The Soul Mate Myth
Nothing has produced more unhappiness than the concept of the soul mate.
- Frank Pittman, Psychiatrist
Over 88% of young adults believe they have a soul mate somewhere waiting for them, according to a study by the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. Clearly, the idea of a soul mate is pervasive one … but is it real? Where does concept of a soul mate come from and why does it have so much influence over our understanding of love? And is it dangerous to put so much faith in a notion that is nearly impossible to prove?
For many, the idea of a soul mate is rooted in destiny—whether understood as fate, God’s will, or reincarnation of a former love. Others have no clear understanding of exactly why they believe in the idea of a soul mate, but still feel strongly that they are destined to be with one specific person.
The concept of a soul mate is a seductive one—the thought that one person can perfectly complete, or at least complement us, is incredibly attractive. If and when we find our true soul mate, our flaws won’t really matter since our soul mate will be perfectly equipped to counterbalance or respond lovingly to these flaws.
When times are good, it is easy to believe that the person you are with could be your soul mate. But when things get harder, this same confidence can just as easily be shaken. What if you were wrong—what if this person was really never truly your soul mate? Surely, your true soul mate would never disappoint you, never misunderstand you, never hurt you. Maybe your real soul mate is still out there somewhere, waiting for you.
While the concept of a soul mate can never be definitively proved, neither can it be disproved. So what harm can come from believing in soul mates, or at least hoping for one? The problem can be that our concept of soul mates can cause us to have unrealistic expectations for love and prompt us to leave relationships that, while not entirely perfect, have real merit.
Say you’ve found someone special, a possible soul mate candidate. Unfortunately, rarely do the heavens open up and bestow a clear sign that the person you are with is in fact “the one.” Without such proof, it is easy to justify a little “soul mate shopping” the minute your romance starts to lose excitement.
A 20-year study by Paul Amato, PhD, at Penn State suggests that 55 to 60 percent of divorcing couples discarded unions with real potential. Many of these individuals maintained that they still loved their partner but were bored or felt the relationship hadn’t lived up to their expectations.
Viable relationships are often tossed out, not because of irreversible problems, but because our partner didn’t quite measure up to our romantic ideals. Particularly in long-term, committed relationships or marriage, ending a solid relationship merely because you are no longer 100% convinced your partner is your soul mate seems haphazard, even reckless.
That is not to say we should stay in unhealthy relationships, but rather, that we should weigh the merits of a relationship objectively. Since defining exactly what qualifies a person to be your soul mate is so elusive (if not illusionary), try assessing your relationship instead on fundamentals like love, respect and compatibility. Undoubtedly, some matches are a better fit than others. But being a good fit doesn’t mean that you need to share every personality trait or interest as your partner. It doesn’t mean that your relationship will be conflict free. And it definitely doesn’t mean that you will feel electrifying sparks throughout all stages of your relationship.
Soul mates may very well exist … perhaps you are fortunate enough to have found yours already. Ultimately what matters though is not our partner’s ability to pass some mysterious soul mate test. What matters most is that we have confidence in our ability to continue finding beauty, strength, and yes, true love, in our relationship with the partner we have chosen.