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Soul Mate – the fallacy of looking for “the one”

Posted in Life & Love

Paris lock bridge
Falling in love is my specialty. Sofagirl  (who recently wrote about the subject) likes to joke that my relationships have been informed by the torrid and never happy ending Russian novels I used to be so fond of. And she is not that far off the truth. But those novels also taught me a couple of valuable lessons: obstacles are par for the course when it comes to love, and “the one” does not exist. I believe the definition of love changes as we do and that more than “one true love” can be had during the course of one’s lifetime. And, above all, that “the one” is made and not sent by divine intervention to cross our path at the perfect moment.

And all those good scientists, who spend countless hours researching just such matters, seem to back this up. Melissa Dahl, in The Science of Us, quotes studies from the Department of Psychology at the University of Houston: “It might not surprise you to learn that the science of romance isn’t incredibly romantic. The research suggests that believing in soul mates — or destiny, or the idea that there is exactly one person who you were absolutely put on this earth to find — can and probably will backfire.”

If you are one of those people who have been with the same partner for the past thirty years with nary a disagreement, you would be a very rare breed indeed (and an enviable one). Most of us have to contend with the job of resolving petty arguments and overcoming disappointment in as healthy a fashion as possible.

Let’s assume we meet the perfect specimen, someone who meets most, if not all the criteria, we look for in a partner (because, let’s face it, who hasn’t drawn such a list?). It’s absolute bliss for a while, maybe even a good while – maybe we marry or shack up together, and even add children to the mix. One day, he or she will do something that will get on our nerves, which will tarnish that shiny patina of perfection. At first, we will overlook it, we will let it go but then the behavior will repeat and how we confront it is crucial. Those who believe in destiny and soul mates will be more likely to start questioning whether this is “the one” indeed, while those who take relationships more in stride and equate them to a journey, will be more likely to look for solutions, work out compromises and treat what comes up as a roadblock to be surmounted with ingenuity.

Tour Eiffel nightRussian novels aside, what we believe, even our notions of love and relationships, might be rooted in  how we were raised. Jenny Anderson, who writes for the parenting blog “Motherlode” puts it quite aptly, in a different context:

“Kids who are told they are smart care more about performance goals and less about learning. Kids praised for their efforts believe that trying hard, not being smart, matters. These kids are ‘resilient’ and take more risks.”

If we start a relationship believing in its perfection from the outset, we are doomed. Working towards a goal – not necessarily of perfection – over time, through collaboration, repetition and trying hard, will more likely result in a healthier relationship down the line.

It was actually the foolishness of Madame Bovary who made me see that love at first sight, “the one” and waiting for something good to happen are a load of crock.

“Love, she thought, must come suddenly, with great outbursts and lightnings,–a hurricane of the skies, which falls upon life, revolutionises it, roots up the will like a leaf, and sweeps the whole heart into the abyss.”

Love can certainly do that. But what matters most is how we learn to climb out of that temporary abyss: with patience, resilience and a tolerance for boredom. Even the most exciting journeys, after all, have their share of hours spent chugging along.

Paris images found in the public domain

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  1. Sadly I’m 110% Virgo especially around the whole perfection thing. But I do love your observations though and (maybe as a sign of maturity or desperation, not sure which 🙂 ) am deliberately trying to un-wedge some of my more steadfast rules/observations. I need to print this advice and keep it handy since it applies so precisely: “Those who believe in destiny and soul mates will be more likely to start questioning whether this is “the one” indeed, while those who take relationships more in stride and equate them to a journey…” The inner gypsy in me so DOES like journeys so I’m going to work with that advice. <3

    September 23, 2014
    • My sister is a Virgo – I can relate. She is even more order obsessed, literally and figuratively, than I am. Exactly who has appointed me as an expert in giving relationship advice is a touch unclear but I have been through my share of mess, conflic, deluded expectations and huge risk taking that I have begun to chronicle what works and what doesn’t. And I can confidently say that sharing life with another human being is a very interesting journey: sometimes akin to a weekend at the Four Seasons, others more like a third class train in India. So, journey on…

      September 23, 2014
  2. silvia

    It’s all Cindarella’s fault (not to talk about Snowwhite or the like). You should write about that syndrome most women suffer from.

    September 23, 2014
    • I think we did. Long ago. Have to search for the link and send it to you.

      September 23, 2014
  3. You know I am an old romantic at heart. In wolf’s clothing. And sort of a realist (and with a husband who brings me flowers every Saturday – how romantic is that?!).

    September 23, 2014
  4. winston moreton
    winston moreton

    Oh dear – should be prefaced with a spoiler warning for old romantics.

    September 22, 2014

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