When the topic of soulmates comes up, you’re likely to find yourself in the middle of a heated debate.
There are those who scoff at the concept, pointing out statistics that there are roughly 7.9 billion people currently living on this planet (not to mention all the people who have lived and died since the existence of humankind and all the people who are yet to be born), so it’s just impossible that there’s one perfect person for you — and, if there were, your chances of meeting them are zero to nil. Then there are those who choose to push back, dismiss the statistical chances of meeting “The One,” and believe wholeheartedly that soulmates exist.
And that latter group might be larger than you think: 60 percent of Americans believe in soulmates, according to a 2021 YouGov survey of 15,000 US adults. Although women, at 64 percent, were more likely to believe in soulmates than men, at 55 percent, the fact remains that the majority of people do believe in soulmates.
But what does the term “soulmates” mean, anyways? And, if you believe they’re real, how do you know if someone is your soulmate?
What Is the Meaning of ‘Soulmate,’ Anyway?
The idea of soulmates dates back to Ancient Greece when philosopher Plato wrote about them in his collection of speeches, The Symposium. (FTR, he also came up with the similar but more fiery concept of twin flames.) He wrote that soulmates “longed for its other half, and so they would throw their arms about each other, weaving themselves together, wanting to grow together.” Socrates (Plato’s mentor) also had his own version of what soulmates were (also outlined in The Symposium), based on the idea that a soulmate is everything you’re not, and as such, are attracted to the person that provides that: “Love is neither mortal nor immortal, neither beautiful nor ugly, it is the desire to possess what is beautiful and one cannot desire that which one already possesses.” If you can’t desire what you already have, then you’ll find yourself in hot pursuit of that desirable person, that other half, that soulmate who is bound to complete the singular self, making you whole — at least, according to Socrates.
While both these ideas are beautiful and hopeful in their own right, it’s important to realise these men lived and died thousands of years ago. A lot has changed since then — including where we find love, our relationship expectations, and even how we love.
As for the modern-day understanding of the “soulmate” concept? In general, there are two definitions of soulmate, says Tennesha Wood, relationship expert and founder of The Broom List, a matchmaking firm that pairs educated, marriage-minded Black professionals.
The first posits that a soulmate is simply a person you really connect with. For example, a soulmate is “a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament,” according to Merriam Webster. Similarly, a soulmate can be “someone, usually your romantic or sexual partner, who you have a special relationship with, and who you know and love very much,” according to Cambridge Dictionary.
The second definition of soulmate, however, is “what Hollywood and Disney want us to believe: that there is only one person out there that is made for us and no one else will do,” says Wood.
“The definition of soulmate definitely differs from person to person,” says Holly Schiff, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist at Jewish Family Services of Greenwich. “But through a psychological lens, I think the term ‘soulmate’ implies that there is a special or extraordinary level of understanding, bond, and affinity between two individuals. It is someone that just gets you and there is a connection of mind, body, and soul with unconditional love.”
Are Soulmates Real?
Well, it really depends on which definition you’re using. While the consensus is that a soulmate is a match with a deep connection, some people truly believe there is only one person for them and that is their soulmate. Then there are those who have a more realistic and broad definition of soulmate, in which there isn’t just one — and it doesn’t even have to be romantic. And that makes all the difference.
If you’re going the more spiritual/metaphysical/Disney route — that there’s a singular person out there who’s the unique lock to your key — you might be hard-pressed to find evidence that proves soulmates are real. Some people point to quantum physics (or as one writer from The Chicago Thinkers Journal dubbed it, “quantum romance”) as a potential lead, but there largely appears to be no other scientific proof supporting the idea that soulmates exist.
However, if you go with the Merriam-Webster or Cambridge’s definition of soulmates, it’s a lot easier to acknowledge that those types of special relationships exist IRL.
“Personally, I’m with Merriam-Webster and I believe that soulmates are real,” says Wood. “But there can be many of them and the connections don’t always last forever.” What separates a soulmate from other connections, in her mind, is that your life wouldn’t have been the same without them. “Soulmates come into your life to give you something you need at that moment which may come in the form of love, a lesson, a friendship, or simply to learn how to let go,” she says. No matter what your life experience (single, married, divorced, etc.), there’s a good chance you’ve already experienced at least one connection that felt like Wood describes or that has impacted your life in that way.
