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Photo Credit: The Kitcheners

“How did you know she was the one?” is my favorite question to ask married men. I’ll admit that I take a certain amount of pleasure in the fact that, more often than not, men are totally oblivious as to what their female audience really wants to hear.

Sometimes you get a guy who catches on quickly and jumps in to, “As soon as I caught sight of her, I just knew . . .” But oftentimes, the happily wedded man will begin to list reasons, very practical reasons, as to why his wife is the woman for him.

Now, it’s not that his reasons are unromantic; in fact, they are arguably far more romantic than the vague inexplicable love described in fairy tales and movies. It’s just that they always come off sounding so thought through.

I always thought love should feel like something has inexplicably swept you away. I thought love would strike like lightning and leave you wondering, “Why this person? Why now?” But hearing men list the many reasons, the small discoveries along the way, that led up to a marriage proposal is actually so much better than lightning.

Because I am a hopeless sap and because I was curious if I could identify any common denominators among “how I knew she was the one” stories, I asked eight men how they knew. This is what I found.

It’s not necessarily one defining moment.

Most of the men I spoke to explained that their realization wasn’t necessarily one defining moment. “I can’t say there was a specific moment when I realized she was the one,” Alex explains. “It was more through our initial dating experience of a long-distance relationship for ten months, which forced us to really talk about everything under the sun.” Patrick, another guy who knew his wife since childhood, admits, “Since I had known her for so many years prior to dating, it was a bit of a process.”

But for some men, the “By golly, she’s the one!” moment seemed rather sudden. John’s story sounded more like my inexplicable lightning theory. John tells me he had his revelation in Rome near midnight on Christmas. “I was walking across St. Peter’s square to get a slice of pizza,” John recalls. “It dawned on me in a very profound way that I was living in a very cool moment, and she was the person I wanted to be sharing it with. I can’t really explain why I was so struck at that minute, but I was, and it changed everything.” But even for John, his certainty that his wife was the one for him was hardly inexplicable. He and his wife had been friends since high school and even dated for two years before that. He had a long list of reasons he knew.

Brian knew that his wife was the one because she was the only woman who ever made him feel at peace when he thought about the possibility of marriage. “I didn’t have that uneasiness with her,” he says. “It just felt so right. She was actually the first woman that I ever loved.” This, too, sounds a bit more like the wistful “I just knew” that we swoon over in movies, but Brian explains that it was not exactly as mysterious as that: “I think a lot of guys wait for some sort of divine intervention to tell them to marry a girl. I feel like my divine intervention was more subtle, that I was being gently guided, and I needed to look for what felt right.”

It was her relationship with others.

It wasn’t from gazing into her eyes that these guys knew their wives were the women for them. It was in looking around her and seeing how she interacted with those who were close to her.

“I remember the thing that overwhelmed me was that she seemed to love—me, her sisters, her friends—with a fierceness I’ve never seen before or since,” Tim recalls about his revelation. Patrick also explains that his wife’s relationship with her family highlighted her many virtues. “Her relationships with her siblings and parents showed her ability to be a committed friend, confidant, and listener, and [it showed] her prioritization of family life above other relationships,” Patrick explains.

I think this is a great reason for both men and women to let their significant others into their lives early and often. It doesn’t have to be an intense dinner with the family. You can invite a sister or brother to come join you on a casual date or when you are out with friends. When I asked my dad how he knew, he said, “The clincher was the way she interacted with her nieces, combined with her desire to be a mother. I wanted her to be the mother of my children.” The love you share in your family, even when family is hard to love, is one of your best qualities as a potential spouse. So don’t be afraid to show it off.

It was her easy laughter.

Marriage can be daunting. Many of us have hyped ourselves up for all the work, but it can start to feel like we are signing up for a lifetime of drudgery. We know that there will be hard times, but wouldn’t it be nice if marriage was also filled with joy? Even alongside all that struggle?

Another common trait among the men I interviewed was the draw of the joy found in their future wives. “We laugh together, a lot,” Paul explains. That was one of the four reasons he knew his wife was the one. It may seem like a small thing to meet someone who makes you laugh, someone who you can let down your guard with and joke around, but it’s not. Laughter and joy is an essential component to our happiness, whether you are married or not.

Alex also found his wife’s ability to not take herself too seriously extremely attractive. “Her great sense of humor—not hesitating to laugh at herself” was one of several attributes that drew him to her. Finding someone who is quick to make you laugh, at yourself or the situation, is important for a happy marriage.

It was her ability to make me better.

We all go into relationships a little dinged up. Upon getting to know one another, our strengths become known along with our flaws. The right person not only loves us despite our weaknesses but also inspires us to grow and overcome them.

This quality of inspiration was a common thread among the “how I knew” stories that I solicited. “Just being around her made me a better version of myself,” John tells me of his now-wife. John had known his wife for a while and was drawn to her “earnest and unending desire for truth and fundamental goodness.” Woah!

Tim also says that he was inspired by his wife’s ability to love and wanted to learn that from her. “I remember thinking, this is what we’re here on Earth to do, right? To love. I want a partner who will show me the way and fill me up with love that I can share with others,” he explains.

There are men out there who are looking for more—who want to be challenged and inspired. So don’t be afraid to let a man see what you are made of. The man who is right for you will see your wisdom, goodness, and strength as a gift and an opportunity to grow.