Is He the One? I’m Not Sure If We Should Get Married or Call It Quits

“Is ‘the one’ actually a thing? How are you supposed to know when you’re ready for the next step? I’ve been with my boyfriend for three years. We’re very happy. But for some reason, when I think of marrying him, I feel unsure.” 

Life in 2020 is pretty amazing: You can open your phone and find out what your high school friends are up to on five different social networks. You can get any food delivered, whether it’s a half dozen cupcakes (all for you!) or the most nutritious salad. Or you can choose from half a dozen different dating apps that are jam-packed with potential romantic interests. 

But our unlimited options make it even trickier to commit to a partner, because if the marriage isn’t what you expected, you can’t (or shouldn't) just try something else. Dating feels way more high stakes now than it did in the days of our parents and grandparents. When there’s the illusion that anything might exist out there for you, it’s hard to know when to stop and invest time in just one. But that’s exactly what prevents a lot of people from having fulfilling, long-term relationships. 

When it comes to making big commitments, here’s where I think people get cold feet.

“but My Relationship Doesn’t Always Feel Sexy. Shouldn’t It Be Sexier?”

Dating and relationships are like two circles of a Venn diagram that barely touch. Dating is flirty, fun, exciting and zero-obligation. Relationships don’t have the same sex appeal 99 percent of the time; they’re about cooking together, meal prepping, splitting chores, conflict resolution, rushed mornings and deciding how many kids you can afford. 

Instability is the cornerstone of excitement, and it’s a foundational element of early romance. It’s like a roller coaster or a Hitchcock movie—you don’t know what’s going to happen next. There’s a lot of intermittent reinforcement. It’s easy to get “hooked,” and it’s intoxicating. 

Meanwhile, stability is the cornerstone of reliability, and that is the foundational element of any healthy relationship. When things hit the fan or you have a sudden emergency, you want to know ten times out of ten that your partner will have your back. There is absolutely no amount of excitement that can take the place of reliability in a long-term relationship.

“My relationship is good, but not great. Shouldn’t it be better?”

Wait, what? Why should this trip anyone up? Hear me out. A lot of people struggle to commit for the long haul because the relationship is good but they wonder if it should be better.

If this is you, you need to ask yourself 13 questions:

1. Does your partner always have your back?
2. Do you laugh together?
3. Are you best friends?
4. Do problems seem fixable and do you both actively work to solve them together?
5. Are you compatible?
6. Do you agree on the same big-picture things, like kids, traveling and living in the same place?
7. Do you feel loved?
8. Are you attracted to your partner, emotionally and physically?
9. Do you have highs (like when you go out, travel or see your partner thrive) but mostly have a stable norm?
10. Do lows feel short-lived?
11. Do you feel like your partner makes you a better person, simply by being themselves?
12. Do you feel inspired by their positive traits?
13. Do they consistently show love?

If you answered yes to all of the above (or most of the above), your relationship is probably good. And here’s the secret: Any good relationship can be better. All you need is concerted effort. If your routine has killed the sparks, go on a getaway or plan a sexy date where you get dressed up for each other. If you struggle to problem-solve on a few core issues, schedule a few therapy sessions so you can both learn how to communicate your hang-ups clearly. If you need more physical touch or quality time, identify those needs in yourself and try to ask your partner if they wouldn’t mind doing a bit more.  

One of my favorite pieces of relationship insight comes from psychologist Art Markman, Ph.D. He said that a lot of people think a relationship is like buying a car; it’s the best it’s ever going to be the day you drive it off the lot. In actuality, a relationship is like choosing an apartment; you pick a good one, settle in and make it your own over time. It can keep getting better and better.

So if you’ve picked a good one, settle in and make the relationship your own. Put in the effort. Make it better. If you do that and have that attitude toward long-term love, chances are, you’ll be pretty darn happy. 

Jenna Birch is a journalist and the author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a relationship-building guide for modern women. To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at