The Downside to Believing In Soulmates
Although everyone is entitled to their beliefs when it comes to things such as soulmates and twin flames, putting all your energy into finding “The One” can sometimes backfire.
“If you boil it down to math and probability, the likelihood of one finding your true soulmate is pretty low,” says Schiff. After all, numbers prove that soulmates are next to impossible to find. In an already difficult dating world, holding every potential match to this high expectation can leave you feeling disappointed and the outlook bleak. “In my practice, I’ve seen that this label is limiting to your beliefs and pressures you to ‘get it right,'” says Marianna Strongin, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of StrongIn Therapy.
And if you’re already in a relationship, thinking of your partner as your soulmate can still be problematic. “Thinking of a partner as your soulmate is the wrong way to look at a relationship,” says Schiff. “Looking at a relationship using a soulmate frame presents unrealistic expectations for the relationship and these individuals tend to be less satisfied when they think of the conflicts in their relationships.”
Interestingly enough, this part of the soulmate equation has been researched. People who think of love as a “journey with ups and downs” seem to be better off than those who think of love “metaphorically framed as a perfect unity between two halves made for each other,” according to a 2014 report published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. “It may be romantic for lovers to think they were made for each other, but it backfires when conflict arises and reality pokes the bubble of perfect unity,” wrote the researchers. “Instead, thinking about love as a journey, often involving twists and turns but ultimately moving toward a destination, takes away some of the repercussions of relational conflicts.”
If you frame your relationship as that of being two soulmates who have finally found each other, you’ll see conflicts — which are a natural part of any relationship, because relationships take work — as some sort of proof that you and your partner aren’t soulmates, explains Schiff. It’s like putting something on a pedestal your whole life, then realising it shouldn’t have been on that pedestal at all — reality has a way of messing up the fantasy.
“I believe the concept of ‘soulmate’ is particularly interesting as it sheds light on how people define their relationship and the role that this label can have in their sense of security in the relationship,” says Strongin. “Anecdotally, what I’ve found in my practice is that those couples who once believed they were soulmates struggled more to get over their partner once the relationship ended.”
If you honestly believe your partner is the only one for you, reconciling the end of a relationship with this soulmate is a heavy burden to bear. It can also bring up the question of whether you’ll ever love again. If it didn’t work out with the person you declared your soulmate, how will it work out with anyone else?
“I think such labels simply create a false sense of reassurance,” says Strongin. “I also think people struggle to pivot and remain hopeful once ‘soulmate’ relationships end.”
How to Know If Someone Is Your Soulmate
Frankly, knowing you’ve found “The One” is subjective, even for those who truly believe in soulmates. So how do you know if someone is your soulmate?
But if you’re leaning into the idea (whichever version of “soulmate” that may be), you might know if someone is your soulmate if they “seem identical to you and fold easily into your life because you believe in the same ideas and values and there is a big compatibility to your lifestyles,” says Susan Trombetti, a matchmaker and founder of Exclusive Matchmaking. “It feels easy and comfortable. It’s what people describe as, ‘you know when you know,’ you met the right person. It’s just a feeling.”
The idea of soulmates also requires that two emotionally healthy people meet, and that they both happen to be ready for a relationship, says Trombetti. “There’s a little more logic to it along with a romantic spark,” says Trombetti.
While it may feel backwards to toss logic into the equation when it comes to soulmates, the reality is, to really know if someone is your soulmate, you need to look at not just the person in question, but your relationship and what that relationship means to you.
“While science cannot definitively prove that soulmates exist, there is evidence that we can become each other’s soulmates over time through a deep and lasting loving relationship,” says Schiff. “Soulmate relationships will involve deep and sometimes emotionally painful work. If you believe that a relationship takes work, then the relationship is likely to be more satisfying and you can better cope and deal with challenges and conflict as they arise.”
In other words, your soulmate is someone who makes you want to be a better person, someone who challenges you, someone you’ll make reasonable sacrifices for, and someone who makes you want to put in the necessary effort of having a healthy long-lasting relationship — even if it doesn’t have a Disney ending. People like to believe their soulmate is a perfect fit, but perfect simply isn’t real life.
This story first appeared on www.shape.com
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