Dating typically falls into two distinct buckets: Dating for fun or dating with a purpose. We’re all familiar with the go-with-the-flow phase, but when playing the field (and biological clocks) gets old, people start to focus on building towards something a little more real.
While that may just mean a committed relationship for some, the end game for many is marriage. However, with recent research noting that African-Americans are the most unmarried racial/ethnic group in the United States at only 29 percent, getting to the altar isn’t as easy as just wanting to settle down—you actually have to find that special life partner.
“Smiley faces after all of her phrases/Either she The One or I'm caught in The Matrix/But f**k it, let the Fishburne/Red or green pill, you live and you learn, c'mon!” —Jay-Z, “Excuse Me Miss” (2002)
Despite having the hottest chick in the game wearing his chain, perennial playboy Shawn Carter wasn’t sure at first if Beyoncé was the woman to make him turn in his player card. If Queen Bey isn’t a shoe-in for putting a ring on it, just imagine how hard it is for mere mortals to make the big leap.
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Still, people meet and fall in love every day. But what is it about a person that makes a man want to pop the question? Is it timing? Unbridled chemistry? A feeling of home? The answer varies from person to person. But for insight into how a man knows, we picked the brains of a handful of married and engaged brothers to see how they knew their significant other was “The One.” Word to Neo.
My Ambitions as a Husband
“As men, especially men of ambition, we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about the future: What we plan to achieve, how we’d like to live, the legacy we want to leave behind, etc. I suppose my fiancée became ‘The One’ once every image of my future included her. Whenever I imagine how my life might turn out, I see her by my side for every career milestone, each vacation, and my most crucial moments as a father [one day].
My fiancée became ‘The One’ once every image of my future included her.
When I knew she was ‘The One’ is a hard question to answer. That’s like asking someone their earliest childhood memory. Suddenly, on a random day a very long time ago, I woke up and understood the things that were happening around me, and now I can’t recall a time when I didn’t.
I define love in terms of value—not the value you’d place on possessions, but the kind you’d place on yourself. I value my fiancée’s safety, health, and happiness as much as I value my own. Maybe even more. Although we’re a year away from walking down the aisle, she’s already my family. I’d take the same bullet for her as I would for my parents or my children. When I say I love someone, that’s what I mean—that caring for them feels as natural as my own need to be cared for.” —Austin, 30, Brooklyn, NY, engaged for one year
Love With No Limits
“On the first week of us becoming official, we were at her apartment and she asked if I was hungry. There was something about the way she said it that really registered with me. Her tone of voice showed that she cared for me out of nature because she is such a caring person in general, and that care for me was just part of who she is, and how happy she was to do it.
Even after three years in my previous relationship, I had never gotten that feeling. The future never felt certain with my ex, but with this woman, however, I was able to see 10 years in the future of us being happily married with no restrictions on showing love and affection. I didn't feel any need to feel guarded with her. Trusting her and trusting myself weren't mutually exclusive. It was the first time that I saw love truly reciprocated, which meant that from the start, there were no limits to our relationship's growth.
As she was pouring a glass of orange juice, she saw me zoning out and laughed because I was staring at her. But she didn't know the full truth: In that moment, she had me.” —Gerard*, 40, New York City, married 10 years
Related: You Almost Killed My Wife
Kiss Me Through the Phone
“After being introduced to my partner by a friend in college, I kept running into her on campus. We exchanged numbers and during our second phone conversation, she said she was going to go hang out with her friends and she’d call me back. I was sure that callback wouldn’t happen—at least not that night. But she called back a couple hours later. It was so easy to talk to her; we ended up talking from early in the evening until around 2 a.m. After we hung up, I uttered to myself, ‘I think I just met my wife.’
Though I met my wife early in my young adult years, falling in love was not new to me. At that point, I had learned a little more control, so she was the first woman I was in love with minus the head-over-heels-falling part. [Our budding relationship] felt mature and balanced. I could pace myself and my interactions with her. I knew what I was looking for; in addition to looks, brains, and humor, she was kind, truthful, and open-minded, which were qualities I felt would be sufficient for a cooperative understanding.
I found myself wondering at work one day something I’d often wondered, ‘Was I doing enough? How could I show my significant other, even more, that she mattered?’ Usually my thoughts about marriage concluded with ‘maybe when... I have a real job, I’m earning more, my career is in full swing, etc.’ It struck me that day on the job: What better way to show my lady she’s a priority in my life than to ask her to marry me?” —Richard*, 49, Brooklyn, NY, married 20 years
Trust the Process
“I can’t remember a specific moment when I knew she was ‘The One.’ But I remember whenever the topic of marriage came up, I didn’t want to start running. Usually that would be the sobering moment when I realized I wasn’t into someone as much as they potentially were into me. After a couple months of dating someone, there’d be some sort of big red flag. But that wasn't the case with her. In hindsight, the fact I entertained the possibility of marriage was the indicator she was ‘The One.’
