So you met someone, and it’s going pretty well. You’ve been on a few dates, you’re texting every day, and all signs are pointing to this turning into something. Or maybe you’ve been dating for so long that your relationship is comfortable, and you feel perfectly fine. But then that nagging feeling creeps in the back of your mind: Are they really “the one” or am I wasting my time trying to force a relationship? The truth is that when you know, you know, but when you’re not sure, you know too; it’s just harder to admit because what you know in that case leads to a breakup.
We’ve all stayed with people we know aren’t right for us but choose to ignore the gut feeling. We stay because it’s easier than being alone, we “should” like the other person, or we’re worried there won’t be anyone else. Maybe this person checks all the boxes, but there’s just something missing. You know the breakup cliché “it’s not you; it’s me?” Well, sometimes, it’s not you, but it’s not me either; it’s the “us” that doesn’t work. Chemistry is unpredictable, and compatibility (or incompatibility) isn’t always something you can anticipate. It’s difficult to know something’s missing when you can’t put your finger on what it is.
But since you deserve undeniable love and a happy, lasting relationship, read on for 12 signs you might be forcing that spark and your significant other is not really “The One.”
1. You want a relationship more than you want the person
If you have been hoping for a relationship for a long time, feel pressure to be coupled up, or are sick of feeling lonely, you may be more in love with the idea of a relationship than with this person. To decipher between wanting the person or wanting the relationship, think about whether or not you’d be friends with this person. Would you want to be around them, even if it was platonic or a relationship was not an option? What if this person never wanted to get married or lived across the country? Would you still want to be with them, or would you move on to someone more convenient? If you’re only with this person due to convenient circumstances or wanting a relationship, odds are, you’re more in love with being in a relationship than with the person.
2. You’re self-conscious
Spark or not, if you’re with someone who stifles you, makes you feel like you have to censor yourself, or causes you to overthink your words and actions, it is not a true partnership. Even if there is “a spark,” it’s chemistry between your significant other and a censored version of you; why would you even want that spark anyway? If the relationship is dependent on you walking on eggshells to make it work, it’s not worth wasting your time on.
3. The relationship doesn’t recover from arguments
When it comes to disagreements in a relationship, we grow up learning about mixed messages. We either expect a passionate love affair (à la The Notebook) where a spark means constant fighting or we believe in the idea of “The One” being the perfect person for us. They do nothing wrong, and therefore, we never need to disagree; one fight or mistake must mean there’s someone better out there.
But compatibility and relationship success do not depend on whether or not you disagree but instead on how you recover from disagreements. No matter who your perfect match is, they won’t be a robot (just a wild guess!), so remember that both of you will make mistakes, bad days will come, and arguments will happen. Pay attention to how your significant other reacts to those times. Do they listen to you, communicate effectively, and never make the same mistake twice? Do you both care more about the relationship than about being right? Or do you struggle with communication, hold onto resentment, and feel like every fight could be the end of the relationship? If your closeness doesn’t bounce back after arguments, you might be forcing the connection.
4. Your PDA is more affectionate than in private
Every person and every relationship is different. Maybe you think it’s cheesy to post monthiversaries on Facebook and get embarrassed kissing in front of your friends, or maybe you want the world to know how happy you are. No shame either way, but you both should have just as much (or more) private displays of affection as you do public. If the spark is there, you probably display affection by mere accident instead of overt PDA: exchanging smirks across the room, holding hands under the table, or telling them how much you love them as you get ready for bed at night.
Instead of making out in front of friends or displaying your love all over social media, you might publicly tease each other, brag about each other’s accomplishments, and maybe steal a kiss or hug when you don’t think anyone is looking. If your affection is more public than private (for either or both of you), your relationship might be more about proving something than how you feel internally.
5. You’re hoping some things about them will change
If you catch yourself thinking, this person would be perfect if only [insert thing here] or we’ll have a great relationship once they [insert change here], you’re trying to force the spark. And forced sparks will never last. You don’t always need to have the same values, beliefs, and attitudes, but you at least have to understand, respect, and appreciate your differences. You should not have to change them to love them. While we’re on the topic, if you find yourself blaming a lack of attraction on a weird haircut or bad fashion sense, know that it probably won’t change even if they get a new haircut or update their wardrobe. Physical attraction is about how your bodies connect, and you should feel a magnetic pull toward them and an undeniable attraction that won’t depend on changeable factors.
