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How to Find True Love

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While “How to Get Over a Breakup” was the number one requested article topic I’ve written on, it’s not surprising that a close second is the topic of How to Find True Love. Here’s an email from one reader:

I’ve realized that one of my main goals is to find a worthwhile and long term relationship. I noticed you have entries on how to keep a relationship and on how to end a relationship so would you consider writing an entry on what you perceive to be the best way to find a worthwhile relationship. How to avoid making the same mistakes, overcoming fears, keeping up motivation after failure etc.”
– Gary (Dublin, Ireland)

Regardless of our culture, our level of education or economic status, at the depth of all of us are the same desires- to love, to be loved, and to be happy.

Of course we could add other desires to this list, like money and wealth and fancy things, but when you drill into these things, the reason for wanting them is so that we can appear more desirable, and will hopefully be loved and accepted.

If love is something so fundamentally important to us, then why is it that we have so many issues and misunderstandings in the area of finding it? I think the answer is simple, that most of us have never been educated in this fundamental area of our development. Chances are, you didn’t grow up with parents who were relationship experts, and we certainly didn’t study relationships in our high school curriculums. For most of us, it’s been an adventure in trial and error and learning through pain and heart-break. But is there an easier way?

In light of Valentine’s Day approaching this week, I am going to touch on one of my favorite topics of all time: finding love.

Personal Story

I spent most of my time in my late teens and early twenties on finding love, or so I thought at the time. In actuality I was seeking self-acceptance, approval and identity. I was deeply insecure and had a great fear of being alone. I jumped from relationship to relationship, all the while searching for myself. But the act of seeking self-worth through my external relationships took me further from that which I longed.

I’ve always been an ambitious person and in addition to my job, I’ve often worked on side projects and other interests. But whenever I found myself in a relationship, I would drop everything that was important to me and would focus exclusively on the person I was dating. You see, I didn’t respect myself, and I thought that finding someone to love me was more important than anything else. During these time-consuming romantic courtships, I was distancing myself further from my passions, my purpose and my true self.

Looking back, I had entered many of these relationships out of infatuation or loneliness. It was the fear of abandonment or the guilt of obligation that kept me in these relationships. I often got into and remained involved in relationships for the wrong reasons. I would convince myself that no one else out there would love me, and so I settled. Despite my surface appearance, I was deeply unhappy.

My freedom day came roughly two years ago. In a state of deep depression over unsatisfied relationships and through a growing despise of my gross dependencies on them, a miraculous understanding came to me and I experienced a moment of clarity. At that moment I made a vow to end the pain. (Read my detailed journal entry from that day here.)

I started to devour as much material and wisdom as I could find on the topic of relationships, and studied (and continue to study) with relationship expert Alison Armstrong. I have come a long way from being that insecure little girl, and have learned much about myself in the process. Most importantly I discovered that once I started to truly love myself, and to focus on my own inner peace and wellness, true love came looking for me.

Problematic Relationship Patterns

Let’s first look at some common relationship problems and why many romantic partnerships do not work out.

1. Ego, Fear, & Emotional Insecurities

As with material possessions or professional achievements, relationships give our ego a method by which to identify who we are to the outside world. The problem is that we attach so much of our identity to the external appearance of our relationships that we lose touch with the parts of ourselves that are wise and conscious. The attachment to this false identity leads to a feeling of desperation rather than fulfillment. After all, without the relationship, or the job, or whichever other false identity we have chosen, who would we be?

Besides the ego identification, it’s easy to develop a dependency on companionship. That independent person that we once were starts to evaporate. Our mind becomes fogged and as our self-identification begins to attach itself to the other person, unconsciously or consciously, we become afraid to lose that person. We become dependent on that person and fearful of loneliness.

Out of our emotional insecurities, we start to become needy and to seek out validation from our partner. So, instead of focusing on the celebration of love and partnership, it becomes a game of how to protect ourselves from loss.

2. Communication of Needs

Out of a desire to avoid appearing needy and out of a fear of losing our partner, we start to filter what we say. In doing so, we do not communicate our needs clearly, openly or bravely. We somehow become convinced that our partner will magically know what to do to fulfill our needs. When our needs are not met, we secretly blame the other person and begin to resent them. When we are unhappy, our partner will pick up on the cues, and in turn, secretly resent us, thus starting a vicious cycle in the silent destruction of a romantic partnership.

