I went on a date with a guy I’d met online. We went to a dive bar. Not a cool dive bar. It was the kind of place you could pop in to for a meet-up under the cover of mostly darkness, minus a few blinking-neon beer signs. No hostess. No menu. No line at the bar. You could cut your losses pretty quickly if you needed to. But as it turned out, I didn’t want to cut my losses pretty quickly. The drinks flowed along with the conversation. He made me laugh. I made him laugh. He was cute but more an undiscovered cute. Like finding an Eames chair at a garage sale. He was smart. He was interesting. He was interested in interesting things. He could appreciate a martini but really just wanted a beer. He liked to travel but at heart was a homebody. He had dreams but also a day job. I was shocked. He was the balanced, normal guy I’d had trouble locating. I had been on dates with everyone from my super religious handyman (whom I had to date until he finished working on my house) to a newly unreligious man who had left an Orthodox Jewish sect for shiksa-er pastures. So this guy at the dive bar felt like a pair of sweatpants after a day in jeans I was trying to convince myself I still fit into. When the bill came, he did not pretend he forgot his wallet. Or tell me he was a feminist and ask to go dutch. He just paid. Normal. Easy. It all added up to “one” conclusion.

At my morning meeting, my co-workers asked how the date went. I took a deep breath. “Guys”—I looked around to make sure I had everyone’s attention—“I think he might be ‘the One.’ ” I repeated, for emphasis, the One. Now before you write me off as a complete nut job, I’d like to mention that one of my co-workers was my secret ex-boyfriend. We’d -dated and broken up while writing on the same TV show. Nobody at the office was the wiser. He had moved on (many times) and I was still trying to. So I was playing it up a little for his benefit, but not by much. He was the first to chime in with “The One? Really?” I turned and smiled. “Really.” Other co-workers I hadn’t slept with congratulated me. I even got a hug, which I felt like I deserved after all the garbage guys I’d dated.

We took a break about an hour later, and I checked my e-mail. I had a new message. From my date. I assumed it was about our next rendezvous. Dinner. Maybe the Hollywood Bowl. Maybe even Paris! But not even a second e-mail was meant to be. He’d had a nice time—but not nice enough. He just wanted to be friends. I burst into tears. He was definitely not the One, unless that referred to the number of dates we’d been on. I reported back to my co-workers. Nobody made any jokes, and that’s how I knew just how sad it was.

I didn’t use the phrase “the One” again until after I got married. (You can relax now; it all worked out.) And when I finally did use “the One” again, I realized how wrong I had been about what it meant. How wrong a lot of us are. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Guys don’t really throw around “the One.” But let’s be honest with each other: You’re all basically saying it by not saying it. Men always say things like “She’s okay for now” or “I’m just having fun.” You might as well be saying “She’s okay for now—because she’s not the One.” “I’m just having fun—until I find the One.” And when you meet the One, you usually say, “She’s not like other girls….” You stop just short of saying “I think she might be the One.” We all do it, just in different ways. And if you’re single, you can’t help but judge all dates against the One. The One will do this. The One will definitely not do that. The One will love my cats as much as I do. The One will love my ass at any size. But the moment I realized I was with the One was not when my husband fell in love with my cats or my ass. (Warning: I’m about to get a little serious, but it’s for your own good.) I had this incredible realization at my mother-in-law’s funeral. I was holding my husband’s hand, and I thought to myself, He’s the One; he’s the One who will be there during dark times. And good times too, of course, but I’d thought about that. I’d never considered the dark times. But in those moments, he’s the One I reach for, and he’s the One who is there.

All the ways in which I’d used “the One” as a single person had been completely wrong. The truth is, if my husband gains 50 pounds, loses his job, forgets his wallet, makes lame dad jokes or loses interest in the cats or my ass, he’s still the One, because those things don’t really matter. (Well, except my ass—he’s gotta commit to that.) The One is not a cute guy (or girl) who’s simply interested in interesting things. While I sat drinking in that dive bar with “the not-One,” the One was 3,000 miles away living with his parents. So if you’re still searching or questioning a relationship you’re in, my advice is that a person becomes the One; they don’t necessarily start as it. You’ll never know if someone is the One immediately after a first date, no matter how many jokes of yours they laugh at. But when you know, you really know.