Looking back, I think I “just knew” within the space of about two hours. We were outside, sipping tree sap-coloured drinks in the late spring sunshine, and she was saying something about 1990s sci-fi or music or psychopathy—I don’t remember what—and I had this overwhelming feeling that I was in the correct place, with the correct person. “Oh, she’s the one,” I remember thinking, half-joking but also semi-serious, the dark blonde of her lashes flickering beneath an oversized hat. Six years later, and nothing much has changed. We’ll be getting married next year.
You could, of course, look at this one of two ways. One being that, sometimes, for whatever reason, you can meet someone and “just know.” There’s that scene at the end of 500 Days of Summer (a cursed film, but still), in which Summer, who was always emotionally unavailable with previous partners, suddenly gets married to someone. “I just woke up one day and I knew,” she tells her ex on a park bench, by way of brutal explanation for their break-up. Maybe, by some combination of chemistry, life stage or compatibility, two people can meet and the cogs can turn at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way. There’s an absence of doubt or second guessing and you just… know.
Another way you could look at it, though, is that nobody just knows—it just feels that way if you’re a rose-tinted romantic and your relationship consequently works out. Think about it: how many times have you been on a date with someone and momentarily wondered if you’re “meant to be”? Maybe their damp curls are pressed sexily onto their forehead and they grip your thigh with one hand and you think “Oh, my god, we’re soulmates!” Then, after three dates, they ghost you, or you discover that they’re heavily into Mrs Brown’s Boys, or you get the ick after seeing them put too much mayonnaise in their sandwich, and you realise that initial feeling was wholly misjudged—you just fancied them and briefly fantasised too much.
Saying that you can meet someone and just know also heavily glosses over how much work a long-term relationship can take. Like, yes, you can be into your partner immediately, but then there’s all the other stuff: the power struggle phase that comes after about three to six months, the lapses in communication, the fact that two people can live together and love each other but not always show it properly. You might meet someone and think you just know, but it can take years—and, in my case, a bit of therapy—to get into a rhythm that works for both people. One of you might let the other down. It might be too much to get over. These things happen all the time. Good relationships sometimes don’t work out.
Expecting to meet someone and just know can also create unrealistic expectations, or even actively damage perfectly healthy relationships. One friend of mine used to constantly ruminate on whether she ought to break up with her partner “just in case” they weren’t soulmates, regardless of whether they were happy. Another friend likes to keep romantic partners at arm’s length unless she’s completely obsessed with them. “If I’m not anxiously staring at my phone, then I’m not interested,” she told me recently, which I totally relate to. In that sense, this idea that we should just know isn’t always useful—our gut instinct can send us the wrong signals, or we can confuse anxiety with love, or just create impossible fantasies that don’t align with messy reality.
Also, what if you meet someone and think you “just know”, but they don’t actually feel the same way? What then? I remember being 16 and unable to breathe over how fit I thought a certain person was. Their eyes were grey-green, like the sea on a cold day, their cheekbones like two ski slopes. I imagined us living together, growing vegetables, experiencing some amorphous version of “adulthood” in tandem. In reality, we were completely incompatible. She didn’t view me as a serious romantic prospect in any capacity. Turns out I hadn’t met the one—I just had a standard crush, fuelled by teenage hormones.
Recently, I asked my partner when she first realised she was in love (just some fun pillow talk!). She said it was probably this one morning I made her breakfast, months after we’d first met. I’d scrambled some eggs and peppered a steak and stuck a record on and it was bright and frosty outside. “I hope every morning is like this,” she’d thought to herself. Love had grown slowly and unbidden, like a plant given exactly the right amount of water and light. Which strikes me as much healthier. There was no “just knowing.” There was only time and mutual effort.
Intellectually, I know I probably didn’t “just know” back then. But that doesn’t mean I don’t remember it like that. Or enjoy the sensation of having felt like the world might be spinning in a way that made sense, even if just for a moment. The truth is that none of us know anything. Everything is chaotic and unhinged. Life is built to shock and surprise. So it’s okay to try and grasp for meaning sometimes, and then to cling onto it, and cherish the feeling of knowing something, anything, when so much can feel unknowable.
This article was originally published on British Vogue.