Now married for seven years and living in Bermuda Dunes, Calif., Pena and Powers, both 37, said their relationship is refreshingly natural and easy. He's a worrier, she's laid-back and they balance each other out.
"What's most important is that we get along so great, we're best friends and we make each other laugh," Pena said. "And I know that he really, really loves me and would do anything for me."
For both of these couples, the lack of any doubt, the absence of what-iffing, was an indicator that they'd found the real thing. But sometimes it takes a leap of faith.
Aspen Mays and Amy Davidman, who met at a YMCA triathlon training group in San Francisco, had been dating just three months when Mays left for a Rotary scholarship in South Africa.
For a year, having agreed upon an open relationship, Mays and Davidman wrote each other love letters and talked once or twice a week, but both fretted in their respective corners of the globe: What if it doesn't work out? What if it's not worth it?
Mays considered staying in South Africa for good, but then, she said, "I remember having a really clear feeling that I would always regret not seeing it out with her."
When they decided to invest fully in the relationship, the anxiety subsided.
"Once you decide you're going to be with someone, you know the larger picture is going to work out, so theoretically, the little things become less important," said Davidman, a band booking agent.
Last fall, they were married in a symbolic ceremony in California (though they got engaged before the approval of Proposition 8, which removed the right of gays and lesbians to marry in the state, their wedding came after). Now Davidman, 32, and Mays, 29, are living together in Santiago, Chile, where Mays is on a Fulbright Scholarship.
"The relationship feels like it has all sorts of room inside it," said Mays, an artist. "There's room to grow, and room to grow together."
Hooray for the triumph of love, but, but, but … how can you be sure that it'll work forever?
Unfortunately, you can't, said divorce attorney Marie Fahnert. She said she has divorced plenty of once-great couples who grew apart, lost communication or lost trust.
But the good news: The qualities that "make for a good marriage are actually the same things that make for a good divorce," she said.
The other day, I read a momentarily comforting motto on the back of a beer can: "Clarity is overrated," it said.
Clarity seems like nirvana to me. But I expect some of us will never "know when we know." We'll just decide when we decide (panic attack), and hope that we're right.
And now a word
from the experts
Two relationship coaches offer insights on choosing a partner.
Finding your missing piece
When will you know it's the Real Thing? You could drive yourself crazy trying to answer that question.
(Michael Klein illustration for the Tribune / March 25, 2010)