The Soulmate Fallacy

Two close friends, Tash Gillezeau and Camille Gray discuss the concept of finding your soul mate. Tash’s parents are happily divorced, and Camille’s parents are happily married, and although both women are very optimistic when it comes to love, their parents’ relationships have undeniably influenced their outlook.

Drawing of swans embracing

Art by Elise Bickley.

Tash: A hugely influential idea about romance is the notion that one person is your predestined ‘soul mate’. A soul mate is someone you connect with instantly and you’re meant to be with forever. It sounds nice, but I think it’s kind of bullshit. It creates a delusion that a ‘perfect’ relationship is waiting for you—all you need to do is stumble upon ‘the one’ and voilà, the rest will work itself out. This ignores the fact that a good relationship actually requires good timing, effort and growth.

Camille: Given that Channel Ten’s The Bachelor/Bachelorette is one of the highest rating weeknight programs, Australia’s fixation on ‘the one’ is undeniable. And yes, perhaps ‘destiny’ seems pretty fucking legit when your first kiss is professionally lit, surrounded by 450 cream roses and a rustic AF cheese plate in the foreground. But I’m willing to allow the ‘soul mate’ myth prevail because it is continually legitimised. I know countless older couples that, despite my scepticism, encapsulate the ‘soul mate’ complex. The fact that my grandfather (an atheist and communist pre-marriage) could be so bound to my grandmother (a devoted Catholic) that their love sustained for 64 years, is beyond me. Right up until my grandmother’s death (where he sobbed with the most unimaginable grief), their love sustained. You don’t need Osher Gunsberg to tell you that something pretty special is going on there.

Tash: Good point, but I also think that the belief that you’re destined to be with one person fuels a mentality where people are way too passive in their approach to dating. The thinking becomes “when I meet the right person, it’ll just happen”. What–you’ll just happen to go on a date? Please, you know what happens when leaving romance up to fate? A double suicide, à la Romeo and Juliet. That’s right. It’s not pretty. People should leave the idea that relationships magically transpire in the movies that espouse that myth.

Camille: The soul-mate complex fuels the opposite of passivity – it can create a more insidious standard that leads people to continually shut off or overlook potential suitors because they appear unworthy or imperfect. The soul mate complex is inherently prejudicial, when really; a relationship is the most complex, dynamic and unexpected experience I can think of. I agree there’s an issue with perception here.

Tash: Another issue I have with the ‘the one’ is that it encourages people to stay in relationships they should leave. But What If He’s My Soul Mate? The question should really be if you’re happy in your relationship and it’s meeting your needs. There are 7 billion people on this planet. Seems awfully convenient that you two both live in Sydney and decided to go to the same university.

If you feel you have this ‘connection’ that could never be found with someone else, I promise you, connecting with others isn’t some one-time opportunity—it can be created and fostered many times over. I once stayed with a guy past the expiration date of our relationship because we were both convinced that we were meant to be together. That idea blinded me from seeing that although we loved each other, the relationship wasn’t working.

Camille: Sure, there’s an issue with the concept that a ‘single’ soul mate exists for every person. To clarify, I think that part is bullshit. Even my grandfather believed that in Sydney alone there were probably 100 other women he could be ‘soul mates’ with. But he was never thinking about them. If mutual growth is occurring, meaning that those inevitable conflicts and challenges are worked through in a meaningful way, then it shouldn’t matter. By repressing expectations and trusting instinct, the soul mate idea stands.

Tash: I do like your point about your grandfather kind of just forgetting about his other options. He sounds like a legend. I’m starting to think he could be my soul mate… I guess my final problem though with the soul mate concept is that it tacitly and explicitly fuels the idea that marriage is the ultimate, highest expression of love. I’m not anti-marriage, I just don’t believe it should be revered as a better form of relationship over other types of arrangements—single/polyamorous/not married/dating a plant and so on. And while I don’t think that a divorce necessarily means that marriage ‘failed’, the rates suggest marriage isn’t working for everyone. If we start seeing the whole ‘forever’ thing as not necessarily the ultimate expression of love, we can explore and develop other types of a relationship narratives outside of those grooming you for a lifetime of monogamous marriage.

Camille: I guess the thing about marriage and the ‘forever’ pledge is that it taps into the very deepest vulnerability of love—the terrifying fear that the person you love does not love you back. Being ‘in love’ is exhilarating because you are so unguarded. The soul mate complex embodies the notion that someone will love you forever; it is a guarantee that despite the inevitable ups and downs, this relationship will endure. This is what makes it so compelling.

The reward of having someone grow and share your pain throughout your entire life (i.e. marriage) is in many ways ‘better’ than a single/polyamorous/not married/dating union. The inherent challenge of marriage is the pledge to work hard at nurturing a relationship. This cannot happen without growth and pain and hard work. So in many ways, it demands that people be open to the growth that a ‘perfect’ relationship entails. And this is something worth fantasising over.

Tash: Haha this is your Catholic upbringing shining through. I love it. Look, right now, I couldn’t honestly stare into someone’s eyes in front of my family and friends and say the word ‘forever’—but let’s have this discussion again in ten years and see how our opinion’s change.