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“We need to replace the Romantic template with a psychologically-mature vision of love we might call Classical, which encourages in us a range of unfamiliar but hopefully effective attitudes:
– that it is normal that love and sex may not always belong together
– that discussing money early on, upfront in a serious way is not a betrayal of love
– that realising that we are rather flawed, and our partner is too, is of huge benefit to a couple increasing the amount of tolerance and generosity in circulation.
– that we will never find everything in another person, nor they in us, not because of some unique flaw, but because of the way human nature works.
– that we need to make immense and often rather artificial-sounding efforts to understand one another; that intuition can’t get us where we need to go.
– that spending two hours discussing whether bathroom towels should be hung up or can be left on the floor is neither trivial nor unserious; that there is special dignity around laundry and time-keeping.
All these attitudes and more belong to a new, more hopeful future for love.” —Alain de Botton
~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #128
As young children many of us were told of a Prince Charming and a damsel needing rescue. Perhaps we were babysat by one too many viewings of Cinderella, the Little Mermaid or Snow White, and as we grew, the bombardment of the idea that of being incomplete, incapable and reeking of subtle desperation until that one special person found the young woman in need of assistance (in modern movies consider Pretty Woman, Dirty Dancing, Jerry Macquire, The Proposal, The Holiday, the list could go on forever) continued to viewed, digested, absorbed and unconsciously accepted as “how it will all someday work out if I am to be truly happy”. While indeed times and some films are trying to make a shift, think Frozen, the reality is, the myth of a soulmate continues to be peddled, sold and accepted as the one thing, if we haven’t found, we need to in order to realize true contentment.
The funny thing is, or should I say, the breath-of-fresh air that I hope to share with you today is actually to become your own soulmate. And what I mean by this is what I will explain below.
Believe it or not, I am absolutely a romantic, but there are some things, as I have discussed before, that must be de-romanticized. The soulmate myth is one of them, and it is the primary reason your love life, and your life in general, has been hobbled. Even if you think your love life is flourishing and you believe you’ve found your soulmate, believe it or not, this relationship you adore and treasure can be strengthened even more by letting go of this cultural, marketing myth.
Earlier this year, best-selling writer Alain de Botton published The Course of Love: A Novel which I read and shared my thoughts on here. The gift of the novel is that it walks readers through the reality of two imperfect people, not unlike many of us who are searching and learning as we love about ourselves, about our lover, about life, etc. And as it walks through years of a relationship it reveals more of the truths that movie producers don’t want us to consider: the boring but necessary parts. For example, recognizing that “Love is a skill, not just an enthusiasm.”
I often discuss the power of getting to know ourselves on this blog, but the dirty work of getting to know ourselves and the evidence that we have been successful is when we understand the science as well. Such as hormones and in which instances they are released and what they can do to our moods and therefore our actions; willpower – understanding its finite nature and how to conserve it as much as possible; and emotional intelligence – being able to remove ourselves from emotions that appear seemingly instinctively and having the tools to investigate why we are feeling the way we are feeling in certain scenarios in order to move past them successfully. Often we may presume that our partner needs to fill our voids, fix our hurts and protect us from the parts of the world that scare us, but the reality is when we seek this solution to our woes, it’s just a bandaid covering a wound that hasn’t been tended to properly. Therefore, it will never heal as well as it could.
How can we heal the parts of us that seem impossible to fix? By addressing them. By doing the dirty and seemingly difficult work of understanding why certain things in our lives aren’t working as we would like them to. Having trouble financially? The solution is not to find someone who makes money, but to figure out how to manage the money you do have well and begin to be the master of money and how to earn the living you seek or live within the means you already have. As Lisa Martinez pointed out last year in an article for Verily, “invest more of [your] time in becoming a better version of [yourself]”. Why? Investing time in winnowing away the aspects that are no longer serving you, coming to better understand how to handle your emotions, recognizing barriers you have in your life and then discovering the tools to work around them, as well as learning how to effectively communicate with others is a gift not only to anyone who you are in a relationship with, but a gift to yourself as well.
Once you invest in yourself, you will find you enjoy your own company. You will no longer need to fill your life with appointments, responsibilities that don’t support the life you wish you live, and anything to busy yourself so that you don’t have to sit quietly with yourself from time to time. You will bring yourself a peace that multiplies your comfort, contentment and therefore your happiness. And who doesn’t want to be around someone who is at peace with themselves and doesn’t project or throw their pain onto others? The person you need in your life is your best self, and that self is in many ways your soulmate. But why not get rid of the word all together?
As Alain de Botton points out “Our strongest cultural voices have – to our huge cost – set us up with the wrong expectations.” Love is a very good thing to welcome into our lives, but it has become distorted in part because of the expectation we have brought into our vocabulary with the term soulmate. And it is up to each of us to recognize the perversion of love that is portrayed in media and the culture of which we are part of and come to understand what a loving relationship truly is while removing the need to label the person we would like to welcome into our lives, into the most intimate part of our lives, our soulmate. Because the truth of the matter is there is no truth to the existence of a soulmate.
Yes, the dictionary defines it as the a person ideally suited to another as a close friend or romantic partner, but do you know how words come to be Webster’s Dictionary? Consider the word “selfie” which was just added to the Oxford dictionary in 2014 and Webster’s in 2013. Words are added to the dictionary as the culture begins using it as a common colloquialism, and therefore, a need arises to define it for the broad populous. The term “soulmate” purports to assume that we are one half of a whole as it originated from the ancient tale of Aristophanes involving two-headed hermaphroditic giants who were cleaved apart by a jealous Zeus, fated thereafter to forever seek their other halves.
But here’s the part where we need to pause, take a deep breath and think rationally. Growth is a choice. And some of us will continue to choose to grow and learn and progress, while some will embark on some growth and still others will be quite content to remain stagnant (ironically, even by staying stagnant, we are changing, just not in a beneficial manner). The soulmate theory is fallacious because it presumes we are fixed entities, never-changing and always remaining the same and as well the other half that we seek will be stagnant too, never having changed since being born. As discussed here in Psychology Today, “growing apart” in marriages is a common reason for a union’s dissolution. Humans are, just as the world is, forever changing, learning new information about themselves and the world and choosing different ways to move forward through life. It doesn’t mean that a relationship cannot endure, it just means awareness of this life truth is crucial, and to return to Alain de Botton’s words “love is a skill”. The story of a relationship, when the two individuals meet, connect and seem to speak the same language, is only the first chapter. The rest of the story is a conscious choice to invest, learn, listen, communicate, to express kindness and recognize within ourselves the truth behind what we feel when something new arises.
The term soulmates limits us, confines us and keeps our feet in cement deterring a relationship from truly flourishing. Yes, it requires the two involved to be present, attentive and brave, but much like choosing to make the most out of our one and only life and reach our fullest potential, the path to a relationship’s fullest potential is one with two people who are aware of the truth and open to learning, listening and finding strength to do what is best for both themselves and the person they are in a relationship with.
So, the word soulmates? Let it go and liberate yourself whether you are in a relationship or not, seeking a relationship or not, because when you do, you open the door to yes, more responsibility on your part, but as they (albeit in reverse), when you take on the great responsibilities, you give yourself so much more power in living the life that will bring you true contentment.
~SIMILAR POSTS from the Archives you might enjoy:
~In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney
~Listen to Grace Bonney with Garance Doré on the Pardon my French podcast here