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Dating Advice #196 - Of Fireworks and Butterflies

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

How can she know if he's the right one?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I have been dating a man for six months, but we have been talking on the phone for over a year. I don't know how long I should give it. He likes me very much, and I like him, but do not have strong feelings or love. People always tell me I will know if he is the right one. I never know.

Is there any easy way to know? Is everyone "in love" when they get married? Maybe I'm just not the type of person to have butterflies in my stomach every time I see him. I hope there is some simple answer. Thank you.


Dear Jacqueline,

It isn't always easy to "know" if someone is the right person for you. This is because we've been conditioned by contemporary culture to expect to feel emotional reactions that are more intense than most people experience. For most people, "love" is a feeling that grows gradually. The idea of being "head over heels" in love sounds exciting, but it is very uncommon. Further, this emotion fades relatively quickly, and does not predict whether a couple will have a loving and successful marriage.

Hollywood's ideal is dangerous because it does not exist in many happy marriages.

We've all seen movies and read novels that describe "love" in terms of "fireworks," "butterflies in the stomach," thinking about each other every minute, and blindly idealizing each other. These concepts are very dangerous because they do not occur in many relationships that lead to good marriages. As a result, people sometimes give up on a courtship that has great potential because they aren't feeling what they have been led to believe they should feel.

Yes, some people experience fireworks and butterflies, but they are signs of infatuation, which is based on "chemistry" rather than on really knowing another person. These feelings always fade over time. Sometimes, two people who experience this intensity when they first meet replace that feeling with a true emotional connection. However, the majority of successful dating couples don't start out this way. They get to know each other and come to a gradual realization that they care about each other, and are developing an emotional connection that can grow into a loving marriage.

What feelings should a person expect to experience? You should like the individual you are dating and enjoy being with them. You should look forward to the times that you get together, and experience a feeling of contentment to have that person in your life. You should feel affection toward them. You should want to spend a lot of time together, and gradually look forward to the idea of being together as a couple on a long-term basis. These feelings tend to grow stronger over time.

There are other important elements to a courtship that point to the potential for a loving and stable marriage. You can ask yourself:

  • Are our lives moving in the same direction? Are our expectations for the future, our goals for ourselves personally and as a couple, compatible? Do we have value systems and world views that are also compatible?

  • Do I think that he is a good person, and that he has the personality and character traits to be a good spouse?

  • Am I physically attracted to him? (That doesn't mean that you feel he is movie-star handsome -- rather that he looks good to you and you like the idea of being with him.)

  • Do we respect each other as people? Does he also have certain character traits that I admire?

  • Am I comfortable with his background, his imperfections, and the things he does that annoy me? Do I accept him as he is, without expecting him to change?

  • Do I feel a close sense of friendship? Can I trust him and do I believe he is responsible and will be there for me? Do I want to be there for him?

Sometimes, we have to do a lot of thinking before we can recognize that someone is right for us. We don't always immediately "know." If you see that all the qualities we have discussed are present, then this might be the right one for you.

We hope this helps you navigate the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry

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