6. You don’t trust them
Of course, questioning their loyalty is the biggest red flag (women’s intuition is always right). If you don’t trust them to stay faithful, they are definitely not the one. But I’m also talking about trusting them in other ways. If they’re someone worth being with, you’ll trust their opinions, value their input, and believe in who they are. You have faith in their honesty and don’t question their integrity. They call when they say they will and make you feel safe when you’re apart. A spark is dependent on attraction, yes, but it’s also about your connection when you’re not physically together.
7. You have to pretend to be interested, or vice versa
You and your partner probably have many different interests. In fact, you should, because dating another you would be boring AF. No, you may not always be interested in their passion or hobbies, but you should want to learn more because you know how much it matters to them and you genuinely want to be able to share what they love. On the other hand, you shouldn’t have to pretend you don’t love to listen to Broadway soundtracks in the car or feel like you can never talk about the latest fashion trends because you know your partner won’t care. They should want to love everything you love and talk about everything you want to. If their eyes glaze over when you talk about your day or you don’t care to ask about their newest hobby, the spark might not be there.
8. You can picture a life with them, but it doesn’t excite you
Just because you can picture a life together does not always mean it’s right for you. When you think about what a relationship, having a home, starting a family, or growing old with this person would be like, is it the fantasy that’s more exciting or actually doing it all with them? Not to be cliché and quote a rom-com (JK, I always quote rom-coms), but “when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” A lifetime with them should be exciting.
If the spark is there, you’ll look forward to every next step and see yourselves happily together at 80 years old. If you’re forcing a spark, you won’t be excited about a life with them or you’ll be more excited about the big life events (a wedding, buying a house, having babies, etc.) and won’t be able to picture just the two of you together, 50 years from now.
9. You don’t have a good friendship
If you’re not laughing, joking, and enjoying even unromantic time together (like running errands, cleaning the house, or walking the dog), your “spark” might just be an illusion based on physical chemistry or relationship newness but is not a lasting connection. Aren’t the best friendships the ones that make you silly for no reason and keep you laughing? If you’re going to spend your life with someone, it better be the best friendship you’ve ever had. Your partner should bring out your silliest self because that’s how you know they’re going to keep you laughing when things get tough, boring, or mundane. Now that’s a spark.
10. You only feel good about them in certain environments
Maybe you have fun hanging out with their nieces and nephews, but you’re constantly cringing when your partner is around your family because they don’t fit in. Or perhaps you think you love them during date nights but can’t stand being around them on Sunday morning when you’re lounging at home. Rather than get distracted by the times you do feel good about them, focus on the times when you don’t. Love is inconvenience; it’s caring about something when it’s not easy to do so. If your feelings for them are strong in some environments but missing in others, the spark is just an illusion based on external factors.
11. You don’t feel safe or respected
We often confuse “a spark” with a lot of other emotions. Comfort, addiction, and infatuation are the common ones that often get misidentified as love. While love can feel addicting, the difference between actual addiction and just addiction-like qualities of love is that with healthy love (AKA a lasting spark), there’s also respect, trust, and commitment. If you’re just addicted to a person (a quick spark), it will feel more like attaining “highs” at any cost.
Likewise, the difference between a comfortable love and a love for the sake of comfort is the feeling of safety. With a comfortable love, you’ll feel safety and trust no matter what. If you’re in a relationship for the sake of comfort, you’ll feel uncomfortable whenever you’re not with them, out of lack of trust in them or the relationship. Realize what love feels like, and don’t mistake it for anything else.
12. You’re not on the same page
We put confusing definitions and stories around what “chemistry” really means, but the truth is that having a spark just means being on the same page: in humor, in intimacy, in values, and in what you want out of the relationship. If there is a genuine spark, one that will last when the newness fades, you won’t have to question whether or not it’s there because you’ll both just know. A soulmate, the one, or even just someone worth spending time with will never feel forced. Even when the relationship feels difficult (because it will), loving each other never will be. So if something feels “off,” that’s because it is.