When I was younger, the concept of a soul mate enthralled me. I used to sit by my bedroom window, glance up at the stars and wonder if he was looking at the stars too…..waiting for me (as I type this I’m silently cringing). There was something so romantic, so beautiful in believing that someone or something in the Universe cared enough about me, to prepare someone especially for me to spend the rest of my life with. This concept got me through many lonely Friday nights, and going to parties and weddings dateless……
I distinctly remember the first time that I questioned whether there was such a thing as a soul mate. It was Year 12 year (the last year of my high school days) and my friend was getting married. Her then fiance (now husband) and her were going through pre-marriage counselling and she commented (paraphrased because I don’t remember exactly what she said…):
“I don’t believe in the idea of a soul mate. I mean there are so many people out there in the world, it’d be naive of me to think that I couldn’t possibly be attracted to more than one of them. I honestly think that there could be more than one person who I could love and who I could be happy to be married to. But because right now, I’m happily choosing to love one person for life, I choose not to entertain the possibility of what it may be like to love others in the same way.”
I remember feeling like I was hit in the face at the time; her ideas went against what I had always assumed but it also made a lot of sense. I still haven’t got it all worked out in my head, but in recent years, I’ve leaned away from the concept of a soul mate and towards a view based more on choice than fate.
Here are some reasons why I think the concept of a soul mate is unhelpful for me.
1. It assumes I am not a whole person until I meet my other half.
Traditionally, soul mate refers to the
”mystical notion of one soul shared in two physical bodies.” (Dr. Ophir, ‘Soul Mates’ in The Encyclopedia of Love in World Religions.)
The first documented literary source of the concept of soulmate is in Plato’s “Symposium”. The song The Origin of Love (from Hedwig and the Angry Inch) is taken from the speech given by the playwright Aristophanes; I think it captures the vibe of this ‘one soul in two bodies’ concept well:
Whilst artistic and romantic, this concept doesn’t sit well with me…I don’t like the notion that I’m not ‘whole’ until I have met my ‘other half’. I was my own person before I met my hubby and I remain my own person after we got married. In fact, I think it’s very important to take responsibility and ownership of who I am in a marriage. My happiness is not dependent on my hubby; he is not responsible for my happiness or my sadness. Viv is responsible for her own happiness and sadness. We make it a point to respect each other’s interests and leave each other space to ‘do our own thing’.
2. It puts too much (and too little) pressure on choosing the right person.
Ok, this one needs a bit of explaining. Let’s start with the too much…..so if there’s only one special, unique person out there in the world for me….what happens if I chose the wrong one! Or, or, or, I missed them? Or worse still, they were born before or after my lifetime? (see Brain Picking’s post on The Science of Finding your Soul Mate). If there is so much at stake in making the right choice and there is only one right answer, that pressure to choose right could be very paralysing (and most of us would end up not making a choice at all).
The flip side of this is, you’re supposed to know when you meet the one – whether it’s by the twinkle of his eyes, the way he smiles, or the fact that you both love to eat Freddos head first so the poor Freddo doesn’t feel any pain. If I firmly believed in the concept of a soul mate and there was someone like that who immediately ‘clicked’ with me – it may lead to confirmation bias (tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s belief s or hypotheses); the result is that due consideration might not be given to other aspects of their personality which may help determine whether they are a suitable mate.
3. So, what do I think (at the moment)?
I think if you choose someone to be your life partner, they become your soul mate. This Little Prince quote (by Antoine de Saint-Exupery) says it well:
“The little prince went away, to look again at the roses.
“You’re not at all like my rose,” he said.
“As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one.
You’re like my fox when I first knew him.
He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes.
But I have made a friend, and now he’s unique in all the world.”
And the roses were very much embarrassed.
“You’re beautiful, but you’re empty,” he went on. “One could not die for you.
To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you
–the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she’s more important
than all the hundreds of you other roses:
because it is she that I have watered;
because it is she that I have put under the glass globe;
because it is for her that I’ve killed the caterpillars
(except the two or three we saved to become butterflies);
because it is she that I have listened to, when she grumbled,
or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing.
Because she is MY rose.”
Your shared experiences builds your love for each other. And you become those whom you love:
“In a relationship, one mind revises the other; one heart changes its partner. This astounding legacy of our combined status as mammals and neural beings is limbic revision: the power to remodel the emotional parts of the people we love, as our Attractors [coteries of ingrained information patterns] activate certain limbic pathways, and the brain’s inexorable memory mechanism reinforces them.” (A General Theory of Love)
You can grow together. Or you can grow apart. The choice to love is a daily choice. And your daily choices, makes up your marriage, and your life.