But I don't believe them—the first night I spent with Jeremy showed me that I knew approximately as much about discerning chemistry as I do about nuclear physics— and I feel sad for what they might be missing. There may well be such a thing as love at first sight; I know people who claim to have experienced it, although the ensuing relationships rarely lasted over the long haul.
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Now, it's possible that my friends and I are particularly obtuse. But I think perhaps there are other lessons here as well. A successful relationship is the product of many factors; compatibility is certainly one of them. But timing is equally critical. You not only have to want the same things; you have to want them at the same time. My boyfriend before Jeremy was an infamous womanizer. He was in his forties when we met; a year and a half later, when I realized he wasn't remotely ready to settle down, I broke up with him. He was in his sixties when he finally got married—to a woman half his age.
But when I met Jeremy, we were at the same stage in life. So why didn't I recognize him as a kindred spirit? The fact that he didn't match up with my mental checklist of things I was looking for only goes to show you how absurd such a checklist is in the first place. Love is infinitely mysterious, and I've come to believe that the people you respond to instantly are often the worst possible choices for a long-term relationship.
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Although many women still think of falling in love as if it were the product of that mythical coup de foudre, a bolt from the heavens that instantly illuminates the entire landscape, that's not my experience at all. To me, love is more like a plant. When you scatter seeds in the earth, you never know which ones are going to sprout. Some thrive while others die, but over time the strong ones put down roots that will eventually support a plant: one that may grow for years, or even decades. To me, a friendship that grows deep roots long before it blossoms may ultimately become the strongest foundation for a lasting love. For when it comes to love, "you just never know," my husband says. "Until you know."