When I was 25 years old, I started dating a girl I met at a wedding.
She was a Christian. I am a Christian. She loved running. I love running. She loved Chinese food. I love Chinese food. We had a lot in common.
Several mutual friends had also been invited to the wedding where we had met, and after we started dating, nearly all of them began cheering us on hoping that we would work out and get married ourselves. To everyone else, it seemed as though we were a match made in heaven.
But something just didn’t seem quite right.
We dated for over 2 years, and during that time I remember asking my married friends, mentors and pastors the million-dollar question: “How do you know when you know?”
I couldn’t stand their cliché responses to my cliché question. They would all say: “You just know.”
Sooo lame! Anytime someone would tell me such a predictable response, I would ask them, “Well then how did YOU know? Explain how YOU got to the point where YOU knew you wanted to marry your spouse! What was it that made YOU know?!”
They would say: “I can’t explain it. I just knew.”
I never could get what I thought was a real answer, so I kept searching for reasons why I should marry her. I figured that we would be able to make it work since we both had the same faith, but I just didn’t know if we truly were compatible. Was a solid foundation of faith all we needed to get through the hard times in our relationship? I was convinced that we could make it work. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to make it work.
I had told her from the beginning that we would not play the “break up and get back together” game. I had made it very clear: if we ever broke up, we would not be getting back together. Am I right, Taylor Swift?!
Because I felt I had made my intentions so clear, it caused me to really second-guess my thoughts of incompatibility. I would go for months thinking that we weren’t a good fit for one another, but I would convince myself that I was just being too picky.
I knew that perfection didn’t exist in any girl, but I figured that maybe my standards for a girl were just too high. I did not feel a peace about marrying her, but I also did not want to let go of what seemed right to so many others. Why was I blind to what seemed so clear to so many others? Why couldn’t I just be convinced that we should get married like everyone else was? How did THEY know that I should marry her?
Then one day my dad came and sat me down to chat. He said, “Matt, she’s a great girl. If you decide to marry her, mom and I will love her as a daughter. But if you decide you don’t want to marry her, mom and I will also support that decision.”
At first I was a bit taken back that he would question my discernment of my own relationship. But the more I thought about what he said, it felt as though a burden had been lifted from my shoulders. I finally realized that if I were to break up with her, there were at least two people I knew who would not be disappointed in me for doing so.
I considered my dad’s words for months, and made the commitment to myself that I would never break up with my girlfriend based on a fight or disagreement, but if I were to break things off, it would be the result of a well-thought out decision.
I’ll never forget that October day.
We both got up around 4:00am and met at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque to watch hundreds of hot-air balloons rise in a mass ascension. We had breakfast together. Afterwards we went to my parent’s home and began watching an Oklahoma Sooners football game on tv. The Sooners were even winning.
The day had been nearly perfect. We had no fights or disagreements. Our time together could not have been any better. And yet despite such a flawless day, something still just didn’t seem right.
As we sat on the couch watching the game, she laid down and put her head on my chest. It occurred to me in that moment that our days together would likely not get any better than the day we had just experienced. If this was as good as it gets and I still had unexplained doubts, then I just didn’t think I would ever feel truly comfortable in a relationship with her.
I knew what I needed to do, but I knew breaking up would be permanent. I didn’t know if I should wait longer before making such a life-changing choice of ending things. My heart began to beat faster because in my gut I knew I needed to end it.
With her head on my chest, she felt my heart beating faster and leaned up with excitement.
“Oh no. She’s thinks I’m about to propose.”
Much to her dismay, instead of proposing I began to explain to her that she was a great girl… but that I believed there was someone out there who was a better fit for both her and I. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was making a mistake or not, and admitted to her that letting her go could be the worst decision of my life.
I have often looked back on that conversation and thought of the scene from Indiana Jones where Indiana is taking a literal step of faith into a chasm. Indiana can’t see anything in front of him other than a huge canyon, but in faith he takes a step toward what seems like certain doom.
If you’re a fan of the Indiana movies then you know the exact scene I am describing. If you’re not familiar, check it out:
I wanted to take a step in faith knowing that the Bible says God will give me the desires of my heart (Psalm 37:4). The desire of my heart was to find a person with whom I was excited to spend the rest of my life.