So much of what needed to be said was not said, and bad feelings are bottled up and start to accumulate for both parties. Have you ever had a friend come to you and complain about all of the things they are unhappy about with their partner? Those are the kinds of things they should be telling their partner, if they actually want a change.

Worse yet is when one partner openly communicates their needs only to find that the other party is simply not listening, or does not fully acknowledge what was said, or makes them feel guilty for having those needs.

3. Bad Fit and Settling by Default

Deep down, we are all really good people. But this doesn’t mean that any combination of two good people will make a good partnership. There is such thing as a bad fit, and it is okay to admit it.

The best fits are ones where the most important values for both people are met. They must have life goals that align with one another and have a mutual attraction, understanding, and level of respect for each other. Both people must be committed to making the partnership their top priority.

Sometimes, even when we realize that our relationship isn’t a good fit, we justify staying in it with what seem like logical reasons. We may feel that we won’t find another person who accepts and loves us as much as the current partner. Or we may be afraid to be alone, so we simply settle by default. Each time we are reminded of the bad fit, we brush it under the rug and distract ourselves with some other thought.

We may feel that we are doing a service to the other person by staying in the relationship, but in reality, we are hurting them by not being honest with them and ourselves. And we are accumulating bad feelings and bad energy in our inner space.

Who Is Your Ideal Mate?

We all have a rough idea of what our perfect partner is like: beautiful, or smart, or rich, or educated, or tall, or petite, or pale, or dark, or handsome, or fit, with this car, or with that house or whatever else that strikes our fancy.

Photo: Emily Helen, The Best Kauai Wedding Photographer

The problem comes when we find ourselves in a relationship and we are constantly comparing our partners with this conjured-up ‘perfect’ person. When that happens, we stop appreciating our partner for all the beautiful qualities they do possess.

The truth is this perfect person does not exist. More importantly, we may not actually need all of these qualities in a partner to be extraordinarily happy.

What we need is to identify the most important qualities that we must have in order to feel satisfied and fulfilled (more on creating a must-have list below). By not having identified the must-have qualities in our chosen life partner, we end up settling, and since the person cannot give us the things we truly need, we start to resent them. This will snowball into larger issues.

For example, if height is something that is really important to you, and your partner does not meet that height requirement, regardless of how much they try, they will never grow taller or shrink shorter, and this will bug you and affect your union.

In life, we will get random results if we have not specified what we want. Identifying and understanding what it is that we need in a relationship, allows us to set clear intentions, and in doing so, moves us closer to realizing our intended desires.

Identifying Must-Haves

Here’s a very affective exercise that I picked up from Alison Armstrong that will help you discover and identify the must-have qualities in your partner. I highly recommend taking at least 10 minutes to go through this, even if you are presently in a relationship.

Grab a pen and some paper. Find a place where you won’t be interrupted. Turn off the phone, the TV, the computer.

Ready? Here we go:

Step 1. The Perfect Image

On a blank piece of paper, list out all the qualities that your ideal partner will have. What kind of characteristics and qualities do you truly desire? Be creative and open. Use a bullet pointed list, not sentences. List out as many as possible, and use as many pieces of paper as needed.

Be as specific as you can. Get into details like physical attributes, values, lifestyle, views on money, spiritual beliefs, personality traits, hobbies, abilities, age, habits, profession, tastes, etc.

For physical attributes, include things like height, weight, body type, hair color, ethnicity, or anything that you would want if you had your choice in creating your ideal partner.

Step 2. Minimum Requirements (MR)

Minimum requirements are qualities you need from your partner, and without them, you will feel unwell or unsatisfied.

Go through each quality from step 1 and test it with this question:

“Would I rather be alone than be with a person who wasn’t [insert quality]?”

If the answer is yes, mark MR next to the quality, otherwise, leave it blank.

Don’t worry if your list sounds superficial or ridiculous. One MR item on my list is “Great dancer with rhythm and groove”, which may seem like a trivial or petty quality for some people, but is a deal breaker for me.

Step 3. Screening MRs

Now, filter through the MR list, for each item with the MR label, ask the following question:

“If a person had all the other qualities on my MR list, am I willing to let this quality go?”

