Our culture is saturated with the notion that there’s one perfect partner out there for everybody, and to settle for anything less than this perfection is to deny oneself a chance at true happiness, which is surely waiting in the wings. The National Marriage Project, conducted in 2001, found that 94 percent of twenty- to twenty-nine-year-olds said that the person you eventually marry should be your soul mate, and 88 percent reported a belief that for everyone in the world, there was a spiritual twin out there somewhere.
An Unrealistic Expectation
From the time we begin dating, most of us can picture an idealized version of our perfect partner. We want someone of a certain height, appearance, and intelligence, someone who perfectly complements our strengths and camouflages our weaknesses. Many believe that once we find this perfect partner, we’ll be happy together forever. One problem with this perspective is that it views relationships as things that happen to us, rather than things that we create by working hard on them. It assumes that once we’ve found our intended, they will complete us like the missing piece of a puzzle, and everything from then on should be easy and effortless. The search for a soul mate is dangerously close to the search for a completely perfect relationship, something we all know doesn’t exist.
Most people who believe in the idea of soul mates believe that the harmonious bliss of a new relationship is proof that their new love is indeed the one they’ve been waiting for. Eventually, after the newness of a relationship has worn off, people worry that the corresponding dip in excitement (which is perfectly normal) signifies that the relationship wasn’t meant to be after all. Dr. John Grey, PhD, author of Becoming Soulmates: Keys to Lasting Love, Passion and a Great Relationship, writes, “If we want a great relationship to deepen and last, we need to realize that ‘happily ever after’ includes feelings other than happiness. The myth of ‘soulmates’ is about a relationship that is blue sky forever. Always sunny, and that sunshine pours down on us, brightens us up, lifts us. In a real-world relationship, challenges come. The sky occasionally clouds.”
Does the Grass Seem Greener?
The most pernicious effect of the soul-mate myth is that it encourages people to believe that there must be something better out there. The myth can sometimes cause people to sabotage perfectly salvageable relationships because of the belief that finding one’s true spiritual equal will make a person blissfully happy at all times. Of course, few relationships can live up to this ideal, and the myth judges any lesser relationships as not worth the effort. After all, would your true soul mate criticize your friends? Would your true soul mate disagree with you about money or household chores? The idea of such a kindred soul leads people to believe that good relationships don’t require work and don’t involve disagreements, neither of which is true. Even people who are happy in their relationships are often left wondering, “Could I be happier? Could my real soul mate still be out there?” This thinking isn’t limited to those who believe wholeheartedly in soul mates, either. Even those with a more rational view of relationships can still fall into the trap of never being satisfied with any partner, viewing each and every small rift in the relationship as evidence that they could be happier with someone new.
Your Missing Piece Could Be Anyone
Many psychologists, including Dr. Grey, believe that soul mates aren’t something people find, they’re something people become. After that initial giddy excitement of a relationship wears off, couples who work together to solve their individual and collective problems are able to deepen their emotional bond, overcoming any challenges that come their way. That kind of shared experience can make a couple feel like soul mates, whether they’ve been together for two years or twenty. “You don’t just meet a soulmate and live happily ever after,” Dr. Grey writes. “I have observed that real-world soulmates become that—by growing together in certain ways and working through challenges successfully.” Those who claim to experience love at first sight may be potential soul mates, but it isn’t until they’ve really worked to forge a life together that they can become true confidants.
The idea of soul mates shouldn’t be limited to romantic relationships; who would argue that an unmarried person isn’t entitled to have a soul mate of his or her own? It’s not even realistic to think of soul mates as a one-per-person proposition. A person can have many soul mates, whether they’re friends, lovers, or relatives. Becoming a soul mate is about establishing a deep emotional connection, no matter whom it’s with. In our lives, we often meet people with whom we have an instant bond, and whether it’s a romantic or a platonic relationship, once you’ve weathered life’s storms together, who’s to say you can’t call each other “soul mate”?
Perhaps one of the most cynical things about the idea of soul mates is assuming that there’s only one person for everyone in the world, and that people who don’t find theirs are doomed to be romantically unfulfilled. With the right care and commitment, any loving couple can turn their relationship into the kind of soul-mate partnership they dream about. Those who constantly turn down prospective romantic partners because they’re not “the one” might find themselves holding out for a hero who will never come.