Everybody loves romantic movies. Fated lovers meet, face obstacles, and finally establish a perfect romance. These movies are fun to watch but they’re not really suspenseful. We all know there’s going to be a happy ending. They’re soul-mates, after all. They are destined to be together.
Life isn’t a movie, however. In the modern world we are more likely to explore free dating online than dating a member of our bowling league. We aren’t guaranteed that finding the perfect someone will lead to a happy ending. In fact, there is good reason to think that believing fate has a soul-mate in store for everyone is a recipe for being unhappy in life and love.
THE PERFECT AND THE GOOD
It was the 18th century French writer and philosopher who first observed that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” The aphorism has something to teach us about love.
If you are convinced that fate has created someone perfect for you, then there’s no point cultivating a relationship with someone who is almost perfect. You’d choose to be alone and lonely instead – because you don’t want to risk being attached when your perfect soul-mate miraculously enters your life.
You could have someone almost perfect right beside you every day. And you ignore that person, even though you could embark upon a relationship, get to know each other, and grow closer through shared experience.
What a waste.
SCIENCE WEIGHS IN
Writing in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management discovered that believing in soul-mates can lead couples to give up too easily when they hit bumps in the road.
Researchers divided couples into two groups. Half described relationships as the perfect union of two people who were made for each other, while the other half thought of relationships as journeys with ups and downs.
The scientists found that the “soul-mates” group was less successful at recovering from conflicts. When you believe in soul-mates, even a small conflict is evidence that maybe you haven’t found the person who is perfect for you. If your partner were really “the one,” there wouldn’t be any conflicts, right?
Couples who viewed a relationship as a journey were better able to put conflicts into context and focus on the positive aspects of their relationships.
A second study, this one a survey of 1,400 married men and women published in Social Science Research in 2010, found that “soul-mate” couples are very happy at first, but are at higher risk for divorce in the long run because it is hard to sustain such intensity over the long term.
A SHORTCUT TO UNHAPPINESS
The idea that each of us is fated to meet and live with one perfect partner is more aligned with fairytales than real life. In the real world, we meet compatible partners and work hard to build successful long-term relationships.
The passion and belief that bring soul-mates together are not sustainable in the long term. When those feelings fade, they bring disillusionment. Maybe the partnership isn’t a real match between soul-mates. The cooling-down period that is natural in new relationships seems like evidence of failure, and couples break up.
Suppose you find your soul-mate, and then your partner dies or leaves you. If you believe that each of us has a single perfect mate chosen by fate, then you must reconcile yourself to the heartbreaking idea that you had happiness in your grasp and it is gone forever. You will never find another soul-mate.
THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
We want to believe in love at first sight and the romantic notion that someone out there is perfect for us. What if we believed the world contains many potential soul-mates?
That would allow you to avoid most of the disadvantage of believing in soul-mates while continuing to enjoy the thrilling romantic idea of finding someone who is just right – or could grow to be just right as the two of you get to know each other.
If you allow the possibility that you might have multiple soul-mates, you can put the pain of a broken relationship into perspective. It gives you the freedom to be happy again after losing a partner to death or divorce.
Open yourself up to love with many soul-mates or almost soul-mates and you have a more realistic chance of being happy in your relationship.