How do you know when you've found "the one"?

“How do I know that she (or he) is the one?”

This is a common question. People want to know if they are meant to marry a particular person. Is he or she the right person, the one? It seems that underneath this question lies an unspoken assumption that is not particularly helpful or Catholic. Many think that from the beginning of time God has predestined one person for them to marry. This person is the one because God has decided that this is the case. It then becomes our job to search for, and hopefully marry, the one.

This way of thinking makes life stressful and can be quite destructive. People become very anxious, seeking signs from God confirming that the person they are with is the one. “God, help me to know for sure that this is the one for me!” What happens if you never find the one? Maybe you were supposed to meet the one at a particular event but missed the event (and your chance for a happy marriage) because you had a cold. What happens if you meet someone who you are sure is the one but it doesn't work out? Does this mean that you missed your chance and are now doomed to be alone forever? This way of thinking can cause more serious problems when a couple gets married and begins having difficulties in their relationship. Someone can think, “we are arguing too much… this doesn't seem right … maybe this person wasn't the one after all.” Another can divorce, explaining that the person they married was not the one and begin the search all over again for the one.

What makes someone the one?
When does someone become the one?
Who makes someone the one?

The theology of the sacrament of marriage helps us answer these questions. Every sacrament is a personal encounter with Jesus in which we receive His grace which heals, forgives, nourishes and strengthens us. Though what happens to us in a sacrament is invisible (undetectable by the senses), it is affected by some visible sign (which is detectable). Each sacrament, then, has: 1) an invisible grace and 2) a visible sign. In baptism, for example, the visible sign is being washed with water while the baptismal formula is pronounced. This visible sign affects an invisible grace within the person: he/she is cleansed of original sin, becomes a son or daughter of God and a member of the Church.

In the sacrament of marriage, the invisible grace the couple receives is that they are bonded together by God for life (“no longer two but one” Mt. 19:6). During the sacrament of marriage the spouses become the one to each other. This is very important. There is no such thing as the one for you before marriage. Before marriage, any number of people could have potentially been the one for you. It is only during the sacrament of marriage your spouse becomes the one.

What is the visible sign that makes someone the one? Is it the ring? The blessing of the priest or deacon? In marriage, the visible sign is the consent of the bride and bridegroom. When the spouses says “I do” to one another, promising to enter into a life-long, exclusive union that is open to children, the pair is joined together by God.  It is a someone’s choice that makes a person the one. God respects this decision, binding the spouses together. When you choose and declare publicly that you will be faithful to someone for your life and raise a family with them, loving them through all the ups and downs, never giving up on that relationship, that person becomes the one the for you.

How do I know that she (or he) is the one? You know when you are ready to commit your entire life to that person. When you look at it this way, preparing for marriage is not just about finding the right person. It is equally - perhaps more - about becoming the kind of person who can make the lifelong, sacrificial commitment that marriage requires.

We need to change the question. We should not be asking “is this person the one”? The question we should ask is, “am I prepared to make this person the one by committing and striving to love him or her for my life just as Christ loves the Church (cf. Eph 5:25)”?