Significant numbers of people offer the advice that “you’ll just know” when finding love, but is it actually right? Here’s why I’ll Know When I See It in love doesn’t (usually) work.
Finding, keeping, and committing to love can take a very long time to get right. And there’s so much advice out there! How many dates you should go on before certain stages, whether or not you should be all in or treat-em-mean-keep-em-keen, how to be true to yourself whilst also open to someone else.
And one of the more common pieces of advice I hear people being given is not to worry, but trust in yourself that “you’ll just know“. That some magical, Disney-esque quality will permeate all darkness and shine on thine glorious path to thine destiny in the arms of some beautiful stranger who will one day make it all make sense. And in that instant, you’ll just know that they’re the one for you. Often this advice is given following a big breakup or an unrequited love, and often is given by advice magazines or people who have just broken up themselves.
Sounds nice, sounds wonderful, is wonderful, and has actually happened to a few people.
However, like with all common advice, I think it’s worth putting under the microscope to assess whether or not this belief may actually be holding people back from entering into successful, fulfilling, life long relationships. So let’s have a look at why “I’ll know it when I see it” in love isn’t always the best strategy.
#1: Because people do what you like as soon as they know you like it
When you’re trying to win someone over, it’s only natural to do anything and everything you can to make them happy. As soon as they mention something they’re into or are interested in or enjoy having done for them in a relationship, BOOM, you’re off like Superman or Wonder Woman to make it happen.
We live in a world where often we are already advertising the things we like and the interests we have. In fact, most guides about making sure your online dating or social media profile get the most interest is to advertise those things in detail.
Has a lot of benefits, and it is definitely important to put yourself in someone’s world to grow together, but the tradeoff is if someone is just out to score or to have a casual, meaningless affair, they’ll go through this list with a comb and make sure they tick every box.
And all of a sudden, wow, they’re really great, they do everything I love! They’re the one my heart yearns for!
And I kid you not, I have sat in the room with multiple different groups of men who unashamedly bragged about how they made sure to hit every single note, make sure the outfit was perfect, make sure the night or nights out were every little thing on that checklist and parade on about their home run. And then how they did it again with the next girl once they got bored. Like this guide. Or this one.
Dr Gary Chapman, author of the Five Love Languages series of books, rightly says “What we do for each other before marriage is no indication of what we will do after marriage”. Unfortunately, an attitude of “just seeing it” without also applying wisdom and time to a person’s behaviour sets us up to have our heart broken. TD Jakes in the book Before You Do points in this way – “Did you marry a beast? Did you date them long enough to find out”?
If there are no other checks and balances on the “I’ll know it when I see it” approach, hearts get deceived and broken by remaining unguarded and open to anyone of undefinable quality willing to walk through that door. And soon you’re left saying “I thought they were the one” while they move on to their next conquest.
#2: Because if you don’t know what you’re looking for, how will you know you’ve found it?
I’m always very interested when someone is very strong on a certain line of thinking. One of the checks I think is always useful on any advice is, “Do I do this in any other area in my life?”.
There are people who go shopping and find lots of things without necessarily looking for them, that is true. I guess there are people who also like the look of a certain car and go for it.
But many, many people end up with something they don’t need or has become a waste of their resource by not giving any thought to what they’re looking for. And in the case of other people, you may even bring someone in who is dangerous, negligent, or flippant with the treasure that is your heart.
Imagine buying a car when you have no idea of how you’ll use it or how much you can actually afford to spend. Imagine buying a house when you don’t know what your needs are. Imagine trying to find someone’s house without checking at least the majority of the directions. Imagine picking a school for your child based on first impressions alone. Granted, sometimes it does work out.
Now imagine dating someone just because hormones and feelings have kicked in and your core belief about love is that “I’ll know it when I see it”. Granted, sometimes it does work out, but as the late Zig Ziglar said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time”.
The problem with this advice, which is usually given in its extreme, is that not only do you take in what you might not want, you also miss what could be the best relationship of your life. More on that in the next one.
#3: Because we don’t always recognise the things we say we want
One of the things that absolutely breaks my heart in the world of love is how many people think there is absolutely no one out there for them. They tried when they were younger maybe, and now they’re in their later 20s and 30s or even 40s and 50s and still wondering what went wrong and which castle Mr Right went to instead.
I saw a really heart breaking meme last year that had way too many people resonate with it. Shared by older people, it said the following – “I am worried I already found Mr Right but probably told him to [fleep] off”. This is an especially scarier thought for those who feel like the dating pool has started to diminish to the point of there really being no one left.
I would like to challenge that thought that it may not be an availability problem, but a recognition problem.
Very few of us are fully in touch with what we say we want. Even less of us are able to recognise it when it does come our way. I love what Thomas Eddison said – “Few recognise opportunity because it comes dressed in overalls and it looks like work”.
