73% of Americans Believe in Soulmates but This Belief Kills Relationships
Most people realize soulmates are an unrealistic Disney-movie idea. But a lot of us still want an admirable parenting partner, an adventure co-seeker, a sex muse, a friend when we retire, and a career therapist. Someone whose needs were sculpted for us. A soulmate.
The rational side of us knows that a person who advises on a promotion may be a lackluster drinking buddy. The one craving rampant traveling may not want to anchor themselves to kids. Still, many Americans are aroused by the idea that we can have exactly what we want, when we want it—in the neat, conveniently packaged soulmate.
In a hurried attempt to quench our thirst for connection, we’ve conceived this idea of soulmates—the missing pieces of our souls. For the low price of bumping into them in a grocery store or drowning and awaiting them to rescue you, they will meet all your needs and more! Happiness sold separately.
Soulmate proponents ask questions like, “Is this my person?” or “Is this the best I can do?” By contrast, research shows people in relationships that thrive ask, “Are we a good fit?” and “How can I be a better partner?” They see a relationship as something built on gentle negotiations.
When I assumed there was one person for me, I limited my options and was less likely to want to work on the relationship. On more than one occasion, I said, “It wasn’t meant to be,” or I thought, “he wasn’t the guy,” and so I didn’t try to understand how I could revive a sleeping intimacy. On more than one occasion, we broke up.
Other times, I didn’t enter a relationship unless things seem perfect. I waited and waited for a soulmate who matches all the crevices in my personality. Poet Rupi Kaur writes, "Perhaps the saddest of all are those who live waiting for someone they're not sure exists."
This concept forces us to be all of those ideals for our partners too. Psychotherapist Esther Perel points out infidelity hurts so much in part because our partner had to go elsewhere—we weren’t enough.
I’m not suggesting anyone should settle for the next guy holding a fish on Tinder (I had no idea so many people fish). But rather, I’d like to digest that we have complex social needs that don’t come from just one person. I have no intention of compromising on my need to feel adventurous, silly, get career advice, or even help raising my future kids. But I’d like to meet each of those needs with more than just one, to rely on a friend like I would a partner—is that so wild an idea? So that I don’t mount pressure onto him and he doesn’t mount pressure onto me, but we still feel invigorated.