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When I was in my mid-twenties, and already a few years into marriage with my high school sweetheart, my dad told me something that blew my mind:

“You can be in love with more than one person in life,” he said.

I remember, I was standing behind the large green sofa in our den and my dad was sitting in his usual worn in spot on the couch. I stood there in disbelief as he casually sipped his cold can of Dr. Pepper.

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Today, this statement seems obvious — like a fact rather than just an opinion. But then, I was under the beautiful illusion that God picks out one — just one — perfect person for you in life. You find that perfect person. Get married. And viola! The rest is history, laid out in family photo albums documenting your incredible life together until death do you part.

Finding that perfect person (and really, nobody is perfect) should take time. Perhaps the longer we take searching the more developed we become as human beings and the better partners we’ll be to our long-term lover(s).

I think my friend David has the right idea. He’s 35, never married, and currently living with his girlfriend of five years. He’s been in love three times and the experiences — good and bad — have given him the opportunity to learn the meaning of love, life, and happiness.

I start the conversation with one of life’s hardest question: What is love?

“For me, and my experience, love is when you stop living life just to make yourself happy and change every aspect of your life to make someone else happy,” said David. “I think in between each time you fall in love, you go back to trying to make yourself better, living life for yourself, and trying to get over the love you lost.”

David fell in love for the first time in high school. His next big love was a woman he worked with in his early twenties, and now it’s his current girlfriend.

He says every love is different and each one is a learning experience that prepares us for the future. (I sure do hope he’s right.)

Now, for the hardest question of all: How do you know when you’re in love?

“The first time I realized I was in love was when I hurt my girlfriend’s feelings.” He says hurting her feelings hurt him in a way that he’d never experience before.

“I was so upset about it,” he remembers. “It was a love hurt kind of thing. I hurt her feelings and I wanted to do everything I could to fix it.”

With his current girlfriend, falling in love took time and came gradually as the couple got to know each other and realized they wanted the same future.

“We had so much in common it was really easy for the feelings to grow,” said David. “She was somebody I could see myself with for the rest of my life. I think everything I’ve learned has given me a greater understanding of what love should be; everything fits with her.”

I think sometimes in the dating world it’s hard to differentiate between love and lust, at least initially. I ask David, my new love expert, to decipher:

“Lust is something that you could have for basically anyone,” said David. “It’s not something special. It’s a physical relationship, and that’s what it’s about.”

“If love were to end, it’s devastating. Your world basically comes to an end,” he said. “Lust isn’t something we feel in our hearts; it’s something we see with our eyes. Love is everything. You see the person you love and you feel better. You smell them and you feel better. It’s all the senses. It incorporates everything.”

I assume, perhaps wrongly, that everyone wants to be in love. To find it and hold on tight even when the road gets rough. But it’s the finding love — real love —that’s the hardest part of all. And dating websites are a time consuming maze with absolutely no road map (more on that later).

“I’ve seen a lot of my friends go from relationship to relationship trying to force something to happen,” said David. “They are looking for something so hard that they ruin it. Love takes time to build and takes all your effort to keep working on it. I don’t believe in love at first sight — it’s not something you can know after one speed date. To me, it’s something that has to build and grow.”

So, no to speed dating. And yes to waiting for something great. Thirty-five might just be the best age to get married for the first time, because people have had the time to learn what they really want and how to love accordingly. Thanks, David.

Please write to me with your questions on love, relationships, and life at:

xsandoscolumn@gmail.com. And stay with us next week as we discuss questions from readers just like you.

XOXO,

Sarah

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