How I Knew He Was “The One”

Is the love we feel real? (Image Copyright Elizabeth Carlton)

If I had to choose two things in this world that I’m truly terrible at, it would be winking and choosing who to love. That’s why I found the idea of finding my “soulmate” daunting. I had a knack for falling in love with men who changed their minds. Whether it was due to fading infatuation or their own personal struggles, the story always ended with me let down and let go.

I was 31 and single when “Mr. Right” walked into my life. It happened in an instant — just like you see in cheesy romantic comedies. He was a friend of a friend who struck up a conversation with me one day over streaming and books. As we talked, something shifted inside of me. I didn’t know it then, but my life had changed. Almost instantly, he became my best friend. We texted and talked from morning until night every day. A month later, we were dating. By month three, we began exploring the idea of a future together.

It sounds like a fairytale, doesn’t it? I’m a fantasy author and even I rolled my eyes typing those words. But as days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, I began to see the difference between Nate and the others. More specifically, I began to understand the difference between what I thought was love, and what love is supposed to look like.

How I Knew He Was the “One”

There were men I dated in the past that I thought I saw a future with, but Nate was different. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would marry this man one day — and it scared the heck out of me.

I had been wrong about love so many times in the past that I needed more concrete answers as to why this relationship felt so different, so I started analyzing my feelings in hopes to bring some kind of logic to what felt like fate.

Here’s what I discovered:

Our Chemistry and Curiosity Created a Next-Level Friendship

I’m no stranger to chemistry. It’s that spark of attraction that makes conversations seamless, dates magnetic, and physical attraction undeniable. But the thing about chemistry is that it can’t be the only glue holding a relationship together. There has to be a deeper connection.

The first conversation I had with Nate felt like reconnecting with someone I had known my entire life. There was something about him that put me at ease. I was completely myself around him, without reservation, in a way that I hadn’t experienced even with my closest friends.

“I was completely myself around him, without reservation, in a way that I hadn’t experienced even with my closest friends.”

That kind of transparency was mutual as our conversations naturally became a steady, ongoing dialogue throughout each day. We talked from the moment we woke up to the moment we went to bed via text, phone calls, and video chats, yet even as the weeks went by, we never ran out of things to say. In fact, we still haven’t.

Elli and Nate.

From day one, Nate displayed a curiosity toward me that went below the skin. From my writing and art to what made me tick, he sought to understand who I was as a human being. It wasn’t an act, but rather a genuine interest in who I was as a person. I had never experienced that before.

“It wasn’t an act, but rather a genuine interest in who I was as a person.”

“Baby, you inspire me,” he said — and continues to say — on a regular basis.

The more I got to know him, the more curious I became, too. I was impressed by his resilience and positive attitude, his dedication as a father, his ability to build and create new things, as well as his perspective, knowledge and sense of humor. Knowing him didn’t change me. It didn’t make me a “better person.” Instead, it woke up the person I am. I felt more like myself than I had in years.

When describing what “true love” looked like, clinical psychologist and marriage counselor Randi Gunther, Ph.D. wrote:

“The intense drive of sexual attraction is part of every new relationship but there are additional feelings when true, long-lasting love is a possibility. The sense of being alive is felt simultaneously and in every cell in the body. The heart feels as if it is opening, the mind is engaged, the senses are awakened, and a feeling of transcendence often emerges.

Couples who have stayed in love for a long time tell me that both of them felt as if something were transforming inside of them, a kind of awakening they had not often felt before, like they made an energy together neither had known in the same way before.”

Together, Nate and I had this shared energy that motivated us. We became a team that started tackling life together, side-by-side.

Living Love That is a Verb, Not a Feeling

Love is a team effort.

Chemistry, curiosity and connection are part of the equation, but there’s another side to this relationship that made me realize he was a keeper: he loved me with the same compassion and effort that I showed him.

The mistake I made in the past was that I steered my love down a one-way street. In my determination to connect with men who were emotionally detached and commitment-wary, I drained myself of the love that was meant to be both given and received.

My relationship with Nate became an eye-opening experience of how two people should love each other. I was constantly surprised by his acts of compassion, from something as small as helping me with chores around the house to taking a look at a defect in my car or staying up until 3am with me when I was sick. Suddenly, it wasn’t just me handling all of life’s tasks and hurdles— it was us, together.

“Suddenly, it wasn’t just me handling all of life’s tasks and hurdles — it was us, together.”

I constantly thanked him for things that he did, until one day he said to me, “It makes me sad in a way… You should have been treated way better in past relationships. This is all very normal stuff!”

And he’s right. You see, true love isn’t about how much you care about someone. Rather, it’s the choice two people make to walk through life together, as a team.


  • Feeds each other through words and actions
  • Always chooses to be honest, even when the truth is terrifying
  • Shares the load when it comes to everyday tasks, life’s challenges and celebrations
  • Communicates openly and listens closely
  • Encourages, uplifts and appreciates one another
  • Stands up for each other
  • Invests in one another through equal attention, support and fostering the relationship
  • Creates an environment where each person can be his or her self without reservation or feeling like they’re “walking on eggshells”
  • Loves the other’s family as his or her own
  • Cares about the other’s wellbeing and is willing to compromise to create mutual happiness

If I could give any piece of advice to those of you searching for “the one”, it would be this: know how to love another in a healthy way, but also recognize whether you’re receiving that love back. Find your teammate in life where the load is even and you lift each other up. Life is heavy enough, but together it’s much lighter.



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