If the answer is yes, cross out that MR.

The Selection Process

I believe it is crucial to identify and clearly communicate our relationship expectations and personal timelines early on in the dating phase. So often, we get into relationships with silent expectations of a future event that is important to us, thinking that our partner will come around to it when the time is right, only to find out several years later that things will never work out the way we expected. Some common unspoken issues of this nature revolve around marriage, children, financial goals, and even which city you settle down in.

First, be clear with yourself on these types of issues. Understand what kind of commitment you are looking for in a relationship, how you feel about children and where you plan to live. There are no wrong answers, but be honest and specific about what you are looking for in the current stage of your life.

Next, tell yourself that on all of your first dates, you will be clear with people about your relationship expectations and timeline, if any. It can be a scary and awkward experience at first, but it will become less of a nerve racking experience over time. And just think of all the time and emotional energy you are saving by being open from the get-go, instead of setting silent expectations that can lead to disappointment.

Photo by Mike BG

On my first dates with any guy, I found that telling them my expectations was pretty nerve-racking, especially for men I was really attracted to, since they could potentially run the other way. I would begin to tell myself that this would be too much of a shocking conversation for most people to handle on a first date. Why not just wait until date 5 or 6, when I know that he really likes me? The answer is that by then I would have emotionally attached myself to this person and would then be in a situation where I would either have to settle for less than what I wanted, or break it off. It would have been much better to have learned on the first date whether or not we were a good fit.

Personally, I was looking for a husband and to start a family. I would tell them that I wanted to get married before I turned 30 and to start making babies within two years of getting married. Oh, and I would also like to have two children. “Are you okay with that timeline?” I would ask them. The men who were okay with my timeline stayed and the ones who weren’t went away. No hurt feelings and everyone wins.

Many of us have latched onto this concept of finding “the one” person out there for us, and so we linger in every relationship that pops up, fearing that we might miss out on “the one”. Think about the fact that there are 6.8 billion people on the planet. Doesn’t it make more sense that “the one” is more likely to be “the one-hundred-thousand”? I genuinely believe that there are a countless number of people out there who will be great fits for us, and it’s just a matter of filtering through potential partners until we find one of them.

As such, communicating your desires, needs and expectations, ahead of time, becomes crucial. For example, if having children is of utmost importance to you and your partner is set against having kids, then likely the relationship will not last and both parties are wasting time in the process.

Dating shouldn’t be about settling out of a fear that a better fit might not come along. I believe that dating is about identifying the qualities you need in a person and in a relationship, and then “filtering” through as many people as it takes until you find someone who possesses all the important qualities that you need.

Have you ever had the experience of shopping for a car, and found that once you targeted in on the exact make, model, and color you wanted, you began to see that car everywhere? From my personal experience, I found that once I became clear with what I needed and expected in a partner and in a relationship, more eligible bachelors who had those qualities started showing up in my life.

Love Yourself First

As I mentioned in the article How to Overcome Breakups, the art of loving yourself is not only important in the healing process from love lost, but also in finding love. I believe that we cannot truly allow others to love us, until we first love ourselves.

Another way of looking at this is to imagine each person in a relationship as a wooden stick. If one person is independent and the other is dependent, it’s like one stick is standing perfectly vertical and the second stick is leaning against the vertical stick. If the vertical stick moves horizontally, the leaning stick will fall. When two people are both independent and joined together through love, it’s like two sticks standing vertically. When they join together, they become a larger and stronger stick and they become interdependent and stronger. If one stick moves horizontally, the other stick will move with it.

Practice loving yourself: take yourself on a date, do things that please and relax you, spend quality time with yourself, write love letters to yourself, practice saying and feeling “I love you” in the mirror.

Photo: Nathiya Prathnadi

Additionally, the practice of loving yourself makes you a more attractive person to the outside world.

When you truly love yourself, you will exude and spread a magnetic energy to those around you. Before you know it, you will be surrounded by those attracted to you for who you really are.

Forgiving Our Ex’s

When we hold onto unresolved issues from previous relationships, they become emotional baggage in our future relationships. I’ve found forgiving your ex’s to be a liberating exercise that contributes to the wellbeing of yourself and your future relationships.

