Lately I’ve been thinking about the concept of soulmates. Perhaps because I’m slowly beginning to see the possibility of finding contentment without the person I have long considered my ‘truest’ soulmate. Someone I’ve been pining after for the past six years, partly because he has never allowed me to see anything about him I wouldn’t like or couldn’t connect with. It’s also been easy for me to idealize him because I don’t see him very often (he lives on the other side of the world).
What do you consider a ‘soulmate’? Maybe the most crucial mistake I’ve made when it comes to my love life and defining a soulmate – the mistake that has kept me from finding closure in relation to my unrequited feelings for the above-mentioned friend in Australia – is the fact that I’ve always seen a soulmate as someone who shares not only my basic values and sense of humour, but also my interests and goals and thought patterns. And most other things.
I recently met someone I connected with very quickly. We connected quickly because we seem to think and feel a very similar way about our lives and other things. He is not someone I would consider a romantic or sexual prospect, and neither would he consider me as such. Meeting this person reminded me how much I miss having ‘deep’, thoughtful conversations with someone who shares my values and interests. It’s one of the things I miss most about my friend in Australia who does not requite my feelings, and it’s something I appreciate about this new acquaintance. Connection is what we always long for, it’s a sure cure for loneliness. The sense of a lack of connection often triggers feelings of loneliness which, in my case, has often made me long to be in a relationship with that Aussie guy, though I’m all too aware that being in a relationship is neither a prerequisite to, nor a guarantee of, healing a lonely heart. (I’ve never actually felt lonelier than I did during a large chunk of my one and only long-term relationship – though I admit this had something to do with the warped expectations I had – and partly still have – of how a relationship should be.)
We probably all agree that soulmates need not be limited to a romantic context. My best female friend is like a sister to me. I’m so glad to have her in my life. Be able to chat with her, laugh with her, count on her, and agree with her on a lot of things. Those are the elements I consider the ‘soulmate’ elements. But I also value our differences. The fact that she is a more positive person than me; that she is more pragmatic and way less egocentric than me.
We tend to see soulmates as people who can relate to us, who we bond with because of our similarities, because of parallel histories or thought patterns, do you agree? After all, how could someone possibly understand us if they have led completely different lives to our own, if they have grown up popular while we were struggling to find friends, if they have only known success while we had a hard time going for and getting what we wanted, if they have always felt at home where they come from whereas we never quite managed to find ‘our place(s)’ in the world?
So one could say that the concept of soulmates is really just the result of our narcissistic urge to find someone who has a lot in common with us so we can feel comfortable and understood, and stop worrying about our flaws (at least in my experience – I told you, I’m egocentric!). However, maybe soulmates are not the ideal people to have around you all the time, i.e. as romantic partners. You need people who share some of your traits and values and likes and dislikes in your life, otherwise you’ll feel alienated and worthless, but will people who are very much like yourself actually help you grow? Will they keep challenging you and inspire you to change?
Maybe I’ve had it all wrong: perhaps my ‘ideal life’ would not entail being with my soulmate in Australia, no matter how much I enjoy his company or how he manages to make me feel saner and cooler than I actually am. As he has been the only guy I’ve met who has consistently made me feel this way, it has been difficult for me to accept the possibility that we might not actually be the perfect couple if we were ever together. I was forced to realize that 1. someone you consider your soulmate is not actually bound to reciprocate your feelings at some stage of your life, as idealistic romantic notions would have you think, and 2. the comfort and joy we feel around that person in a friendship does not guarantee their suitability as a romantic partner. Not only because people act differently towards their partners than they do towards friends, but also because soulmates (in my limiting definition of the word) might not help us grow and thrive as much as we should be. Because they do not get us to see things from a new perspective. They will encourage us and help us deal with things, but they won’t inspire us to change. They won’t motivate us to take an interest in something we hadn’t thought about before, since they share the same views and interests.
Perfect soulmates will help you feel comfortable in your own (old, leathery) skin, but they can’t help you shed that old skin to show brighter, smoother parts of yourself you never knew you had to offer. Instead, they will keep your head circling around the same things over and over again.
So maybe it’s finally time for me to stop yearning for that one person who will always be one of my dearest friends, but whose perfection can only ever be an illusion. Time to focus on all the people who have already made a difference in my life, and all those I haven’t yet met who are going to do so in the future – those who will keep me sane and at ease, as well as those who will challenge my views and help me learn and grow – and vice versa.
2 thoughts on “Soulmates”
You’re not egocentric, Lisa! At least, no more than the rest of us. Very thoughtful and honest post. I love the concept of a soul mate, I wish it was real!!!! But I think it’s just a fantasy. It’s a pretty primal and powerful one though which must be why it persists. I mean, it’s like Freud says, being born is the most traumatic event that we have to deal with, because it marks the moment when we are severed from our mothers, and have to become individuals. Life, in this sense, becomes a journey to repair and restore this lost connection, and we constantly live with this feeling that on our own, we are not complete or enough.
But I think you’re onto something about not having “one” soul mate, or this idea that our important relationships don’t need to be “romantic” in nature. Apparently back in the days before agriculture, when humans were hunters and gatherers, we didn’t live in pairs, and definitely not forever pairs! In fact, it used to take a whole community of people and a variety of relationships for a person to get their needs met.
Knowing that, it seems to me like the idea of a soul mate might actually close you off to other relationships (which I certainly find, and I’m sure you do too, with many of my friends who pair off with their significant others and withdraw from public life). I think it also sabotages your romantic relationships too since you end up investing everything in, and expecting everything from, only one person. I just don’t think one person can give you everything you need (and vice versa). That seems like a lot more pressure than one relationship can withstand (and I expect why so many fail).
As for your unrequited love, I empathize and have been working through a similar thing. I’ve been finding it helpful to identify my feelings of love and desire for another person as my feelings, feelings that belong to and are located within me; feelings that enrich and empower me, that are not anchored to one elusive, unique person that I will never be with. If anything, this person that you long for, awakened something in you, made you aware of parts of yourself that you forgot about (or didn’t really know about) and it made you feel good. This person made you feel more like the person you are, have the potential to be, or the person you want to be. It’s devastating to not have your love returned, but I think if we own that feeling as ours, there’s a comfort in knowing that we have that capacity at least, and we might be able to feel those feelings again with someone else, or many other someone elses for that matter 😉
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Wise words, Sara. 🙂
I completely agree with what you’re saying about the traditional definition of soulmates – that idea of that 1 person out there for each of us, the imaginary existence of one single soul who can complete us if we are so lucky to find them, is quite unnecessary and outdated.
I think it’s definitely more beneficial to recognize that most relationships do not last a lifetime and that this doesn’t mean the person was wrong for us, but only that our compatibility was temporary, and that this is not actually a bad thing. It’s probably the sanest perspective we can take – regarding each relationship as something that can only ever be transient in one way or another, something that will always be subject to change. We can learn from each relationship, and we will certainly suffer less and probably also learn and grow a lot more if we recognize our need for more than one person to fulfill all our deepest desires.
I really like what you are suggesting about owning my feelings and cherishing them as my own, and not limiting myself by ascribing them solely to this one person, but identifying them as separate from him, something that can sustain me and help me grow as a person (perhaps not despite, but rather because of, him not feeling the same for me). That’s a pretty comforting thought, actually. 🙂
Thanks so much for your feedback and advice. Very thoughtful and helpful comments, as always. 🙂