Dear Rachel,

I know this question sounds a bit ridiculous, but how do I know when I have found “the one”? I have always had this dream that one day I will meet the right man, we will lock eyes, and just know that we are soulmates. But now I’m worried that I keep passing on great guys because there were no fireworks like I expected when we met. And I am scared that while I wait for Mr. Perfect, I am letting go of Mr. Almost Perfect. How will I know when I really have found the right guy?

Still Single

Dear Still Single,

Life would be so easy if, when we met the right person, a neon light would start flashing “Your Soulmate!” If only we could always know instantaneously as you describe. And for some people, it really does happen that way. Which I think makes it all the harder for those for whom it doesn’t happen that way. Take any of these romantic notions, such as love at first sight, and you will find real-life examples of people who met and just knew. I mean, look back to Genesis, where we are told that when Rebecca first saw Isaac, she was so smitten that she fell off her camel! And yet, you can find true love, even if it wasn’t there at first sight (or second, third, or fourth sight, for that matter).

We are complex beings. Just trying to understand ourselves and how we work can take a lifetime to figure out. Then try to figure out another person and how the two of you will connect, and clearly there is a lot to deal with. The Talmud states that it is as hard for G‑d to make a match between a man and a woman as it was for Him to split the sea (kasheh le-zavgan ki-kriyat yam suf). So you can feel a little better that you are having a hard time knowing who is your soulmate.

You mention, though, that you are waiting for Mr. Perfect. In case you haven’t already figured it out, he doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as Mr. Perfect. Nobody is perfect, including you. However, even though there is no Mr. Perfect, there is Mr. Perfect for You. And that is who you need to focus on finding. First drop your desire for perfection, and drop your idealized romantic notion that if he is right for you, you will immediately know. Then, without those pressures on your head, you can start to wonder about the actual human being you meet.

But there is something else you need to know. And that is: even though there is a Mr. Perfect for You, that doesn’t mean that he is everything you ever wanted. Because that would make him once again Mr. Perfect, who we just said doesn’t exist. Being “perfect for you” means that he is the one who will help you become a better person; he is the one with whom you can work together, so that the two of you will be able to really accomplish something in this world. That doesn’t mean that things will be easy. If anything, sometimes it is the relationships with the most challenges that are the strongest ones, but it means that the right one for you will help you become the person you are meant to be.

So how will you know when you have met him? While I know you want a real simple equation, it is not always so simple. But one thing that can help is: before you even meet him, you need to know what you are looking for. The better you know yourself—what is important for you and what you need—the more you will be able to know when you have found the right person for you. And you will need to also distinguish between what you need and what you want. There is nothing wrong with wants, but just make sure that they are lower on your list than the needs. And when you think of what is most important to you, you must prioritize and know which qualities and attributes you will not compromise on, and which ones are up for discussion.

You are the only one who knows what is most important to you, and the qualities that are essential to you in your husband. And when you think about these qualities, think about those that do not fade with time, and those that will be necessary when things are not so easy in life. You may want someone good looking, or muscular, or with a stable job, but these are things that can all change instantaneously. We lose our looks with age, and we can lose our job without any notice. But a person who is compassionate, responsible, supportive, caring, dedicated, etc., is the person who will be able to adapt to whatever comes your way in life.

It sounds like, if you really want to settle down and find someone with whom you can spend your life, you need to spend some time realizing the kind of life you want to live and the kind of person who can help you accomplish that. Recognizing your own flaws will also make you more compassionate and accepting of someone else’s. I hope to hear good news soon, when you find the one with whom you can truly grow and develop.