A few years ago I sat down with, or phoned, several of my ex-boyfriends, and apologized for hurt feelings I may have caused, and expressed and forgave them for my own hurt feelings from the relationship. This experience brought closure to those relationships, removed the baggage, and allowed new friendships to develop.

A Few Words On Sex

For those of us who are sexually active, I would like to point out one thing. When you have an orgasm, there is a chemical change that takes place in your body. In particular, your body releases a hormone called oxytocin that binds you emotionally to the other person. For a man, the effects of this hormone last for 48 hours. For a woman, the effects last for 14 days.

This explains why, after having sex with someone who is clearly a bad fit for us, we can end up in a relationship with them, even if it’s for a short amount of time. Far too often, these relationships can turn into long term relationships that ultimately end badly.

It is recommended by relationship experts to not have sex during your dating and selection process unless you are okay with being emotionally bound to that person or having that person be emotionally bound to you for 14 days. Alison recommends not having sex with someone unless they fit all the qualities on your MR list.

For more information on this topic, read chapter four of “The Female Brain“, by Dr. Louann Brizendine.

Parting Words

People often ask, “Where should I go to find this person?” The logical answer provided by most is to go to places where such a person would hang out, but this practice can often lead to disappointment. My suggestion is to go through the exercises above to gain clarity on what you need and the types of relationships you want. Then spend time practicing the art of self-loving, while being open to the idea of your ideal mate entering your life. I would not actively seek it. Instead spend your efforts on self development.

As with all things of the heart, there is an ingredient of magic in finding love. There are no coincidences. Everything happens for a reason. Love is beautiful and unpredictable. The best thing we can do is to start to become the most outstanding person possible. The universe will know when we are ready, and when we are, true love will happen, unexpectedly.

* Got a love story you want to share? Share your thoughts and stories with us in the comment section. See you there!

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About the author

Tina Su is a mom, a wife, a lover of Apple products and a CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) for our motivational community: Think Simple Now. She is obsessed with encouraging and empowering people to lead conscious and happy lives. Subscribe to new inspiring stories each week. You can also subscribe to Tina on Facebook.

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239 thoughts on How to Find True Love

  1. Tina,
    Wow, way to go!
    This may be your most insightful & helpful article yet (& that’s saying a lot!)
    I think the balance between accepting there’s no “perfect” mate but also having a “MR” list to avoid getting stuck in a bad relationship is especially helpful.
    I’m passing this along to alot of my friends. thanks.

  2. Great article! I’ve also absorbed dramatic amounts of valuable knowledge from relationship studies–mostly from John Gray and “Doc Love” (author of “The System”). If I’d had the knowledge from just one good relationship book back in high school, I think the course of my life would have been radically different. I can also vouch for the differences in thinking between the sexes playing a tremendous role in relationship difficulty. The best thing anyone can do for themselves and their love life is to go after that relationship education, even if you get it from a public library. It’s just not information that we’re taught growing up.

  3. Wow, I didn’t know about those hormones during sex. So abstaining does have a merit on that level, in addition to other benefits….


  4. I learned so much through this article. Although I’m currently in a great relationship, it is always interesting to find out how others meet their ideal person.

    It’s funny you mention your MR list, since that’s pretty much how I met my boyfriend. I wrote a detailed list, put it in an envelope, and literally forgot about it. Then a few months later I kept getting asked out by new people, and I had to choose between one. The one that stood out had almost all the qualities on my list! Stunning, but true story. :) I highly recommend this technique too.

    Oh, and I think I experienced similar “drop everything for the other person” episodes. I guess we’re all on our own journeys, right?

  5. Hi Tina,

    “The truth is this perfect person does not exist”

    There is the truth and we should start thinking about waiting for the prince or princess in our fairy tale dreams. I like the MR experiment you mentioned and it can really help us have a clear view of what we really want to see in our partner.

    Great article Tina, and I got it stumbled, dugg, twittered and mixxed.

    Personal Development Blogger

  6. Hi Tina,

    Thanks for the great article. It helps a lot to me since I’m still single and looking for a partner. Wish me luck ( :

  7. Rob

    Hi Tina,
    Excellent post.

    I unwittingly did the exercise you describe in your post in 2003 during a seminar. I was asked to describe my ideal life partner, whic I did in every detail as you suggest. Nothing left out.

