There is no such thing as The One.
There, I said it. No fairy godmother is going to come down and give you fancy One-seeking slippers, there's not some higher-power-created other half of you waiting equally wistfully for you to walk into his or her life, and there's no ultimate, perfect person out there that, if you make one mistake or break one undefined rule, you'll fuck it up with and thereby end up alone.
What there is out there is a bunch of equally imperfect individuals, many of whom are also interested in finding someone with whom they are compatible. And what every successful relationship you see out there has in common is not the mark of the hand of an unseen power, but work, commitment and the desire to be a couple.
It's less fancy and awe-inspiring, I know, and it's far less easy than living out a fantasy in which the clouds part and some stranger next to you at a bar turns out to be the person you'll wake up next to every morning knowing you were designed for one another. But realizing that is also a good thing—because it frees you from staying in a dysfunctional relationship with someone regardless of all the feelings and meant-to-be vibes you get (or used to get) from your partner just because he or she is supposedly The One.
It frees you from making the perfect (The mythical One) the enemy of the really, really good. It frees you from seeking emotions you're told you ought to feel for your One and allows you to focus on the emotions you have for the people you are dating, and what those emotions mean to you, about your relationship and for your future. And, even better, it frees you from having to believe that your One might not like you or love you if, in his or her absence, you didn't abide by certain rules you didn't know existed or didn't think were right.
Those "rules"—you know, the ones that say you'll never find love if you have too much sex or if you have too little, that The One won't notice you if you don't wear enough make-up or if you don't make yourself over to be someone that your One will like, or, basically, that you'll miss your sole opportunity to connect with The One if you don't live every moment of your single life waiting for your Knight or Knightley in shining armor to ride up and rescue you from your terrible singlehoodity—aren't designed to help you find someone who will love you for the person you are. They're designed to make you think there's only one way to find and experience love, and only one person with whom you can really have it, and (in a lot of cases) to simply validate the experiences and relationships of the people making the rules
Look, not having rules is harder than having them, it's true. There's no path, there's less certainty and, annoying, while society still defines marriage and lifetime partnership with one person as the ultimate end goal, not having the road map for how to arrive there leaves many people confused and frustrated. The answer, however, isn't to turn around and run back to the safety of patriarchal structures that lay out the steps to Perfect Happiness—even if you want to grant that everyone was actually happy when they had to follow those rules (which we all know they weren't). The answer is to figure out what kind of relationship works for you, which people in your life make you happy and fulfilled and how to listen to your own needs in any given situation. Maybe what works for you is one other person, maybe it's a succession of people, maybe it's a bunch of people at once—and maybe The One is just you. But whomever it is, the important part is that they like you for who you actually are.
[Image via adrien/salvi on Flickr, Creative Commons licensed]