I’ve found that love comes in much the same package, and we often don’t see it. Or, we do know someone in that boat, but familiarity clouds our ability to promote that person from The Friend Zone. When it feels like no one is good enough for you, chances are you’ve written off everyone you know and have ever met.
This is where friends and wise counsel come in. Not just the friends who’ll tell us what we want to hear, but people with evidence of wisdom and right living who can make solid and wise observations while the romantic feelings are trying to creep their way in and try to usurp our decision making ability.
I can’t count the times I’ve been in a conversation with someone listing the things they like in a person, only to be shocked when myself or the group are able to list at least three or four people with the qualities that have been mentioned thus far. And many of those have ended in happily ever after when a person was able to see beyond the packaging and initial impression into the person who could actually partner with them in life.
All the more reason why “I’ll know it when I see it” needs to be supplemented with wisdom and advice. Plans fail for a lack of counsel, even in love.
#4: Because the heart is deceitful above all things AKA those darn feelings
Ah. Feelings. They make terrible leaders, but they make very worthwhile followers.
Have you ever had your heart broken because you let your feelings get ahead of you? We can very easily romanticise people and, as the songs go, fall in love with their potential and not who they actually are.
All of us are aware of people who live out Stockholm Syndrome. This is the psychological horror that is our ability to fall in love with our abusers. If we are capable of doing that, why oh why do we let our feelings make so many decisions for us unchallenged and on their own?
Out of all the great quotes from great theologians and leaders and relationship experts out there that I could think to mention, no greater example of this exists to me than the following exercise I was run through by a mentor in my life one time with a group of other men.
Close your eyes and imagine the worst time in your life. When he asked us to do this, a few guys even started to tear up a bit. After a few minutes, he asked us to close our eyes and imagine the happiest time in our life. Some people even started laughing. He said, “Did you see that? You just dramatically changed how you feel within a few minutes. Why oh why would you follow your feelings?”.
Following your feelings sounds like great advice and we’ve heard it in all the movies and TV shows and books and relationship columns, but it really isn’t good advice on its own. Why? Because as the prophet of old observed, the heart is deceitful above all things.
Are feelings real? Absolutely. Can they be great in the right relationship? You bet. Even the Song of Solomon is a celebration of the elation of love and eroticism in its context. But as the Shulamite warns, “Don’t awaken love until its time and you are ready”.
The truth is that all of us can control our level of romantic feelings. “I can’t help it” – you absolutely can. And it’s really simple – do romantic things, and you’ll feel romantic. Don’t do romantic things, and you won’t. When you hit the accelerator in the car, the car moves. Same thing.
Doctor Esther Perel advises married couples to go to that place of romance and sexuality to introduce or re-introduce those feelings into a marriage. If that’s true at the peak of commitment, how much more true is it that those things can mess with us at the start?
There’s lots you can do to get to know someone with the romance turned down, until you’ve both seen enough of each other to recognise a good decision and turn it up as life goes on.
#5: Because it takes work to continue to recognise it
Okay, so let’s say you did go through an “I’ll know it when I see it” type experience, and have successfully locked in your dream man or ideal woman.
If I bought you a Lamborghini (saw one of those yesterday driving down the street), how would you treat it? I know initially you’d probably take it on a 2000km joy ride with the roof down, as you should. Regular cleans, parked in a garage, keeping the key safe and only given to the most trusted of people.
But how would you look after it after a month? 3 months? 6 months? A year? Would you still know it when you saw it?
Unfortunately the approach of “I’ll know it when I see it” has been the death of so many relationships well before their time. It has been a tragedy to me to realise that a man or a woman has broken it off with someone because this belief and approach has been their whole view on relationship.
My main problem with this approach is this – love that truly lasts isn’t something that happens to you, it’s something you continue to choose. If not, you are a victim of your changing feelings.
It’s devastating when you or someone you care about is hurt by someone’s changing feelings. I wonder if we are aware of when we have approaches and beliefs about love that lead us to do the same thing to others.
Bishop Jeremy Taylor said this of marriage – “Marriage hath in it less of beauty but more of safety, than the single life; it hath more care, but less danger, it is more merry, and more sad; it is fuller of sorrows, and fuller of joys; it lies under more burdens, but it is supported by all the strengths of love and charity, and those burdens are delightful.”. I love this because it captures the reality of the continued effort and reality required for love that lasts.
We can’t be victims of what people do for us. At some point it needs to mature into a wise and thorough endeavour, rather than one that happens *to* us.
So, “I’ll know it when I see it”. Does it work? It can. But I would argue that it’s not enough, especially on its own.
The strongest relationships and marriages I see and continue to see are those that move from feelings into decisions. Love that accepts its responsibility rather than a life of victimhood under the guise of false wisdom.
How about you? Are you a fan of “I’ll know it when I see it” or have you had other experiences?