him. This has been tormenting me for several months. In fact, this is the reason we've been dating so long. Mark is ready to get engaged, and I have been trying to get to that point myself.
I've asked so many people for advice, but it's only made me more confused. How do I know if I like Mark enough to marry him?
Many other daters have faced the same dilemma you describe – they are dating someone they feel is a very good person, and will make a wonderful spouse. This person shares their view of life and dreams for the future and seems to have all of the qualities they are looking for. However, they can't decide if this is the right person for them to marry, because they don't know if the emotional connection is strong enough. Many times, they will have spent weeks, even months, trying to figure out whether they like the other person enough to be able to move things forward to engagement and marriage.
Often the one emotion they feel with certainty is guilt. "I'm a terrible person," they tell themselves. "This man loves me, he's good to me, he's everything I want. Why am I stringing him along? Why can't I say 'yes' already?"
And because they feel guilty about saying, "No, I don't have enough affection for him to want to marry him," they work harder at trying to summon those feelings, and continue to date even longer.
Or, they may chastise themselves, thinking, "Something must be wrong with me. I've been dating for so long, and finally found a decent person who's perfect for me. Why can't I feel that he's the right one?"
Sometimes, the reason they can't feel that way is because he's not the right one for them. They really don't like him enough to be able to have the kind of marriage they want to have – the kind that blossoms into a deep, loving relationship that can withstand the inevitable ups and downs of life that all married couples encounter (family illness, job loss, serious financial difficulties).
# Fireworks-infatuation will fade; genuine affection is enduring.
Sometimes, though, someone who has these doubts really does have strong affection for the person they're dating. However, they don't have the clarity to be able to see this, either because they're anxious about the idea of being married, and this anxiety is preventing them from moving forward, or because they erroneously think they're supposed to feel the equivalent of July Fourth fireworks. (Anyone in a successful marriage can tell you that "fireworks" are caused by infatuation, which will fade; genuine affection is enduring.)
So how can someone see past the feelings of guilt, the lack of clarity brought about by anxiety and fear, or the doubts that result from an unrealistic expectation of what they should be feeling about the person they plan to marry?
You can ask yourself the following: "Do I look forward to seeing him? Do I enjoy the time we spend together? If I feel anxious when I think about marriage, do I feel better when I'm with him? Do I ever think about doing something nice for him, making him something or buying him something I think he'll like? When I think of not having him in my life, does it make me sad?"
Answering “yes” to most of these questions means that you possess the emotional foundation for a good marriage. If, on the other hand, you often have to tell yourself, "Everyone says to me that he's a wonderful person. What's wrong with me – why I can't be happy to see him, or think about spending a future with him?" then you probably don't like him enough.
You can't push yourself into liking someone just because his credentials match your list of "requirements." If you could, then it wouldn't be necessary to date at all. People could be matched up with their mates simply on the basis of sight-unseen questionnaires. The reason we go on dates with someone whose tangible criteria seem to match ours is precisely to see if we can develop the emotional connection that tell us we've met the right one to marry.
# Focus on the experience of the moment.
What if, after answering the questions we've posed, you're still not sure of your answer? For the next month, we suggest you try what we call a "dating diet." See each other no more than twice a week for that month. When you're with each other, don't try to analyze or evaluate what's going on. Instead, focus on the experience of the moment: listening to the sound of his voice, what you are saying to each other, what your surroundings look like and sound like, what you are doing together, the way he looks at you and you at him.
After each date is over, think about how you felt when you were together. Are you looking forward to seeing him again? In between dates, don't call each other and talk on the phone, or text or email anything more than the details of your next date. Do you feel yourself missing him? Do you find yourself wanting to call him and share something about your day, or an idea you have?
When your month of "dieting" is finished, you should have a clearer idea of your feelings and hopefully will be able to decide if they are strong enough to marry him. If you decide that you have that emotional connection, but are still anxious, it may help you to talk to a dating mentor or a therapist. Only talk to one person whom you feel comfortable talking to. Advice from more than one person will only make you more confused.
It isn't always easy to figure out if someone is right for you. Making the right decision requires clarity, and we hope our advice will help you navigate the dating maze.
All the best,
Rosie & Sherry