5 Terrible Mistakes You Make In The Search For “The One”

Joe Donan


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According to Greek mythology, human beings originally had two heads, four arms, and four legs. Fearing their might, Zeus split them in two, condemning them to a life in search for their other half, the only person that could make them feel complete again: The One.

Oh, The One! The personification of all our desires and fantasies, the missing ingredient to our incomplete existence, the relief to our suffering, and the answer to all our prayers. A person who’s meant to give purpose to our lives, and do away with the inherent loneliness in our hearts.

If all that sounds familiar, then I have bad news for you. That way of thinking is precisely what’s preventing you from finding a suitable partner for life. The over-idealization of a relationship leads to unrealistic expectations about a prospective significant other. These expectations, in turn, end up ruining your chances of finding everlasting love.

I know the feeling, as I’ve “found” The One several times, only to realize they weren’t The One a few months later. Torn and disillusioned on every occasion, I used to wonder how something that felt so right could end in such a wrong way. It was heartbreaking, and it certainly felt unfair.

Now that I have found The One this time for real — I have a clearer understanding of what went wrong before. Here are five common mistakes in the search for The One, so that you don’t have to go through the same pain yourself.

1. You think you were born for each other.

A 2017 poll by Monmouth University revealed that two-thirds of Americans believe in the existence of soulmates: the enduring idea that there is a predestined person out there for every single one of us. In other words, one very specific individual among 7.8 billion. It’s like looking for a needle in a stadium-sized haystack.

Research data, however, is more encouraging. It shows that the actual odds of finding true love on any given day of the year are 1 in 562 and that certain activities increase your chances of this to happen. For instance, online dating increases it by 17%, while meeting friends of your friends only 4%.

The thing is, there isn’t a person just for you. There are thousands of people who are potentially suitable partners for you, and you for them. The soulmate fallacy takes away your freedom of choice by limiting you to merely find that person, rather than choose them and be chosen by them.

This misconception can compromise your chances of finding The One. In a Q&A session, Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. from PsychAlive states that the people who believe in soulmates often reject perfectly adequate potential partners who don’t fit the image of the person they think they should be with.

Believing in soulmates is also detrimental to relationships. Robert Firestone, Ph.D., warns about The Fantasy Bond, a psychological defensive reaction in which a person develops a fantasy of being one with their partner. It sounds romantic and harmless, but research by the University of Toronto shows that couples who cultivate love and work through challenges have far better relationships than those who see themselves as soulmates destined to be together.

The takeaway:

Although we all like to sing and dance to Kiss’s I Was Made For Loving You, it would pay for us to remember the saying “there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.”

2. You overrate compatibility.

I love the 2009 film 500 Days Of Summer. In a memorable scene, Tom Hansen — the protagonist — explains to his eleven-year-old sister Rachel how “insanely compatible” he is with his new flame, Summer. In a disapproving tone, Rachel tells him, “Just because some cute girl likes the same bizarro crap you do, that doesn’t make her your soulmate, Tom.”

Rachel was right. Compatibility is important, but it isn’t everything you need to properly bond with someone and consider them The One. Susan Heitler Ph.D. from Psychology Today argues that, more so than compatibility, relationship success depends on factors that couples can do something about, and that the key to staying in love lies in polishing up skills for cooperative partnership.

Another related-issue occurs when you unrealistically expect a 100% compatibility rate with a prospective partner, a phenomenon known as “the demand of uber-compatibility.” Instead, you should expect your partner to exhibit high emotional intelligence and maturity to deal with the disagreements that will inevitably arise along the way.

My wife and I share the same values and worldviews, but our personalities and hobbies are somewhat different, and that’s okay — I was never looking for a carbon copy of myself. And even though every now and then we end up disagreeing — and occasionally even arguing — about everyday matters, we always work things out and find a way to stand together against adversity.

The takeaway:

When hardship emerges — and it will — your mutual fandom for Ringo Star won’t save your relationship. When it comes to choosing a partner, cooperative skills and emotional intelligence outweigh compatibility any day.

3. You mistake chemistry for compatibility — or even love.

Have you ever had that feeling that you may have found The One after the first or second date? If so, you’ve mistaken chemistry for compatibility.

That mistake is only natural. After all, chemistry is the first barrier a prospective partner must overcome to create a bond with you. It’s the initial, intense emotional connection you may experience with someone you’ve just met. It’s usually triggered by physical attractiveness or a perceived good sense of humor. Something just feels right, and you allow yourself to get carried away by it.

Compatibility, on the other hand, is the degree by which worldviews, values, hobbies, behaviors, and personality traits are shared between two people. Unlike chemistry, compatibility cannot be fully unveiled or appreciated after a few dates. It requires that you go through several meaningful experiences with your partner to fully discover and understand their psyche.

People often confuse chemistry with compatibility as the former provides almost immediate feedback to our brains, and the latter takes considerably longer to register. Due to the immediate emotional-high it provides, chemistry often overrules reason and makes us overlook serious compatibility issues with a potential partner. And in the worst-case scenario, it creates the illusion of being in love.