    About 18 months later, whilst travelling 6,000 miles from home in another continent and not looking for love (at least not consciously) I met a woman, we got on great and a further 4 years on from that we are married.

    She is the exact match to every detail I described. There is not a single detail missing or different. It is quite incredible even down to what she looks like and the picture I had in my mind.

    So I know this works from experience. Of course, what helped me was the fact that I was unattached to the nature of the outcome, seeing as she came along when it was the last thing on my mind.

    Thanks Tina.

  8. I think you’re bang-on about “the one hundred thousand”. Too many people miss that obsess about finding a mythical perfect partner.

  9. The amazing thing about relationships is that we can learn so much about ourselves through who we attract into our lives. Every single relationship, good, bad, long, short, all serve as a mirror for us, so that we can learn about ourselves!

    I’m at the beginning of a new relationship right now – woo hoo! I’ll own that I very consciously manifested this person into my life. It’s great! :-)


  10. Fuzzy

    I think sometimes people over think things. This is one of those things. I don’t know how to explain it.
    Maybe the saying “you don’t look for true love – true love will find you”.
    I fell in love with someone who I thought was a snob/jerk. He smiled one day I fell head over heels. It hasn’t been a cake walk, but it is fantastic.
    I also found that things I thought were important before I got into this relationship didn’t matter as much. So if I were to make a list of “must haves” before I met my husband I might have never found my true love!

    Sometimes you just have to go for it and let your instinct guide you.

  11. Eemo

    Thanks for this Tina,

    Oddly enough, i just decided last night to myself i was going to do this, and here you are in the universe typing it up! :)

  12. Whooooh, Tina you are so professional.

    For a man, the effects of this hormone last for 48 hours. For a woman, the effects last for 14 days.

    Totally agree.

    But .. just a simple suggestion, why not support Gravatar in your comments :)

  13. I liked your in-depth and inside-out approach. Basically finding love starts with finding your Self first as you pointed out. That realizations leads you on the path towards finding anything, not only love.

    Keep up the good work.

  14. Tina,
    You’ve done a fantastic job of explaining this process. I’ve been working on the personal development part of this for a few months now. I’m finding that I feel much better when I’m focusing on myself, rather than focusing on actively looking for that special someone. I know that even if I’m alone, at least I’m doing what I want to do for myself in the meantime. While love hasn’t walked into my life yet, I’m confident that when I’m ready for it, it will. Thanks so much for reminding me that I’m on the right path.

  15. Ria

    Wow, Tina! You addressed all of the lessons on relationships I’ve learned to date… but in a much more articulate and organized way than I. This post is required reading, regardless of whether you are single or married, in a relationship or not. FIRST, LOVE YOURSELF!

    Great job! Glad I subscribe and found you in my G.Reader today.

  16. Dee

    This is another great post, I appreciate the level of detail you go into. What I’m continuously fascinated by is how to grow old with someone. So many couples break up, so many people settle… what if “forever” doesn’t work? What if we fall in and out of love every few years, like the four or seven years it takes to raise one or two babies until they’re out of the diapers? Can humans transcend the biology and chemistry, or is the whole romantic notion an illusion, unnecessary for the survival of the species, and thus best kept to novels and films?

  17. With V-day around the corner… This is a very apt post indeed…

    Thanks for sharing your story =)

  18. tom

    This is great, it’s what I have been talking about for a few weeks now.

    We are so insecure that we go out finding someone else that will accept and approve us for who we are not. We think that someone else will solve our problems and in the end both people end up getting hurt.

    This is great I will feature this article in my top 10 list next week.

    thank you

  19. Anonymous

    Greatly written blog – however, the one, very, very big problem I personally have with it is that it takes fundamentally complex issues, and breaks them apart into extremely simple, even primitive, logical and clear set of answers. In other words, it takes a highly complex topic with multitudes of various aspects and shades of grey, and presents them as if “no, really, it’s not complex at all, here’s a simple set of steps to follow and all of your problems will be solved” type-of-thing. Which is clearly not true.

    It’s not that most of what’s written here is wrong – quite the contrary. It’s just that it seems written on a very simplistic level. Too logical and too broken down. Pre-chewed, so to speak. And to me, it seems that these conclusions are only worthwhile if one has reached them him- or herself, and not read them on the internet.

