You should have the perfect job. You should wake up every day and be within walking/biking distance of the kind of place that at once inspires, challenges, and supports you. Your coworkers should be friends, and your boss should be your role model and mentor. You should earn a wonderful salary from this job that allows you to afford everything you desire in life, and should also be provided with ample free time in which to enjoy all of this money you’re making. You should draw not only a sense of purpose from your lucrative-yet-flexible dream job, but also a daily affirmation about the work you’re doing and the progress you’re making. Your job should be the envy of the world, and with it, you should live happily ever after.
When applied to any other subject, the discourse that surrounds the concepts of “soulmates,” or the aforementioned “happily ever after” is quickly shown to be as patronizing as it is unattainable. (Though I’m sure that there are the occasional overbearing parents out there who would give a similar speech to the above one about the kinds of jobs we should be circling in the Classifieds.) In general, though, we’re willing to accept with most great life choices (where we live, what career we pursue, who we choose as friends, etc), there will be ups and downs to it all. There is no “correct” choice to make which will somehow magically wipe away all of the unfortunate aspects of daily life. The job I described does not exist, at least not over the span of an entire lifetime.
And yet, we are quick to relay (through entertainment, “talks” about love and marriage, or just the images we are shown daily) the idea that love — if it is meant for you — is a soft, warm trip down a lazy river of agreement and kisses and affirmations. “We shouldn’t settle for anything less than The One,” we say. “When you find the man who is worth your tears, he won’t make you cry.” (Ugh.) These platitudes fill our childhoods and spill over into our adolescence, reinforced by every movie we’ve ever seen in which the perfect love story cuts off just at the moment where it might start getting difficult.
The idea that the person who is right for you is going to be some mystical creature who exists only to mold to your personality, quirks, and demands is absurd when thought about in literal terms, but a prevalent one nonetheless. This man who “won’t make you cry” — what happens when, through genuine disagreement or misspoken words you get into a fight that actually means something, and you cry because you both hurt each other when no two people could have deserved it less? Are your tears suddenly the negation of everything wonderful that exists between the two of you? Is the answer to this to stop fighting entirely — to run away from communication the second it seems like you two might see things a little differently, and be ready to express it?
And the fights that lead you to learn something about yourself, to grow as a person — what of them? Are they the symptoms of two people who were just fundamentally incompatible but tried in vain to make it work because they found so much in each other that they loved otherwise? Of course not, but this is what we imply when we talk about “The One.” We talk about the kind of person with whom conflict is never an issue because there is some essential connection that they possess which somehow trumps the myriad imperfections in each human being. The idea that any two people together could spend an entire lifetime of being “happily ever after,” never once asking themselves serious, uncomfortable questions or taking some time in their respective corners to breathe, seems more terrifying to me than the idea of a stormy relationship that doesn’t work out.
At least in the broken relationship, there is the relief of honesty in the separation. If you can split and still be amicable, you’ve achieved something that is profoundly difficult for many, and is wholly positive for the mutual people in your lives. But if you live under the pressure of fulfilling a prophecy of “soulmates,” you could spend years, decades, repeating the same mistakes and never quite addressing the difficult points which need to be brought up.
“The One” doesn’t exist, and never will. There is no person who is going to sweep you off your feet and take you to a magical land without consequences or compromises. Compromises, in fact, may be the closest you’ll ever get to finding “The One,” in my experience. If you have someone who makes you want to be a better person, and who actively works on becoming a better person themselves — someone who learns to put someone else first from time to time, who does so joyfully — you have picked yourself a clear winner. But that by no means implies that your life together from here on out is going to be one extended horse-drawn carriage ride into a sunset, accompanied by singing woodland creatures.
In fact, the people who suffer most in the equation of “looking for your soulmate,” it seems, are the people who are still looking for love in general. While in the thick of the dating scene, while watching romantic comedies, while commiserating with friends over what went wrong this time, it’s so easy to put all your eggs in the singular, dangerous basket of “finding The One — because he/she is out there.” Who knows how many people we’ve thrown away for relatively minor offenses, the lists we’ve crafted which could fill libraries of all the qualities we won’t compromise on, all in that promise we’ve been told all our lives that “we shouldn’t settle.” Perhaps “settling” in some way is an essential part of falling in love — as that person equally “settles” for you, knowing that no one is perfect but that this particular person is someone for whom you want to try to be better.
There shouldn’t be a “perfect” image of anything that we’re chasing after in life, as it’s so clear to all of us how very un-perfect life often proves to be. But it seems profoundly dangerous to set such narrow goalposts for something as consuming and as fallible as love between two human beings that is supposed to last a lifetime. Dating is hard enough as it is, the last thing we need is to be recreating a fairy tale.