“How do you know when you’ve found The One?” It’s a question you’ve probably heard or even asked yourself before. I asked it to myself recently, but, in my case, I started with an answer. Having recently been engaged, I know that I’ve found The One. So, how do I know that I know?

To answer that, I’ll go back a few years to my travel days. I was trekking through India with a girl I had met a couple of years earlier in Berlin. We spent three months backpacking together, during which time I fell in love. After intentionally being single for many years, I thought I had found someone that could potentially be The One. Why? She clearly loved to travel, she loved reading, she worked out religiously, she was intelligent, and she was French- Canadian. How could she NOT be The One, right? Unfortunately, the feeling wasn’t reciprocated and in the end we parted ways.

Bewildered, heartbroken, and confused, I flew to Thailand wondering how I’d possibly meet someone as great as the girl I had just left in India. And then I met Brooke. Brooke was a beautiful and fascinating girl from New Jersey. She had lived in Argentina for a few years, loved salsa, was a fellow martial artist, and had a remote job which allowed her to travel as much as me. I couldn’t believe it. My turnaround was almost too good to be true. The possibility of having someone to continue traveling the world with was exciting!

Now this is where the story starts to get interesting. Very soon after meeting Brooke, I met yet ANOTHER amazing woman, Elle. (Brooke and I hadn’t even gone on any official dates just yet.) Elle was on vacation and I met her right before her last weekend. We had an immediate and strong connection, a very big part of which included a shared passion for electronic music. We had both been a part of the pre-smartphone era party scene, and this was possibly the rarest type of connection I could’ve possibly found (if you’re thinking EDM or the club scene as it exists today then you’re probably too young to understand). She had even attended an iconic party that had been deeply formative for me in my college years. When the weekend ended, Elle had to leave, but we had established… something.

Shortly after Elle left, Brooke and I started dating. The more I hung out with her the more I started to fall for her. At the same time, I was still in contact with Elle. I convinced myself that Elle and I were just friends. I didn’t know it at the time but this created a huge internal conflict which came to a head when I decided to go on a trip to southern Thailand with Brooke. Elle and I were still talking almost every day, and during the weeks leading up to the trip I decided that I was going to have to pick one and come clean with the other. This is when I started asking myself how I might know when I’d found the one. I thought about it every day leading up to the trip. I tried to rationalize; I thought about traveling with Brooke, dancing with Elle… I couldn’t decide. It was stressful for me to think about and in the end, sadly, I did nothing.

Falling Apart

On the morning of the trip, I went for a run and came home to discover some odd bumps on my shoulder. I thought it was a heat rash so didn’t think much of it, and soon found myself in Krabi.

I was immediately miserable. The heat was unbearable, putting me in a reclusive funk. After a couple days of this, and with my heat rash spreading, I had the perfect excuse to leave. I cut my trip short, left Brooke in Krabi, and flew back to Chiang Mai. Stepping off the plane was a huge physical and mental relief. Being with Brooke while trying to communicate with Elle had been stressful. By this time, my “rash” had started to become painful, so I went to see a doctor about it. As it turned out, it was shingles. The shingles had been triggered by the stress, a big part of which was buried in my subconscious. This realization didn’t come till months later though.

After my bout with shingles I left for Vietnam while Brooke continued her trip in southern Thailand. A few months later I visited Elle in The US and Brooke in Brazil. Each of these visits ended in a spectacularly painful fashion, as my lies (which started with the ones I told myself) and layers of deceit all came tumbling down.

Exasperated at having lost two amazing women and wondering where I had gone wrong, I set out to work on myself and become the man I thought myself to be. I analyzed all my actions, figured out my mistakes, read a few books, and became confident that I had sorted myself out. I had my formula.

Almost exactly a year after my episode in Thailand, I did it all over again. This time in Brazil and with two different women. The situation and how everything played out was almost identical, with the exception that it was the grand finale of my string of disasters. If there was an award for ugly endings, I would’ve gotten a parade.

Looking back and remembering how I felt while facing the wrath of a beautiful Brazilian woman, I think part of me wanted it to happen, or at least realized it needed to happen. I needed to face myself and see who I really was. I needed to come to terms with all the things I had spent so long hiding from myself, even after my “personal development,” which really hadn’t accomplished anything. I hit rock bottom.

