By Lisa Arends
I’ve never been one to believe in soul mates. Even when my 22-year-old self said “I do” to the man I thought was perfect for me, I didn’t perceive him as “the one.”
And that idea may have saved me.
Because when the man-who-wasn’t-the-one decided to leave the marriage with a text message one day, I believed that I could create a happy marriage again and that I wasn’t merely a victim of fate.
There’s an allure to the idea of a soul mate, the belief that there is one person that is your perfect companion. The idea brings peace when relationships end (it’s over because he/she was not the one) and serves as a beacon of hope that everything will be okay once the right person enters your life.
We like the idea of a predestined partnership.
It’s romantic. It’s encouraging.
But it’s also limiting at its best and damaging at its worst.
Here are five ways that your belief in a soul mate is holding you back:
Relationships Are Formed, Not Found
I recently completed a furniture assembly project with my second husband. It was a ground-breaking endeavor, not because of our skills with hex wrenches and flat washers, but because we carried out the entire project in perfect harmony, anticipating and responding to the other’s needs with few words needed. My ex-husband and I used to be able to work together like a well-oiled machine and I had concluded that such easy teamwork would remain elusive in my new marriage after several frustration-tinged projects. What I neglected to remember were the years my ex and I spent learning how to work together.
A fulfilling relationship occurs when both partners are open and vulnerable, creating an environment of mutual understanding and intimacy. It takes time – often lots of time – and effort to reach this point. It’s all too easy to compare the beginning of one relationship to the fully-developed stage of another and reach the conclusion that the new partnership is somehow lacking when maybe all it needs is more time to ripen. Think of how many good relationships may be discarded before they mature, dismissing a life mate while searching for a soul mate.
Passing the Baton of Responsibility
I used to tell my ex-husband that he made me happy. And that worked okay as long as he did. But then one day, he walked out the door and I had to learn to make myself happy.
One of the most difficult exercises after the end of a relationship is turning a critical eye inward. Not to blame or assume guilt, but to identity thoughts and behaviors that proved maladaptive to the relationship. It’s uncomfortable to be honest with oneself and scary to accept full responsibility for your own well-being. By placing your contentment in the lap of a soul mate, you are avoiding your liability for your own choices and actions. Do you really want to give someone else the power to decide your own happiness?
Life in the Waiting Room
It’s a big world. And even with the far-reaching arms of social media and online dating, you will only ever come in contact with a small percentage of people. If you are waiting for “the one,” you may be waiting a very long time. And living life in the waiting room is no way to truly live.
Are you postponing your happiness for when you find your soul mate? How about finding your happiness first. Rather than looking for someone to “complete you,” complete yourself first and then look for somebody who complements you.
All too often, a search for a soul mate is really a search for contentment. But that’s only a snipe hunt for happiness. Because true satisfaction can only come from within. So rather than waiting for your soul mate, nurture your own soul first.
Paring Down Possibilities
We all enter dating with some compiled list of our “must haves.” Some of them are critical – values, lifestyle, character, etc. But others, such as height and even certain personality traits, are much less important. And yet, if we have built up some image of the “perfect” mate, we will inevitably eliminate viable candidates who simply didn’t measure up to the imagined ideal.
Many strong relationships start off slowly. My current marriage almost didn’t make it past the first date – he thought I was too reserved and analytical and I thought he was too abrupt and arrogant. It took time for us to truly understand each other and to recognize the core person beneath the initial impressions. And that abrupt and arrogant man? One of the traits I most admire about him is his willingness to admit his faults and wrongs. Although I’m still working on not being too analytical…
If someone is your soul mate, then the relationship should be effortless. After all, they are your perfect match and you should fit together like hand and glove.
In the beginning of a relationship, this may appear to be true. After all, in the early stages, we present our best selves and only see the best in our partners. But that honeymoon stage always comes with an expiration date; it is an unsustainable state. A successful relationship has to navigate this changing relational terrain as reality sets in and idiosyncrasies and vulnerabilities are revealed. And that takes effort. If your expectations are for an effortless relationship, you may throw in the towel at the earliest sign of any discord, assuming that he or she must not be your soul mate after all.
Relationships are not a passive endeavor. If you want to create a connection, you have to look for it. Work for it. Everything worthwhile in life requires effort. Including relationships.
A relationship with “the one” is more than just a person with the right boxes checked, it’s also the partnership that you nurture and cultivate.
Lisa Arends tells the story of her own divorce in her book, Lessons From the End of a Marriage.