02/14/2014 02:26 pm ET Updated Apr 16, 2014

The Only Question to Ask When It Comes to Love

My college boyfriend dropped quite the bombshell after we'd been dating for a few years. "Let's break up for a while," he suggested, "and see if we miss each other enough to get married." At the risk of revealing how pathetic I was, that statement left me at once heartbroken and a tiny bit hopeful. I clung to the hope absence would, indeed, make the heart grow fonder.

My little sister, barely a teenager at the time and fond of my boyfriend, wondered why he hadn't been coming around for a while. So I told her what he'd told me, that our breakup was the final test to see if we should get married.

She looked at me. She paused. And then she said, "Shouldn't he just... want to?"

Of course! But I was too young to know that. I was too whipped to see things clearly, which was that -- as lines go -- this one probably should've won an award. It took him another year to admit we had no future, and me a couple of years after that to make peace with it.

That's when I fell for someone I worked with, a guy every woman I knew had eyes for. That isn't why I liked him, by the way -- and it would've been a fine reason to sidestep anything romantic. But he fell for me, too, and there was something intoxicating about having been chosen. So much that I ignored what I later admitted was my overriding feeling about our first date: I was bored. I even told my best girlfriend, shortly after I was engaged to be married to the man, if I wanted someone to make me laugh it was going to have to be at work.

It took several years for that marriage to unravel, and making each other laugh -- or not -- was probably the least of our problems. I never thought too much about it, though, until I met the man I'm married to now. When I tried to come up with a list of reasons to say yes -- he started talking marriage almost immediately -- I couldn't. Forget my now-jaded outlook on happy endings. I just didn't see things working out between us.

2014-02-14-NYCfortheHP.jpgOn the one hand. On the other? I couldn't wait to see Darrell again -- and again and again. I could imagine talking with him for the rest of my life and never getting bored.

"I might be making another mistake," I told a friend after we'd announced our engagement. "But at least it's a different one." That's how Darrell got the nickname Mr. Step in the Right Direction.

We've been married almost 20 years, and it's going so well I no longer worry I'm jinxing it by talking about it. I still can't get over the smile Darrell gives me every morning, as if to say: "You're kidding. Another day with this woman? Sign me up!"

Another girlfriend told me we're part of the reason she got divorced -- because she wanted a man who looks at her the way Darrell looks at me.

I don't know what odds marriage experts would've given this one. All I know is that we both wanted it -- and that has made all the difference.