Soulmates. Do they exist, and does it matter?
Have you ever been in a relationship that ended? Was there a moment, maybe a couple weeks after it happened, when you surveyed the wreckage and thought, “What if I missed my soulmate?”
But where does that idea come from? Why is our culture so fixated on the idea of soulmates, and why is that concept often so binary?
So I want to step back and examine the concept of soulmates. I think the concept is a little elusive-- Is there one person on Earth that’s your perfect match? Your best friend? Your lover that gets you like no one else?
Jeremy Heider, psychology professor at Southeast, is skeptical of the idea everyone has one soulmate.
“I think perceptually, that’s what a lot of people believe, and it’s what they want to happen. They even believe that it has happened,” Heider said. “Like, if you met your perfect long-term partner here at Southeast, for example. Realistically, what are the odds that you and the one person on planet Earth who was absolutely your perfect match both went to SEMO, in this exact time frame?”
Heider says there’s more science to what some consider soulmates.
In fact, psychologist Robert Sternberg invented a special triangle to explain it. At each point of the triangle is a different component of romantic love: intimacy (emotional closeness), passion (physical and sexual attraction) and commitment to the other person and the relationship. When all three components are present, a couple has consummate love — the love some might consider “soulmate” love.
“The point of the triangular theory as a whole is that each point on that triangle is going to wax and wane,” Heider said. “There are going to be times where two out of three, or even just one out of three, are present at any given time. And for a lot of people, that’s a signal that they are unhappy and the relationship is no longer suited for them, and they want to end that relationship and move onto another one.”
This relationship dynamic seems a little counterintuitive, that love is as much about the boring, everyday mundanities as it is about romantic, kissing-in-the-rain moments. How does this play out in reality?
“Oftentimes, a person seems absolutely perfect for a few months, or a few years, even. And then, reality sets in where even someone who’s ridiculously similar to you, they’re not identical. And so, when you interact with that same person for the next 50 years or 60 years, whatever it might be, every single individual day is not going to be a day of perfect compatibility,” Heider said.
So, how do you tell if you’re compatible enough to stay together long-term?
“An ideal match for you is someone who processes and communicates their emotional state in a very similar sort of way,” Heider said. “Once you find someone highly compatible and you start building a relationship with that [person], then it does become, ‘That one person is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.’”
When you communicate effectively with someone over a period of years and even decades, it can lead to something even more meaningful.
“If something trumps communication — the caveat here is all these things are interrelated at some level, so you can’t fully separate them — it’s mostly a matter of trust,” Heider said. “I am on your side, come hell or high water, I think is even more powerful than communication styles and things like that.”
But sometimes, it doesn’t work out like that. Not everyone is compatible long-term, and that can take a long time to realize.
And what if that’s not an inherently bad thing?
Southeast alumna Chloe Blakely believes questioning the traditional idea of soulmates can help when processing a breakup.
“It’s obviously going to hurt either way when you lose a soulmate from your life, but it would
hurt worse thinking that they’re the only one,” Blakely said. “When you think that there’s more [potential soulmates], you can learn to accept that breakup more, because you can know that you learned something from it, and there are [other] opportunities.”
So. Do soulmates exist? And does it matter?
Psychology sophomore Holly Roehrborn, who is dating her high school sweetheart of two and a half years, doesn’t think finding a soulmate should necessarily be the end goal.
“I’m like, is [my boyfriend] really my soulmate? And I don’t think it really matters. Because I’m happy with him, you know? So, you can kind of create a soulmate within a person. You can find things within everybody you like, and you can kind of like, hold on to them,” Roehrborn said.
Could the idea of soulmates being out of our control hinder us from doing the necessary work to keep a relationship alive?
“I just always thought relationships are never going to be perfect, obviously, but I think the reason they’re bad, a lot of the time, is just because people aren’t trying to make it work,” Roehrborn said. “If you’re just not getting along, and you’re not communicating, then you’re not going to think they’re a soulmate.”
This lapse in expectation is, for many people, largely due to cultural expectations learned over a lifetime. When romance is portrayed in books and movies — rom coms, I’m looking at you — it is often vastly oversimplified.
“When I was growing up, I watched a lot of princess movies. As a girl, you’re like: ‘I’m just gonna wait for my soulmate to find me, and then we’ll be happily ever after,’” Roehrborn said. “Happily ever after … they never tell you it comes with fights. It comes with misunderstandings. It comes with effort that you have to put in.”
Honestly? I think the idea of a soulmate, however you define it, is almost entirely arbitrary. It’s clear some people are a lot more compatible than others, but in my opinion, that’s about it.
A good relationship should be founded on highly compatible communication and personality styles, and nurtured with intentional effort to eventually achieve long-term trust. There’s no guarantee it’s going to work out, and maybe that’s OK.