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.