Yesterday, Thought Catalog contributor Cody Gohl penned a lovely article titled “The Soulmate You Deserve,” a portrait in small vignettes of how you will meet the man of your (reasonable and tempered) dreams and proceed to live, with a few adorable hiccups, happily ever after. I loved reading it, and recognized so many moments and sentiments — in my parents’ relationship, in my best friend, in my boyfriend who (if we were going by checklist only) would be far and away my soulmate. I admit that I am a sucker for all things romance, and find the descriptions of the kind of love that lasts years and isn’t always incredibly glamorous to be refreshing and endearing. I am, for lack of a better word, Gohl’s ideal audience.
And yet, there has always been something that rubs me the wrong way about the word “soulmate,” and the black-and-white worldview it seems to present. I’ve spoken here before about my desire for everyone — especially women, who are bombarded with the “Mr. Right” and “Prince Charming rhetoric since the day they hear their first fairy tale — to stop looking for “the one.” I’ve focused more on the platitudes about how, when you find your “soulmate,” they will be the person who fits you like a custom-made glove. They will be the person who never makes you cry, who understands you in a way no one else ever will, who gives without expecting things in return.
But even when the rhetoric is more tempered and realistic — like in Gohl’s article — to what someone can expect from another (normal and therefore highly flawed) human being, there is still something about it that rings… false. This article in particular, as with most media of its nature, was undeniably geared towards women in large part. The references, the desires, even the fact that the soulmate is a “he,” all point towards the idea that women are often the people who most want to hear things like this. We have been raised on a culture of “someone will be there to make all of this worth it, to make sense of everything, to confirm that I am romantically desirable and therefore worthy of the spot I am taking up on this planet” — why wouldn’t we want to consume more descriptions of this magical, mystical person?
I fear, though, that even in its most generous descriptions, the idea of any one person completing you or fulfilling you in a way that renders all other love secondary or even irrelevant is dangerous. The idea that only one person in your life will ever truly “get” you in a way no one else can seems absurd — even if that person is your partner for decades on end. Yes, they love you deeply, but what of your best friend? Are the two of you not soulmates in your own way? Is the person your best friend knows exactly the same person that your romantic partner goes to sleep with every night? Of course not. We are as diverse in our reasons for loving different people as the people we love are themselves. Even our family members — people whose love for us is almost completely unmoved over staggering expanses of time — they have a part of our soul. And their love for us, what they give for us every day, is something that cannot be compared with the love we may have for our romantic partner. It is simply different, and special in its own way.
When I think of my boyfriend, for example, I know that he is not the only person in the world out there for me, that there was not some infinitesimally small chance of coming across someone who would fulfill an incredibly long roster of personal qualities and world views. I know that meeting him was not some check mark to put next to the part of my life that gives everything meaning and substance, some invisible mountain that I have climbed simply by finding someone who loves me for who I am and whom I love just as much in return. I know that our life together — and everything that lies ahead of us — is as much something we actively construct and choose each day as it is something that happens because of who we are innately. I don’t consider him my “soulmate,” because I don’t think that such a thing exists. (And if there were such a thing, I would have several, including myself. Because if I have learned anything as a woman, it is that no matter what movies or terrible advice books may tell me, searching for anyone but myself to ultimately confirm my worth as a human being is as futile as it is unhealthy. I must take care of and love myself as I would anyone else, and there is nothing conceited about that.)
Perhaps the person who best sums up my feelings on the topic is one of my favorite comedian/writer/singers, Tim Minchin. In his song (one of my favorite love songs of all time, actually), “If I didn’t have you,” he says the following:
And love is made more powerful by the ongoing drama of shared experience
And the synergy of a kind of symbiotic empathy or… something
So I trust it would go without saying
That I would feel really very sad
If tomorrow you were to fall off something high
Or catch something bad
But I’m just saying
I don’t think you’re special
I — I mean, I think you’re special
But you fall within a bell curve
I mean, I’m just saying I
(Really think that I would)
(Have somebody else)
Yeah — what he said.