But I had no “plan B”. There wasn’t anyone else in which I was interested. I had already graduated from college where I could meet other girls my age, and I didn’t have an interest in going to bars or clubs. I volunteered my time in a high school ministry at church, which was the last place I figured I would ever find a spouse or even bother looking.
Yet despite not having any other options, I took a step of faith trusting that God would bring me someone who was a closer fit, and I ended things with my girlfriend during the Sooners game.
I broke her heart.
She strongly disagreed with my decision. She, like our friends, thought we were a match made in heaven. She simply didn’t understand my rationale, and it didn’t make it any easier when I didn’t have a real reason for the breakup other than I “just didn’t think it was right.”
Eight Months Later
I was working at a high school summer church camp in Durango, Colorado. I was hired by my brother-in-law to come as the camp videographer so I could create recap videos for the high schoolers.
On the second day of the camp, I saw Ashten for the first time as we were playing in rec games in one of the courtyard fields at Fort Lewis College. She was serving as an adult leader at the camp. I had heard of Ashten and we had mutual friends, but I had never actually met her myself.
I’m not typically the type of guy to go extend my hand and say, “How you doin’?” But that night when I saw her again, I decided to muster up the courage and go introduce myself. It turned out that she knew my sister already, and I found out that my brother-in-law had even baptized her.
The evening service at the camp was about to begin, so our conversation was very brief. All in all, we wound up talking for only a few minutes during the entire camp. However, as I was leaving Durango after the camp was over, I recall thinking, “She is why I took that leap of faith last year! I don’t know if I will marry Ashten, but even if I don’t, I now have faith that there is someone out there who is a closer fit for me!”
Ashten and I began dating 3 weeks later, and it took hardly any time at all for me to realize that this was the girl with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be the luckiest guy in the world if she were to accept my proposal.
No longer did I have to ask anyone the question of “How do you know when you know?”
I just knew.
I had a ring custom-made for her, planned my proposal, and executed it as soon as I could before she could change her mind about wanting to be with me. She said “yes” on the Christmas Eve after we met, and 7 months after that we were married.
Everybody’s story and experience is different, but I do now have an answer for those who now ask me the question “How do you know when you know?”
Unfortunately for the person asking (or maybe for the person they’re dating), they may not always like the answer. Or maybe it is freeing for them.
Either way, here’s my answer: If you have to ask the question of “How do you know when you know?”, then the person you’re dating is likely NOT the person you should marry.
Of course it is not fair to ask that question when you have just began dating them. But if you have been dating for over a year and you still are asking around and trying to determine how other people came to their own conclusion to get married, then you’re probably grasping for any sort of sign trying to convince yourself that it’s right when in your gut you know that it’s not.
Look, marriage is difficult. It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. And the statistics are against you. With a 51% divorce rate, you’re more likely to get divorced than stay married.
If you’re single, I don’t say that to depress you, but I say that to encourage you to be cautious before making such an important decision. If you are not giddy excited about marrying the person you’re dating, then DO NOT GET MARRIED!
Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
Do you treasure the person you’re dating? Is your heart really in it?
Or is your relationship just comfortable because you don’t really want to start the dating scene all over again? Or is it that you just have too much time invested in this relationship to throw it all away? Or is it that you already gave so much to that person that you might as well just be joined in marriage as well?
When I was dating girlfriends prior to Ashten, I remember thinking they were lucky to be with me. How arrogant, right?! I honestly remember thinking that they had the better end of the deal, and that they were more blessed than I was in our relationship.
When I began dating Ashten, I remember thinking that I was incredibly blessed to be with her. I felt as though I was getting the better end of the deal.
The beauty of our relationship was that she felt the exact same way about me. She felt as though she was getting the better end of the deal. She felt as though she was blessed to be with me.
I am so thankful that I chose to trust that God would provide me with a relationship that was one I would be excited about.
My marriage with Ashten has not been perfect along the way, but I am confident we can work through our issues as they arise and beat the statistics that are against us.
If you are single, I want the same for you. If you want to get married, choose to trust that God will bring you the right person for you. That person will not be perfect without flaws, but they might be the perfect match for you.
How do you know when you know? You’ll know it’s right when you don’t have to ask that question.