I can’t remember a specific moment when I knew she was ‘The One.’ But I remember whenever the topic of marriage came up, I didn’t want to start running.
By the time I met my spouse I was in tune with what I desired, what I could give, and was aware of not f**king things up when you have a good thing. After living together for a year, I knew we got along swimmingly. There were also several long road trips and travel that also went off without a hitch, so the proposal was inevitable. I got the ring with one of her close friends, who helped me pick it out. I don’t remember waking up thinking this is the day or feeling any anxiety about popping the question. This was the natural next step, and I was all-aboard.
I’d define love as ‘trust’—trusting you can depend on another person totally and without question, under any circumstances. I’m sure that’s why when we had that convo about marriage, I didn’t start thinking of an exit strategy. I never had a doubt or inkling of cold feet. I was certain she was ‘The One’ because I love her so much, and vice versa.” —Alvin, 45, New York City, married 16 years
Related: Why Isn’t Therapy a Prerequisite For Marriage?
We Found Love in This Club
“I met my husband at a club at 2 a.m. I had just moved to New York and had been there for three weeks. He was on his first day of vacation from Sydney, Australia. We went home together that night and hung out every day of his 12 days in New York.
After he went back to Australia, we kept in touch via WhatsApp and Skype and chatted every day. Four months later, we made it official, but we couldn't do long distance forever. That summer, he moved from Australia into my apartment in Harlem. I'm definitely not someone who meets someone and then moves in with them, but there was something special about him. This was the first time I was truly in love.
I don’t believe in cliches, but when you know, you know. It’s an indescribable feeling.
Marriage wasn’t legal for the LGBTQIA+ community until 2015, so it wasn’t really an option for us for a long time. But in 2018, we decided to move to Sydney. Weeks leading up to our move I thought that if I was going to move to another country for him that it would be best to take the relationship to the next level.
I don’t believe in cliches, but when you know, you know. It’s an indescribable feeling. I remember his last night in New York when we first met—several times I was thinking about something and he would say it. It still happens to this day. I always tell him to get out of my head! We were just so connected. I guess that’s when I realized that he was ‘The One.’” —Brandon, 40, Australia, married three years
Working at Love
“Being totally honest, I recognized her as someone who could be ‘The One’ as soon as I saw her. A deeper type of recognition. Not one that immediately clicked in my conscious brain, but my body knew.
We worked at the same company, in different departments. Still, I would find reasons to be around, talk to, and see her. Pursuing a workplace romance was not my M.O., but she had a pull on me that defied my normal way of being.
Pursuing a workplace romance was not my M.O., but she had a pull on me that defied my normal way of being.
We were friends first and got to know each other without the masking and pretentiousness that comes with traditional dating. I loved her and was able to show her who I was. That set things apart. Also, she’s a tough cookie, and I needed someone with a strength that matched mine. I had never had that before, and when I got it, through her, I knew.
I define love as a frequency, a state of being. It's like the sun, the rays warm everything and gives life to all that it touches. You can’t ignore the sun when it shines, and you can’t ignore love without betraying yourself, because at our core I believe we are love. So it's a recognition of self, the fundamental self, in any and everything else. Needless to say, I saw my wife shining.” —Anthony, 39, Chicago, IL, married six years
Related: Office Relationships Are Too Damn Messy
Love in Due Time
“I knew my partner was ‘The One’ from the night we met. You just know, man. We locked eyes from across a crowded room. Our first date consisted of us getting coffee and strolling around Times Square. Our conversations spanned from playful banter to serious talk about life and our idea of dating.
Still, largely due to my indecisiveness, our dating history spans about five years of an on-and-off relationship. We rekindled things for real in year five and both came to the conclusion that we wanted to get married.
The first time I was in love, it was unrequited. Moving on from that situation, I was able to spot real love more eagerly and appreciate the requited love I receive from my now wife. She loves me in a way that leaves no room for doubt. Her love is warm, blatant, potent, and sure. She's done everything for me and I have no doubt that she'll continue to keep our love sacred, forever.
Love is compassion, it's unconditional, and most importantly, it's a bond between two people. It's the glue; it's a foundation that two people can stand on. A true love never wavers. Although we aren't perfect, the idea of a healthy, true love is the closest thing we have to perfection on Earth.” —Andrew, 32, Brooklyn, NY, married one month
*Name changed at subject's request.