It might sound cliché but I had to break down completely before I could be built back up. I transformed into a completely different person during the summer that followed. My previous attempt had focused on changing my actions and behaviors, without actually changing the person driving those behaviors. This time, however, I started by changing myself. I stopped hiding my own emotions and who I was, while acknowledging that that’s what I had been doing my whole life. I became accountable — most importantly to myself. While I had set out to fix my approach to relationships, I ended up transforming my whole outlook, attitude and life. And more importantly for this story, it set the stage for me to find The One.

From the Ashes

Before my transformation, I spent some time with close friends from New York City. We made plans to spend Memorial Day Weekend together in upstate New York, and it was going to be a fun pitstop on my way to Canada. As it so happened, my Spanish teacher from Colombia, Carla, was going to be in New York on a layover en route to Spain. So, I invited her to come hang out with us.

The morning after we got there, we all went on a hike. And since Carla didn’t know any of my friends very well I decided to keep her company. I should also mention that most of us were taking psychedelics and since this was Carla’s first experience with LSD (after some convincing from a good friend), I thought it would be a good idea if she had someone familiar to hang with.

At some point during the hike, while we were a bit separated from the group and as often happens while on acid, we found ourselves engaged in a discussion that would normally be reserved for more intimate friends. We came to an awkward pause in the conversation because we had just shared a type of moment that we both realized was a step beyond our level of friendship. It was at this moment that, completely unaware of what I was doing and without any possible planning, I pulled her into an embrace and gave her a long kiss. Being in the forest surrounded by nature while having our hearts and minds fully open made it an especially magical moment. Needless to say, we were inseparable for the rest of the weekend. But the magic came to an end just a few days later when Carla left for Spain.

And then came my transformation. Through a combination of a weekend seminar, confronting my past, taking responsibility, and having some difficult conversations with people, including my parents, I emerged a totally different person. Freed from the limitations that my past had created and more self-aware than I had ever been, I was excited about the new possibilities that I was going to create for myself in Canada. My hope was that I’d meet someone in Canada that would give me a reason to stay.

During this time I kept in touch with Carla. We had shared a magical moment which hadn’t been lost on me. And yet, the question of whether Carla might be The One didn’t even cross my mind. I even told Carla that I thought this was where we went back to being just friends. But right after making the remark, I began having mixed feelings. Should I keep talking to Carla? Was there something there? Should I pursue it? What about finding someone in Canada? Should I try to keep my options open? The familiar rationalizations and considerations started. But this time, recognizing the pattern, I immediately re-evaluated everything. Wasn’t I a man that, having taken responsibility for my life, now created his own possibilities? I wasn’t going to make the same decisions and mistakes that I made before. So I threw all the rationalizations, considerations, and options out the window and made The Choice.

The Choice

I chose Carla. All my reasons didn’t matter. I chose her 100% with everything I had, and I was going to find out what happened. And once I made this choice a huge weight was lifted off my chest. Everything became easy. There was no longer anything to consider or weigh. I immediately had purpose and intention, driven by who I was and not by some formula I had concocted for achieving results.

A surprising realization was that it didn’t particularly matter whether Carla chose me back or not. Since I was driven by who I was and not by what I was trying to achieve, outcomes no longer mattered. But a full commitment was needed.

Without a full commitment, there’s no way to see the full extent of possibilities that you might have with someone. Similarly, they don’t get to see the full potential of their OWN possibilities before they make their choice about YOU. Anything less and you’ll never get the full picture. The realization was mind-blowing for me. It was also incredibly liberating. When you make a choice and throw everything else away, you realize that a choice doesn’t need reasons. A choice is its own reason and the most powerful one.

After choosing Carla, what I had to do was crystal clear. I immediately booked a flight to Spain and one month later I was on a beach in Barcelona, telling Carla that I wanted to be her boyfriend. A year after that, I asked her the question: “Do you choose me?”

The One

I’ve never looked back or thought about what my life would’ve been like had I not chosen Carla. And the interesting thing is that it wouldn’t have been any different had Carla not chosen me back. That’s the thing about making a choice. When you make a choice, you throw out the other options and leave yourself with one option that you have to take regardless of the outcome. This gives you the freedom to go all in and makes it impossible to have regrets.

So how did I know that Carla was The One? I didn’t. She BECAME The One when I chose her. The idea that we’ll “know” when someone is The One takes a fatalistic approach. Like it’s a piece of knowledge that the Universe just needs to reveal. Choosing, on the other hand, is how you create your own possibilities.

So my answer to knowing when you’ve found The One? You’ll know when you’ve found The One when you choose The One.