A young lady from work with whom I barely talked once sent me a letter saying she was madly in love with me, and that she couldn’t hide it any longer. She even said she was convinced I was The One for her. I had to sit down and explain to her — in the nicest way I could — that she didn’t know me at all and that she was experiencing sheer infatuation. Frustrated, she said I was wrong and that she was sure about her feelings.

After that, she never came back to work. I did see her again a couple of years later though, walking hand in hand with some guy. I hope that relationship worked out.

The takeaway:

Good chemistry leads to compatibility-checking. A good compatibility rate leads to meaningful experiences together. Those experiences lead to love. Understanding this is essential in your quest to find The One.

4. You’re doing very little (or nothing) to be The One for your future partner.

We all have an idea of the kind of person we want in your lives. Deep inside, there’s a mental list with checkboxes for The One we’re looking for. Very few, however, keep a similar list in their heads to make sure they’re The One for that person as well.

Here’s the deal: you can’t realistically expect to find genuine love if you don’t love yourself first. Psychologist and author Jill P. Weber Ph.D. explains that “People who take care of themselves are more attractive because they emanate self-discipline. Eating nutritiously, exercising regularly, and attending to your emotional health should be a part of your daily routine.”

The secret to increasing your chances of finding The One is to practice constant self-improvement. It is literally the process of becoming more attractive through the cultivation of yourself.

You may be thinking: “You’re wrong, Joe. The One for me will love me unconditionally for who I am, warts and all,” to which I say, “Your chances of finding The One are slim if you’re not willing and committed to becoming the best version of yourself you can.”

It’s like applying for a position: If you send a rather unimpressive résumé, someone else will get the job. Similarly, why would The One ever consider you as a potential partner when there are better options to choose from?

My advice? Write a checklist and make sure you include all those aspects about yourself you know you can improve upon. After you identify all those shortcomings, do something about them:

  • Is there anything you can do to look more attractive? Go for it.
  • Are you suffering from childhood traumas or insecurities? Get therapy.
  • Are your finances in jeopardy? Straighten them out.
  • Do you lack essential life-skills? Learn them now.

The takeaway:

The key to finding The One lies in increasing your chances of being selected by a prospective partner. You can meet someone and they can be everything you’ve ever dreamed of, but if you don’t meet their selection standards, you will never stand a chance.

5. You think finding The One will make you happy.

Hundreds and songs and stories reinforce the belief that happiness is strictly defined by the presence — or absence — of a special person in one’s life. This is probably the most common misconception about love and happiness you’ll ever learn, and certainly one of the most enduring ones as well.

About eight years ago, I was a needy person waiting to meet my soulmate. Eventually, love knocked on my door, and I became convinced I had finally found The One, the woman who would change everything and make my life worth living: I had officially made my girlfriend responsible for my happiness.

As you can imagine, it all went down catastrophically. She broke up with me only eight and a half months later, leaving me more heartbroken, confused, and miserable than ever.

Of course, it was all my fault. I had made the ultimate love-and-happiness blunder: burdening my partner with the weight of a responsibility that wasn’t theirs to carry.

As relationship experts, Linda and Charlie Bloom explain, “Individual happiness is up to each of us. When our happiness requires something from another person, what we have isn’t love: it’s codependence.” To put it simply, it is nobody’s job to ensure your happiness. That depends entirely on you.

Finding happiness before you find The One is essential for having a rewarding, fulfilling, and long-lasting relationship. Failing to understand this will doom your relationship from day one. Take it from me, I’ve been there before.

The takeaway:

It is one thing to share your happiness with someone else, and another to demand it from them. If you aren’t content with yourself and your life now, then you’re not ready for The One. Work on being happy by yourself, so you can base your relationships on love rather than dependency.

Bottom line

It’s been a long way paved by several failed relationships, but I can proudly say I’ve finally found The One for me. This is how I know:

  • We don’t hold onto the belief that we were always meant to be together. In fact, she was divorced before we formally started dating.
  • We’re not 100% compatible, and that’s okay. We are, however, capable of working out our differences and learning from our mistakes, which is way more important than being fans of the same movies.
  • Our relationship developed gradually. Strong chemistry was clearly the first indicator, but neither of us confused it with compatibility or love. Feelings of affection emerged later, as they should.
  • Before meeting her, I had been working on defeating my inner demons, an effort that paid off. By the time we started dating, I was considerably more mature and patient than I’d ever been before, making me a more qualified partner to her than I’d been to previous girlfriends.
  • Being together adds to our happiness, rather than determine it. In other words, we are happy with each other, not because of each other.

Now, is our marriage perfect? Of course not, but then again, it’s not supposed to be. Once you stop overidealizing love, you open the door to a new world of possibilities that can lead you to what you’ve always been looking for: The One.

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Salvadoran writer, father, husband, educator, and artisan. I write about love and relationships, family, life lessons, and personal growth.


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