The guy I’ve been seeing for two years just ended our relationship. He is my soul mate. There was instant chemistry when we met. Not too long after we started dating, we were finishing each other’s sentences. We just see things the same way; there’s no other way to describe it. I’m 31, and I’ve dated a lot, and had three serious relationships besides this one… and I’ve never felt this way about someone before. It’s weird because even though I am completely heartbroken, my best friend thinks me and my ex were a better match on paper than in real life. We fought a lot, for example. No one could make me feel as good as my ex, but no one could make me feel as bad as he did either. But now the bad stuff and the fights seem silly, and I feel like I’ll never find as deep of a connection with anyone again. I do want to be in a relationship. Can I ever love anyone else as much as I love my soul mate?
Philosophers and writers love to muse about soul mates. They tend to view soul mates as “mirrors.” Sylvia Day describes her soul mate as “The other half of me… my reflection.” Emily Bronte said of her soul mate, “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
Soul mates see the world the same way. Meeting someone who can finish your sentences, maybe even right away, is powerfully enticing. Sparks fly. You feel understood.
When physical chemistry gets in the mix, hell breaks loose.
So many of us believe we should spend lots of time with our soul mates. Ideally, marry them.
I challenge this theory.
Instead, I align with two Elizabeths who conceive of a profoundly rewarding relationship that does not involve two people who are exactly the same.
According to Elizabeth Barrett Browning, an ideal relationship is one in which both members do not mirror, but rather inspire each other:
“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you. I love you not only for what you have made of yourself, but for what you are making of me. I love you for the part of me that you bring out.”
According to Elizabeth Gilbert, a real-life relationship with your soul mate can even be hazardous:
“A true soul mate is a mirror… A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave.”
Spending time with someone who sees the world the same way you do may be thrilling. But the thrill can wear off. And worse, too much time with your soul mate can prevent you from becoming (and remaining) the best version of yourself. For example, if you both tend towards overthinking or self-absorption (as many people who spend a lot of time thinking about finding their soul mates do), neither of you will easily recognize these tendencies in the other. If you are both shy and overly concerned about hurting people’s feelings, you probably won’t communicate directly with each other. On the flip side, if you both have bad tempers and tend to be too direct, you may fight a lot and be too casual with each other’s feelings. These types of dynamics between soul mates can be disastrous for real life relationships and marriages.
Also, since we tend to be hard on ourselves about qualities we don’t like in ourselves, we can be brutally hard on our “mirrors” when we perceive those same qualities in them. Perhaps this is what Gilbert was getting at when she talked about pain and tearing down walls in connection with soul mates. We can learn a lot from pain, but romantic relationships and marriages are supposed to make us happy. A good romantic partner often does not share all of our insecurities, but instead finds them charming. He forgives us for our shortcomings and our sins.
To borrow from Gilbert, and to add my own twist: soul mates are mirrors, and among the most important people you’ll meet, and perhaps not good people to live with or marry. But you don’t need to shut them out of your life. They can be good friends who you see from time to time, whenever you need a mirror to remind you who you are.
Maybe more important (and rewarding) than spending your life with your mirror is spending your life with someone who pays attention to you, who adores you, who learns from you, and who always brings out the best in you (and for whom you return the favor on all counts). Jack Nicholson’s character nailed it in the movie As Good As it Gets when he told Helen Hunt’s character “You make me want to be a better man.” A great real-life partner inspires you to try to be the best version of yourself (and equally importantly, sticks by you even if you fail).
For all I know, your ex considers you his soul mate too, but for whatever combination of reasons, it doesn’t sound like he wants to be in a real-life relationship with you anymore. Without discounting the glamour and value of soul mates, it is frustrating and painful to concentrate your love on someone who is not in a real-life relationship with you.
In sum: when (not if, but when) you find someone who inspires you rather than mirrors you – and vice versa – you will have the capacity to love him not just as much, but more than your soul mate.