If you are a regular consumer of media, then you will undoubtedly be familiar with the romantic notion of a soul mate – that one person in the world who will be everything to us, who is our perfect match, and whom we are destined to find. This message is almost inescapable in pop culture, and exists in countless songs:
* The Turtles – Happy Together “The only one for me is you, and you for me”
* Brian McKnight – The Only One For Me
* Jewel – You Were Meant For Me
* Paul Anka – You Are My Destiny
* Nat King Cole – To The Ends Of The Earth
* The Monkees – We Were Made For Each Other
* … and I’m pretty sure that just about every song Lionel Richie released during the 1980s contained some variation of “Girl, you are the only one for me”.
To be fair, there may be other interpretations, and these lyrics may not be about finding one’s soul mate – their collective message might be “You’re the only one for me… until someone better catches my eye”. Of course, if one is writing a love song, it should at least sound like the sentiment is sincere, and not sound scheming and duplicitous.
The soul mate concept exists in movies as well – the entire plot of the movie Sleepless In Seattle involves fate – that is, we are destined to be with our soul mate, even if we are attached (or even engaged) to someone else.
Years ago, I was working at a company that shall remain nameless. One of my co-workers, a single female in her late 20s or early 30s, who had clearly embraced the romantic notion of a soul mate, was talking to her colleagues about her future boyfriend or husband. She described him in vivid detail, and included height, body type, hair colour and style, and a host of other characteristics. This was the man for her… she just hadn’t met him yet. I remember walking away and shaking my head in disbelief; while I’m sure that this avatar must seem very comforting to her, it was also impractical. She was now going to search only for men who fit a very narrow physical description. What if this person doesn’t exist? If he does exist, will he be single, or even heterosexual? What if her actual soul mate didn’t meet all of her criteria? She would never meet him because she has already decided what her ideal future husband is going to look like.
Structurally, the idea of a soul mate is very nice and symmetrical – a pairing off of people who are perfect for each other – however, I think that actually buying into this idea – that there exists only one other perfectly compatible person on the planet for each of us, and that fate must somewhow bring us together – is doing us more harm than good.
First of all, we are encouraged to relinquish our decision-making abilities and believe in fate. We must find this one particular person, yet we have no idea who that person is or where s/he lives.
The implication here, as I see it, is that the romantic component of our lives is woven into a grandiose cosmic tapestry, and that some ethereal Yenta-like being has done all of the matchmaking for us. While it’s comforting to think that a force greater than ourselves is working behind the scenes to ensure our happiness, I obviously don’t believe this. It’s up to us to do our own research, evaluations and matchmaking. Of couse, we can always solicit help from others – relatives, friends, and dating services – but ultimately, we have to decide for oursevles who is our soul mate.
Secondly, I don’t like the premise that there is only one person on the planet who is meant for you. Let’s consider the following two scenarios:
If you have already found your soul mate, what if s/he dies? Then what? While our individual uniqueness means that another person will never completely replace him or her, could you ever expect to experience the same level of happiness in the future with a different person?
If you are single then consider the following: What if your soul mate lives on the other side of the planet? In 2011, the world’s population is expected to reach 7 billion. How can you reasonably expect to find him or her in your lifetime? Also, what if your perfect match does exist, but was killed in a car accident last month? You would never know and would therefore continue your search fruitlessly.
Thirdly, while we may all start our searches enthusiastically and idealistically, the astronomical odds of actually finding that single person practically doom us to failure. After a while – whether it’s hearing the increasingly insistent ticking of one’s biological clock, or simply becoming tired of searching – one will likely give up on the idea of finding one’s ideal mate, and adopt a variation of Stephen Stills’ advice in his 1970s pop song: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” Any new relationship will already begin with a feeling of compromise, “settling” or even resignation – this is not healthy for you, and is also unfair to your partner.
I think it’s time to abandon the idea of finding that one person in the world who is perfect for you and adopt an outlook that is more pragmatic and analytical. Focus on the realities of the situation first, and discard completely, the movie industry fantasies. Therefore, I would like to propose the following idea: you may have more than one soul mate.
I genuinely believe that there is more than one person out there with whom you are not only compatible, but who is perfect for you. While this may not fulfill your internalized sense of destiny, I believe that it’s a much healthier and more realistic way of examining potential life partners.
First, take some time to become comfortable with the idea that there are a number of people in the world with whom you could be happy for an entire lifetime. Next, stop thinking of your potential life partner as a single person, plucked from a sea of billions of suitors. If you use this metaphor, then you will look at people and think either “soul mate” or “keep looking”. This binary approach (yes/no, pass/fail) doesn’t work well – there are too many shades of gray when examining compatibility.
Instead, treat the evaluation process like an exam. Think of yourself as a university professor, designing your own unique “life partner compatibility exam” – you are formulating the questions and you are also grading the responses. The questions are entirely up to you – whether it’s a list of physical attributes, desirable personality traits or other more nebulous qualities – write them all down and assign a numeric value to each. Next, list all of the mandatory qualities and then list the deal-breakers. If all of this sounds too formulaic or sterile, then feel free to include one or more fuzzy categories: chemistry, charisma or “je ne sais quoi”.
In this exam there is no pass or fail, but increasing levels of compatibility – for example: platonic, date-worthy, relationship candidate, marriage material and soul mate. Now assign a passing grade to each of these categories. Platonic could be 65%, date-worthy: 75%, relationship candidate: 80%, marriage material: 90%, soul mate: 96%.
This process will weed out the suitors who aren’t worth your time and leave you with a short list of high-quality romantic candidates. When all of the marking is done, you will now have in front of you, your dream team of potential soul mates. Any of these people could be “the one”. The next step is determining availability, attraction, and mutual attraction. Like a recipe, these people have all the right ingredients, but it’s up to you to turn them into a mouth-watering dish.
You can set the bar as high as you like, but once you stop internalizing the messages in pop music and start viewing others as soul mate candidates instead of “the only one for me”, you will no longer spend your life looking for that proverbial needle in a haystack and instead start enjoying the synergistic benefits of quality, compatibility, availability and attainability.