The problem with soul mates

Today, romance is all about finding your “soul mate”—that one person out there who will complete you, the one with whom you’re destined to be. The soul mate model of love isn’t limited to romantic comedies and chick flicks, about which I blogged last week.  It’s in online dating advertisements, it’s in self-help books, it’s on Pinterest wedding boards—it’s everywhere.

It may be everywhere, but I don’t really buy it. Call me a scrooge, but I don’t exactly believe in soul mates, at least not in the commercial sense—and I think there are actually benefits to my seemingly pessimistic outlook on romance.

I recently read an article in Verily magazine entitled “The Myth of the Ready-Made Soulmate,” in which guest blogger Julia Shaw points to two potentially fatal consequences of adopting a soul mate mentality in the pursuit of romance:

“First, this ideal tempts to delay marriage until you find the supposed soul mate. It encourages you to set unbelievably high standard for a person who completes you in every way— but finding such a person may never happen.

Second, a rough patch of marriage with someone initially considered to be a soul mate could cause one to question whether the person you married was really the one. One might later meet someone who gives that magical feeling of completeness and conclude this new person is the actual soul mate, as opposed to one’s actual spouse.”

In other words, by believing in preexisting soul mates, we’re potentially shooting our own marriages in the foot— either by preventing them in the first place or tempting adultery and even divorce.

Shaw proposes a somewhat backwards model of the soul mate: one in which rather than choosing to marry your ready-made soul mate, the person you choose to marry becomes your soul mate. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to be choosy about selecting whom we marry, nor that marriage is going to instantly resolve incompatibilities between two individuals. It does mean, however, that there are several hypothetically suitable mates for each person.

The thought of having several hypothetical marriage partners admittedly is a little disheartening when compared to the allure of someday finding “the one.” But as a close friend of mine (one who’s also skeptical about ready-made soul mates) likes to emphasize, “There are no hypotheticals.”  You can incessantly play the “what if” game about all the other people you could have married, but what good does that do?

You don’t find your soul mate; you create your soul mate—and you can ultimately only do so with one person. There are no hypotheticals.