With Valentine’s Day just around the bend, we asked those lucky enough to claim they’ve found their perfect match just how they managed to do it—and what steps you can take to find your own.
Get your own life first
“No one wants to be with someone who doesn't have passion—something that makes them tick,” says Jessica Barrutia, 23, a publicist from Chicago who met her boyfriend of five years, Ryan Bumgarner, at a friend’s party after her high school graduation.
“I was really focused on my goals and aspirations when I met Ryan. I didn’t care if he talked to me, I didn’t even care if he looked at me. I was sure of myself and knew I would be more than fine if he wasn’t interested. I think having your own interests exudes confidence, which is attractive.”
But before you run out and pick up a pair of knitting needles, realize that developing yourself runs much deeper than finding a hobby.
“The work starts inside,” notes Erin Hessel, 30, a licensed acupuncturist who believes that self-acceptance allowed her to find her fiancé, 30-year-old artist Jason Borbet, at a Manhattan bar four years ago.
“Taking this time [for introspection] gets our attention really clear so that we can actually feel this connection when it comes into our lives.” Borbet agrees, adding “once you develop that inner glow, it radiates, and a true sense of self is the greatest aphrodisiac in the world.”
Look into your past
“Late in life, romantic reconnections are all the rage these days, made easier by Facebook and email,” says Isadora Alman, 70, a psychotherapist and writer from California.
She speaks from personal experience: The week her marriage to a Jewish prince ended in 1975, she visited the public library to comb through major city directories in search of her college love, Morton Chalfy, now a 72-year-old publisher.
“Mort, and my relationship with him, had always been my touchstone for the best of what feeling loved was like,” explains Alman. Despite a reunion in Florida (and the fact Chalfy had also divorced), “we were still too far apart—geographically and in lifestyle choices—to find a way to be together,” recalls Alman.
Flash forward to late 2009, when Chalfy emailed Alman to promote a website for his books.
“A correspondence ensued, and in less than three months, we were living together and have been, very happily, for the past year,” she says.
The lesson learned? “If there is someone in your life who has remained in your memory for decades, and who represents something positive and thrilling to you, then reach out,” advises Chalfy. “You may be incredibly surprised at the result.”
If it feels wrong, run
“When I was a senior in high school, I met Brandi and fell head-over-heels in love,” recounts Jason Coleman, 43, a district supervisor for a sporting goods chain living in Washington state.
“After I graduated, we got engaged and I shipped off to boot camp for 16 weeks. Several months after I returned, we were trying to make our relationship work but there was a disconnect that we couldn't figure out. To this day, I cannot explain why I broke off the engagement with Brandi—we didn't disagree or fight, we didn't have any major problem—but I just knew in my gut that this was not the girl for me.”
Less than a year later, Coleman met his wife of 21 years, Debby at an all-city dance.
“It's nearly impossible to explain, but when you find your soul mate, you will discover the truth,” says Coleman. “There will be no sky-writing or Chinese fortune cookie pointing the way, but you will know it in your heart. I think far too many people casually date and find themselves in a situation they don't think they can get out of. If you can't picture yourself getting old with the one you are dating, leave before it's too late.”
Be open to change
For Barack Levin, 40, the Atlanta-based author of The Diaper Chronicles, the realization that his wife of 14 years, Michelle, was his soul mate didn’t come until a life-threatening illness challenged their relationship.
The couple met as international students (he’s from Israel, she’s from France) studying in the same MBA program in Pittsburgh.
“Despite all of our parents’ warnings and the barriers of language, religion and background, we seemed to have a uniquely deep connection,” Levin recalls. Just a year into dating, Levin learned during a routine physical that he had a terminal kidney disease and, at the age of 26, was told he had five years to live.
“My relationship with Michelle was still fresh. I had no idea if she would want to spend the next five years with a condemned man,” he says. “Until this very day, I have no idea why she didn’t leave me back then. I was arrogant, a show off, a macho man. I’ve discovered that you cannot remain the same person if you want to keep the relationship going. My wife changed me a lot. She softened me and showed me personality traits I never knew existed. She has not only become my soul mate, but she is also my guide in life, inspiration and role model.”
Stop searching for ‘the one’
“I wasn't looking for a soul mate when I met my husband, Cameron,” says Denise Lee, a 30-year-old marketing director from Levittown, New York.
“We sort of found each other by accident. We were best friends and we'd talk with each other about the person we wanted to be with, then we finally realized that the person we were describing was each other.”
Lee isn’t the only one who believes things should unfold organically.
“From the moment we met, we couldn't stop talking to each other,” recalls Rosie Pope, 31, the New York-based founder and creative director of clothing line Rosie Pope Maternity, of when she first met her husband, Daron, in an elevator on the way to a rooftop bar.
“There was this shared subconscious need to keep spending time with one another. When you meet the right one, things just fit and are effortless. Being with them, making sacrifices for them—all of it is easy.”
Bottom line: don’t force it.
“He's going to be that guy you are drawn to, who is also drawn to you,” says Lee. “It is going to happen by accident when you are not looking—and you will not be able to control it.”