With 7.53 billion people on earth, it seems quite unrealistic to think that there’s one person on the planet that was made to complete you. To say I was a pessimist to love would be an understatement. Throughout most of my life, I thought that public displays of affection were for people who have been momentarily tricked by the façade of love. The overwhelming, heart bursting feelings were fleeting moments with time stamps on them. No one meets this superhuman who changes their life, and no one lives happily ever after. The hopeless romantic women reading this are probably scoffing and raising their left fist that’s fitted with a 2 carat engagement ring saying “he’s out there, you just don’t believe.” We’ve been spoon fed this notion of a soulmate ever since we were old enough to lift our heads and devour Disney romances. Although I’ve toned down my pessimistic views and drank the preverbal love Kool-Aid, I’m still fascinated at how our society places finding love on a pedestal, and how infatuated we are to go on this quest repeatedly to find that one person in the universe who completes us. This mythical, magical and seemingly unattainable concept has been around for centuries, and it seems to be even more pervasive today than ever before.
The romanticized idea that there’s one person for all of us began centuries ago, but has changed and taken different forms over the years. Interestingly and probably not very surprisingly, the Tinders, Bumbles and Match.com’s of the world have placed an even bigger priority on finding that perfect love match. This soulmate story is played out time and time again in Hollywood, in the media, through books and in many other forms to exhaustion. Fascination aside, where did this popular theory that enthralls our modern day society come from?
This soulmate theory can be traced back to 385 BC in Plato’s Symposium, where he philosophizes the concept of love, and where his friend Aristophanes places this concept onto the human race. Aristophanes was a comic playwright and contemporary of Plato, and his story is the key to the soulmate theory that has lead to the downfall of humanity (kidding..or am I?). His story is set in mythical Greek times, with a group of very powerful two headed giants. Their power made Zeus feel threatened, and God or not, we know how people respond when they feel threatened. Out of jealousy and to weaken these giants, Zeus ripped them in half, causing them to forever seek their other half. This is what Aristophanes explains is the “source of our desire to love each other.” He goes on to say that “love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature. Each of us, then, is a ‘matching half’ of a human whole…and each of us is always seeking the half that matches him.”
This notion won’t sound foreign to most people because it’s ingrained deep within our culture. The systemic problem is that we place such a high priority on the socially constructed idea of what a soulmate is. The media that we consume, leads us to believe that being in these whimsical romances is the norm, and that being single or in a relationship that endures struggle is a type of failure.
Humans are complicated creatures. We can be madly in love, but yet at the same time be completely unhappy and unfulfilled. There’s compromise, life situations and a ton of daily struggles in relationships, which is conveniently left out of the love story. Ottawa psychologist Sue Johnson explains this in her book Love Sense. She discusses how FMRI scans were done on the brains of women who were happily married and ones who were not. What she discovered was that when faced with danger, the brain of the women who were happily married showed little to no stress level responses, as long as their hand was in their partners. Consequently, the unhappily married women’s stress levels rose, regardless of whether their partner was holding their hand or not. According to science, it’s long-term commitment to the trials and tribulations that come with a relationship, which lead to love being successful long term, not the perfection we so desperately chase.
This idea of the perfect relationship doesn’t exist and sometimes entering a relationship based purely off emotion alone, creates an even bigger issue. Social psychologist’s Spike W. S. Lee and Norbert Schwarz did an experiment with people in long-term relationship. They were asked to complete a quiz that showed expressions relating to either unity or journey, then recall times of conflict, celebration, and finally evaluate their relationship. The findings showed that recalling conflicts made people feel less satisfied in their relationship, but only with the unity mindset, not the journey mindset. He goes on to say that “recalling celebrations makes people satisfied with their relationship regardless of how they think about it. Our findings corroborate prior research showing that people who implicitly think of relationships as perfect unity between soulmates have worse relationships than people who implicitly think of relationships as a journey of growing and working things out,” says Lee.
In life we hope to meet that special someone who sets our soul on fire; that one person with whom you have a deep connection and who understands you more than you understand yourself. This person could be your romantic partner, but they could also be your best friend, family member, or someone you truly love spending your time with. Just because we’ve grown up thinking of the term soulmate in the romantic sense, doesn’t mean we don’t have the power to change how it manifests for us. I think that we can have more than one soulmate. Why categorize one single person as a soulmate when we can aim to surround ourselves with special people who we love and who reciprocate that love. When we give less power to the word soulmate as it relates to prince or princess charming and more to the people we give love to on a daily basis, it opens our eyes to see what’s right in front of us…our soulmates.