My good friend - let's call her Dani - is at a crossroads with her boyfriend, Tim*. Tim's a great guy. Dani's friends, myself included, all really like him. He's incredibly kind, patient, supportive and "emotionally available", she tells me.
So why is she considering breaking up with him?
She doesn't know, she tells me. She's just not sure. She hasn't really felt 100% sure about him the whole time they've been together, which is over a year now. They don't live together, but she recently spent a few weeks travelling through South-East Asia with him. "I thought that spending all that time with him would help me know whether or not it's right, but by the end of it, I was as confused as ever," she said. "I love him, but I just don't know if he's 'the one.'"
She also doesn't know that he's not the one, she tells me, which is why, for now, it's a break and not a break-up.
I've heard "the one" come up a lot recently. Three close friends have started new relationships in the space of a few weeks. All three are aged from their late twenties to early thirties, all are intelligent, educated women, and all are throwing around phrases like 'the one' and 'my future husband', and are dropping the L word with reckless abandon.
Maybe they're right, maybe they have met 'the one'. But can you always be so sure? Just because Dani doesn't feel that way with Tim, does that mean he's not her 'one'? Is meeting 'the one' a question of fate, or is love a choice?
I suspect it's the latter, in some cases. Looking around at all the couples out there, I can't help thinking that up to half of them aren't genuinely content -- one in three Australian marriages ends in divorce, after all. I'm happy for my newly loved-up friends, but the cynic in me is also mildly suspicious. None of the three are spring chickens anymore, and two have had long stints of being single. Is it possible that they're just sick of waiting, and so 'the next decent one who comes along' has turned into 'the one'?
A recent article by Jessica Irvine would seem to support that view. In the world of 'dateonomics', or dating according to economic principles, "you know you've found 'the one' when you determine that the expected quality of all future matches is lower than the value of your current partner", says one economist. Another says, "In the search for the right [partner], economics tells us that you would almost always settle. You search and there are search costs."
It's not the most romantic concept, but perhaps it's the most realistic. Dani is scared to break up with Tim because she's worried she won't meet another guy as nice as him, who treats her as well as he does. She's 30, and the amount of single and suitable guys out there is diminishing by the day. She wants to have kids, sooner rather than later, and if she's not marrying Tim, she's hoping to find her future husband pretty soon.
"I'm terrified of being single!" she told me. "I don't want to go out and try to pick up in pubs and clubs again – I'm past all that," she said. "I even checked out RSVP last night just to see what's out there," she confessed. "Nothing. I would have looked at over 100 profiles and I didn't see one guy I'd even want to go on a date with!"
So does that mean she should cut her losses and appreciate what she has, even if her heart doesn't skip a beat every time he enters the room, and all the other things she thinks you're supposed to feel with your 'soulmate'?
The Dateonomics article did little to put Dani's mind at ease. "How the hell am I supposed to know if 'the expected quality of all future matches is lower than the value of my current partner?!"" she shrieked. "I don't have a crystal ball!"
I don't have one either, unfortunately, nor do I have any answers for Dani.
Readers, I'm opening the floor to you. In your own experiences, do you 'just know' when you meet 'the one', or is the path to true love not always so straightforward?
*his name is not really Tim.