Heh. I know a thing or two about this…
Going through something very similar to your situation, I asked a lot of people for advice, including many people on this board. I got a lot of good advice, some things to think about, and not a few chastisements for being a whiner. (I’m not saying YOU are.) A couple of things kept coming through that rang true out here in the real world, too. In no particular order, here’s what helped shape my recent decision about a relationship:
#1: You just “know.” I loathe this thought/sentiment/whatever, but there seems to be some truth in it. If you spend more than two seconds trying to convince yourself that she’s a woman you could marry, chances are, she’s not. I spent about a year debating with myself about it in every spare moment.
#2: Dating should be “courtship,” i.e. figuring out if she would be a good wife. If that’s not even a consideration, time to bail out because there’s nothing but trouble down that road.
#3: One year should be enough. Again, people have wildly different stories about the amount of time it took to figure out if “it” was there, but I would say the overwhelming majority of people I talked to knew within at least six months. As I approached a year and a half with a girl who was just about perfect in every way, I knew something was wrong.
#4: Religion: If you’re not both Catholic, forget about it. Converts are fine, but the dangers in inter-faith courtship and marriage make me want to bag the whole thing. IF I ever find a girl who makes all the struggles seem silly, she’ll undoubtedly be a practicing Catholic girl.
#5: Mistaking the “it” factor. I’ve clicked with a few girls, and more often than not, I’ve mistaken it for some kind of other emotion. What took me 32 years to figure out is that sometimes we just click with people in general, and when it happens with women, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s some kind of cosmic love. Sometimes it’s just the mutual appreciation of another person. Of course, our world perverts everything and it’s easy to get confused about that kind of thing.
#6: It’s critical that your families can at least tolerate each other. It helps immensely to have a common circle of friends to keep you accountable.
No long-term "dating."
Look for a potential mate, not a date, or don’t look at all.
Love, but don’t fall in love with love.
I know your current situation is unique and you can’t apply some kind of template to it, but take it from someone who’s gotten burned by ignoring the above guidelines–they work.
At least, so far. I saw my ex-girlfriend last night and she looked diminished, hurt and confused. I would almost rather have seen her crying than putting on that brave face. It’s taking everything I have to walk the path I’ve chosen. I tell myself that without that “marriage feeling” after a year and a half, it’s probably never going to come, and I shouldn’t waste any more of her time. There were more reasons than that, but it all seems like b.s. immediately after the breakup.