MWF: ISO Soul Mate
November 1, 2002
Looking for the one-and-only?
by Liz Scott
he other day I ran across a survey about soul mates on one of those free, put-together-your-own-survey web sites. It was probably created by some lovelorn ingénue who believes in one true love, soul mates forever, angels, fairies and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I found myself answering questions like: 'How can you tell if someone is your soulmate? Was it the moment your eyes met across a crowded room? Or when you started finishing each other's sentences? Or when you had your first heartfelt conversation and realized you had everything in commoneven your favorite ice cream flavor?' I answered the questions and added some extra comments about exactly what I think of the notion of 'soul mates.'
Taking this survey did one good thing for me: It made me stop and think about what my concept of a soul mate is, and why the term irritates me so much. It's not that I hate all things romantic. I don't knock roses off bushes or whiskers off kittens. I had the big white wedding with the dress and the flowers and the overpriced food. I believe in the power of love, I adore my husband, and I want my marriage to last forever.
Every other ad on the Net these days seems to be for a dating service. I can't open my Internet email account without 'Looking for your Soulmate?' banners begging me to 'Click HERE!' to take me back to UDate or LavaLife. My husband is a liberal guy, though he might take offense at the notion that my soul mate not only isn't him, but is instead some guy who trolls the personals on a web site named after a ridiculous seventies light fixture.
It irks me how often people use the phrase 'soul mate' in the first blush of a relationship. Perhaps that's why dating-service advertisers abuse it so. It sells chances at the kind of fresh new love that we only ever read about in People magazine. I've heard many a sweet young thing squealing about the wonderful!, amazing!, fabulous! man she's been dating for two whole months now! They spend every single second together, wordlessly sharing even their most inconsequential thoughts. They're soul mates for sure. A year later, sweet young thing has dumped her lover, who cyber-sexed with eight different people, hated her cooking, and left three-day-old socks and molding bologna sandwiches stuffed between the sofa cushions. Oh, she was mistaken about him being her soul mate, which cannot be such a surpriseafter all, shouldn't a true mating of souls be a spiritual connection, rather than TV-drama intimacy born from a shared taste for rocky road ice cream and Star Wars movies?
I've always blindly asserted that there is no such thing as a soul mate, and even if there were I wouldn't need one or want one. My relationship with my husband does not require the cachet of cheese-ball terminology to validate it. Further, as the owner of an English degree, I take offense at the blatant use of soulmate, which is not a word. 'Soul mate' is two separate words. But with the survey and the banner ads prickling at me, I decidedat the risk of taking this a bit too seriouslyto have another look at the meanings of the term.
There are a lot of definitions for 'soul mate'. There's the quasi-philosophical interpretation, which goes something like this: All souls, in heaven or wherever, were once whole but somehow got torn in two and then stuffed into human bodies. Thus, all us humans are born with half a soul and spend our lives searching for the missing half. The person with the missing half is our soul mate.
But what if you're straight, and the other half of your soul is residing in a person of the same gender? What if the other half of your soul is living in India and you've never left Indiana? Even if by some miracle you end up in the same place at the same time with your lost half, how would you know it's the right person?
Logical and logistical problems aside, this definition offends my delicate ego. I like to believe that I'm a whole soul all by my little self. I don't believe my husband is my other or better half. Nor am I his. He's a whole person, I'm a whole person, and together we're a whole couple. Perhaps the couple has a soul of its own. Perhaps not. But I will not cop to the notion that I am incomplete without my husband.
The everyday conception of a soul mate is slightly more reasonable: that a soul mate is the one and only person out there who can be one's perfect mate. This one person is your best shot at lifelong happiness. With this definition, some logic can enter the picture. It stands to reason that the man who would be my perfect partner is likely to have a similar family background, relationship customs and life goals. He might even live within a hundred miles of me.
And yetone person? Only one person? That just leaves me with too much of a Harlequin romance aftertaste. My husband rides a motorcycle that can reach a hundred miles per hour in third gear. What if he dies? Is there no chance I'll ever find anyone with whom I could be so happy again? What if I meet someone else who turns out to be my real soul mate? Do I forsake my husband and run off with him? Do I stay with my husband, settling for less than the one true mate of my soul?
But what really gets me about this notion of 'soul mate' is that it fosters the opposite of loving, committed relationships. Once the soul match is spec'd out (for me: a 'perfect' man who'd never dream of leaving his sandwich or his socks on my nice white couch), anybody less than perfectanybody suspected of not being the one-and-onlygets the boot. Why worry about working at a relationship, about learning to compromise (socks on the sofa are survivable, but sandwiches are right out), about truly getting to know what makes someone else tick, when all I'd have to do is figure out whether Mr. This Week meets my soul mate criteria or not? How convenient.
So much for the popular interpretationswhat about dictionary definitions? Here's a sample:
- soul mate n. One of two persons compatible with each other in disposition, point of view, or sensitivity. (The American Heritage Dictionary)
- soul mate n: someone for whom you have a deep affinity. (WordNet)
- soul mate, a person with whom one has a strong affinity [1815-25]. (Webster's Unabridged Dictionary)
Rock on! If I anthropomorphize just a touch, my fluffy gray cat Sebastian is my soul mate. So is my favorite houseplant.
It does look likeat least by academic-sanctioned definitionthere is such a thing as a soul mate. I have lots of soul mates. The silly things surround me. My husband is certainly one. So are my three best friends. I was even halfway serious about Sebastian, though claiming the potted ivy on the bookshelf might be pushing it. In short, a soul mate is one with whom you (non-exclusively) share a part of your life: a spouse, a relative, a dear friend, a pet. We all have soul mates then, even the cyber-Juliet who published that surveythough she might be disappointed by this pragmatic interpretation.
I like these dictionary definitions, especially their brevity. Webster's, for example, gave 'soul mate' two lines and a date, while 'soufflé' got an eleven-line paragraph with detailed etymology. My ego would like to believe that dictionaries pay so little attention to this term for the same reason I dislike it so: It's a throwaway phrase used primarily by lonesome teenagers and desperate divorcees. But who am I kidding? No one uses these definitions. What bothers me is the popular interpretation of 'soul mate', with its pathetic ring of desperation for love and companionship (desperation on which the advertisers of LavaLife happily capitalize), its syrupy enthusiasm for common tastes over common values, its assumption of a fairy-tale perfection that never exists in real relationships and its socially acceptable veneer as an excuse to keep trying on new partners rather than working to get comfortable with the one you already have.
I hope most people who take this notion seriouslyand we're not talking about an endangered species hereeventually pull their heads from the fog and put their feet on the ground. As for me… Well, having said all I have to say about soul mates, I can get on with my life. My only remaining concern is to avoid filling out any more surveys or clicking on any of those links, lest I end up in the nearly impossible, yet terribly embarrassing, situation of running into my true soulmate.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000
WordNet, version 1.6, Princeton University, 1997
Webster's Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Random House, Inc.,
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