    Take this topic for example – while I agree with most logic and ideas written here, if I were to logically apply this process as described I would never, ever, find my soulmate as I did. If someone asks me why I am with that person, I wouldn’t be able to give many logical answers – it’s something you feel deep inside, on a subconscious level. And it has nothing to do with the conscious criteria I can logically describe.

    I understand that most of you probably won’t agree with me here, and would reason that if at least someone finds a blog like this helpful, it is worth being written. Which is also true in my opinion. But it still irritates me beyond belief to read something multi-sided and complex broken down to highly black-and-white, simplistic and spoon-fed principles. Just a personal opinion, nothing more. :)

  20. chanida noy

    tina, you are so insightful. this brings me better perspective for this valentine’s weekend! thank you :-)

  21. RoS

    Not a doubt as to why I love your website. I am not usually the type to leave a comment on anyone’s blog, so this is kinda big deal for me. I suppose I am doing this out of selfish motives, as I find myself on the crossroads here.

    I met my (ex) girlfriend while we were studying in UK in 2006. I remember the day correctly; it was 2 weeks before Valentine’s Day and we had planned a night out of drinking as our first date (very cheesy!). My ol’ fashioned self could ignore the fact that I was getting to take someone out on my first, first date. Anyways, it was a wonderful night and it felt like we connected instantly, although I am the shy type. Our relationship lasted for about 2.5 years when both of us could not hold on to our jobs in UK. So, I had to come back home and she followed suit. We promised each other to never part with each other, at least as friends, which is why we try and keep in touch on a regular basis. It’s now been over 4 months since we left each other. Me have agreed to not let our friendship be defined as love and that is helping us get through days.

    Wait a second! A bit about me before I get to my problem. I come from a typical orthodox family, and have to my credit many firsts in the family. I was the first to leave for a residential school when I was 10. I was the first to study abroad in my family. I was also the first to stay abroad for a long period of time, 3 years to be exact. Now, I am by no means an orthodox type. I don’t believe in any such thing. I am pretty open minded and like to have control over my own life (which is apparently seen as a negative in a joint family). So, here is the problem. Lately, I have been getting really frustrated of the way people treat me in the family. I have been trying hard to advance the business but my new ideas don’t get much of support from anyone, including my dad. All this has made me very rebellious and wanting to leave, citing higher education as an excuse. My frustration is only lessened when I speak to my (ex) girlfriend and vent all my problems to her (and she is an excellent listener). I get a feeling that this frustration of mine has made me more emotionally attached to her. I am pretty sure if you ask her if she felt the same, she would deny it cause we both know we cannot stay together (because of our cultural differences). But now, because of the situations surrounding me, I am always looking out for her to hear me. I long for her even more now. I care less about our cultural divide and feel more closer to her. I now get the feeling that I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I have been thinking about her since we parted in October but now it has only worsened. I am unsure I am running away from something stupid or walking towards something I love?

  22. Jamin Shoulet

    Thank you so much for the article. I have been reading your site for some time now, but only now decided to say thank you for your insight and wisdom.

    I’m starting to go through a divorce right now and I’m going through so many different feelings, which make it hard to focus on what is important in my life. this article certainly puts everything in a better perspective.

  23. sea

    this article truly helping my love

  24. Tina,

    As always, I found this post very objective and informative. If there was ever such a thing as a steps to find love, this would be it.

    However, I would like to add that, love often tends to be much more complex and random than stated above. I do agree with your point of view that loving yourself is the first step (and a very important one) in this process of finding love but it is hard to define what exactly means by ‘loving yourself truly’.

    From my personal experience I have found that there is never really any one thing/ few points that works or doesn’t work. Also, society & time seems to play a much bigger part in this landscape than people give credit for. The way I see it, it’s one of those primal qualities in humans that hasn’t really changed much over a vast period of evolution and is still ranges from 1-255 shades on a gray scale of which we may only be aware of a few.

  25. I found the love of my life, but no one is perfect for each other. There are always disagreements and problems. What makes people compatible is how they work through their issues and make the relationship stronger.

    Great article. I especially love the part of loving yourself. Once you respect your own thoughts and emotions it makes it that much easier to respect someone else’s.

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