Is it healthy to believe in the idea of a soulmate?

Article by Claire Bracken /
ABC /
July 15, 2019 /
Click here to view original /

With over seven billion people on the planet and possibly countless aliens, is it reasonable to believe that there’s only one special person who’s perfect for you?

Podcast fame and Belgian psychotherapist, Esther Perel, recently spoke to The Hook Up about the ongoing hunt for the soulmate.

“I think in many ways the Millennial generation is way more romantic than the Boomer generation, actually.” On the flipside, though, she observes that young people are waiting longer before settling for The One. Meaning that when it does happen, there can be “such a combustible, irrepressible set of expectations” placed on this one human.

“We have two trends going on at the same time,” says Perel. “Romanticism has not abated. It has not weakened. It is more intense. But because it is more intense, there is a counter movement that says this exclusive, romantic ideal of one person et cetera is unrealistic.”

So basically, it remains a polarising concept ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The History of The One

It’s an idea that dates back to (at least) the ancient Greeks. As myth would have it, there was a time when humans were absolute units consisting of two faces, both a vagina and penis, and double the amount of hands and legs. So powerful were these human centipedes in Plato’s Symposium, that Zeus himself cut them in half — destining all humans to be forever searching for their phantom other half, a person in possession of whatever genitals they themselves don’t have.

Cut to present day and Dr Lauren Rosewarne, a senior lecturer on sexuality and gender in popular culture, calls millennials’ romantic inclinations “a culmination of years and years and years of Disney films.”

She points out that we’re constantly being presented with this idea of the planets aligning and the universe coughing up our ‘better half’.

“We’re very used to that ending in film and television but if you go back in time and think about religion – and religion has had such an influence on our notions of love and sexuality – the idea that there is only one right person for you is also a safeguard in regards to things like chastity and virginity (in the sense that you’re saving yourself until you find that perfect person). So it really prevents things like promiscuity and reinforces this idea of heterosexuality.”

But what of the human need behind the freaky narrative? (That everyone feels not matter their gender or sexuality).“We are all looking for someone to share our life with and there’s an evolutionary, biological drive for this,” says sex therapist and psychologist Melanie Khashadorian.

For her part, Melanie believes that for the most part we’ve evolved to the idea of soulmates, plural. “I think it can happen romantically, I think it can happen with friends and with family members. We can have this deep, strong connection with a variety of people in our lives.”

True Love in The Hook Up Era

Dr Lauren Rosewarne notes that “Socially we have become a more cynical society. Plus we’re rejecting a lot of those ideas around things like religion, pathologising of sexuality and sexual desire.” And then we’ve gone and added dating apps into the mix.

“You’re expected to do endless swiping, endless dating, until you find that needle in the haystack.”

“There’s an entire industry that’s manipulating how we think about this,” says Dr Lauren. With all these companies and platforms selling you on the idea that they’re the ones to help you find ‘The One’ with “their magical algorithms,” it can really impact how we think about love, romance and sex.

On the flipside of this, an unforeseen consequence of the dating app culture is that “now searching for a partner has become a job for people.” We’re now carrying this search for our one true love around in our pockets and it’s become gamified.

Certain brands sell themselves on the idea of being the last app you’re ever going to use, thus ending the indignity of constantly ~putting yourself out there~. Esther Perel calls the deleting of your Tinder/Grindr/Hinge/et cetera, once you’ve found your person, “the new ritual of commitment”.

But surely, says Dr Lauren, “If you genuinely do subscribe to this idea of soulmates, does finding them require that much work and hunting? Should you not actually just bump into them in the meet cute if the universe has meant for you to find them? …And of course, the answer to that is: is there really a plan for us? And that really just depends on what you believe.”

Soulmate minds think alike

The idea of soulmates doesn’t just begin and end with the search, though. If it’s a concept you believe in, it will carry on through your relationships and how you relate to partners.

Dr Lauren says it’s helpful to be “somewhat critical” of the idea, which can be quite “limiting”. It’s a concept that “smooths over a lot of the reality of romance and relationships, which actually require work.”

The issue can be falling into the trap of believing that because ‘it’s meant to be,’ it will all find a way to work out. Whereas “successful relationships require constant work and tending to, and there’s no natural inevitability to any of them.”

But what of that instant connection that you can feel with some people? Is that just bullshit? Dr Lauren agrees that there are obviously people that you will gravitate to, where there’s an instinctual and immediate chemistry. You may not feel it with everybody, and rightly so, but “I think it’s important to recognise that is something you can feel again,” she says. “That feeling is not a scarce resource in limited supply. It may not be intensely common but it is replicable.”

The other-glass-half-full mentality

Something to consider in this whole soulmate shebang: If you’re searching for your other half, does that mean you’re only half a person when you’re single? Dr Lauren calls that attitude “a self-esteem sabotage” to see yourself as “deficient on your own”. But she does admit that there can be positives to believing there is someone out there for you: “That hope can be healthy.”

“It’s challenging to discuss because in some way a good relationship does make us better,” says Melanie Khashadorian. “It makes us a better version of ourselves, so there is this sense of feeling more than we were before. But we don’t want to rely on that relationship to make us who we are… It should enhance us but we don’t want to depend on it for our identity.”

Then once you are in a relationship, “I think it’s really important that you do feel like the person you’re with is somehow better than everyone else,” says Dr Lauren. “It’s an important safeguard in the relationship, so that your partner feels like you’re not out searching for someone better.”

So…?

What if you’re still looking for that deep connection and soulmate situation that you crave?

“You need to fill your life with more than just this search,” advises Dr Rosewarne. “Particularly in the context of trying to find a partner, the idea of you being in deficit until you find them is really limiting for your life. But it also makes you an uninteresting person. You can get the air of desperation about you that becomes unattractive. It’s important to also keep in mind the self-fulfilling prophecy that, if you see yourself as searching and unfulfilled as you are, that can keep going on because you project that.”

Even if you do find The One, what happens if your relationship ends with this person you believe to be your soulmate? And then no one else you meet is stacking up? “Sometimes that period of limerence that we have at the beginning of a relationship can be confused with the idea of soulmate,” says Khashadorian. “And there’s another phenomenon known as ‘the phantom ex’ — where there is this one person, an ex partner, that we look to and really put them up on a pedestal and no one can really compare to this.” You can start to see the romance as something that it maybe never was. “So it’s usually more complicated than whether they’re your ‘soulmate’ or not. You need to stay open to giving other relationships a go.”

When in doubt, follow the “the Golden Rule”, as described by Hook Up listener Beth from the Gold Coast. And that is to always love yourself first and foremost. Rather than believing in finding The One, she focused on The Beth. “I never felt like half a person at all. I felt whole in myself and I thought, ‘no matter where this life takes me, I know who I am and I know where my values are and what I want out of life.’ And then this guy came along and he felt the same way. I didn’t feel any more whole, I just felt like, ‘great, I have someone who I can share this journey with.’”