June 11, 2009

No Soul Mates

I do not believe in soul mates. This may be due to the fact that I do not believe in the existence of an immutable, metaphysical soul. But also, I simply do not believe that there is only one person on this earth with whom I could love and be happy. I mean, if that was the case, how screwed are we? There are close to seven billion people on this planet. Say I meet, not pass on the street but actually am introduced to, somewhere between a thousand and five thousand people in my lifetime. That's still far more than a million to one odds that I would ever meet my soul mate. (And that means, there are at the most, seven-thousand happy people on the planet, in which case, I think we're not just screwed, we're doomed as a species.)

Beyond that, if I posit that there is in fact one and only one person out there for me and likewise that I am the one and only one person for them, that seems to indicate that we were made as such. If this is the case, then would not whomsoever made us also ensure that we were placed in relative proximity to one another? That our feet were started out on a path that might someday lead us to meet, inevitably fall in love, have the beautiful wedding, lots of fat babies, and live happily ever after? Well, that posits the existence of God and/or predestination. I don't particularly believe in God or fate, so why would I believe in soul mates?

The entire idea is a dangerous concept which only leads to suffering. This process is as well understood as it is ignored. Even Georg Simmel, a sociologist commonly found in architecture and urban theory anthologies, writes of it in his 1908 essay "The Stranger:"

"A trace of strangeness in this sense easily enters even the most intimate relationships. In the stage of first passion, erotic relations strongly reject any thought of generalization. A love such as this has never existed before; there is nothing to compare either with the person one loves or with our feelings for that person. An estrangement is wont to set in (whether as cause or effect is hard to decide) at the moment when this feeling of uniqueness disappears from the relationship. A skepticism regarding the intrinsic value of the relationship and its value for us adheres to the very thought that in this relation, after all, one is only fulfilling a general human distiny [sic], that one has had an experience that has occurred a thousand time before, and that, if one had not accidentally met this precise person, someone else would have acquired the same meaning for us."

We find this idea unpalatable. It leads to jealousy - the thought that our loved one could just as easily be with another as with us. We want the reassurance that we are special, that our relationship is unique in its perfection, so that we will feel a false sense of security. Though it is the truth, that we are special and our relationship is unique in the sense that every person is somehow different and each two people relate somewhat differently to each other, it is also moot. It does not and cannot prevent the disintegration of a relationship or the formation of new ties with another. That is change, just simple change, one of the three marks of existence. And we sure as hell don't like it.

But a great deal of beauty can be found in this idea of no soul mates. Two people could be with a myriad of partners and yet they choose to be together. I find something very special and even romantic in that idea. I believe it is also healthy to recognize that often love is not enough to make a healthy relationship. The Beatles got that one wrong. People who have convinced themselves that love should be enough, that it will see them through difficulties or ingrained incompatibilities, are destined for heartache. They will ignore problems when they arise and trust love to see them through, rather than actively trying to work things out. Researchers tell us that the three topics married couples fight over most are money, housework, and children - not love.

Love is not enough. And I'm not out looking for a soul mate. But that doesn't mean I believe the world is a hard, cold place. Quite the opposite. I am very frequently astounded by the plenitude of kindness, compassion, and love. Because we don't merely share our love with that one destined person, we can share it with all kinds of people and spread it around like a beautiful song or a yummy pie. When we start to think of it as ours, only ours, and when we cling to our relationships and the solitary object of our love, we spread suffering instead.

No soul mates means there is more love in the world, not less.


john said...

Good post. I agree that that "one special someone" does not exist. I think that everyone is special, and sometimes two people can be extra special to each other.

sniehans said...

I think your post points out some good thoughts. I think, to maybe play both sides, Buddhism's version of 'soul-mate' is those who you had unfinished 'karmic' business with in your past lives. When I think of it this way, I feel as if I am obligated to be as kind and helpful to everyone I meet. Just a thought! :)