Written by: Meghan Emerson, MSMFT
With romantic relationships, many people search for a partner that is different than the rest. Someone who just gets you, and someone who will love you unconditionally. People search for their soulmate.
However, the way the term soulmate is used today differs greatly from where it originated, and partners can become significantly constrained from finding and maintaining a happy relationship if they search only for the classical “perfect” soulmate. In modern society, soulmate has developed nuance and versatility, and it is important to differentiate the type of soulmate you are looking for so that you set realistic expectations for your relationship.
The Original Soulmate
The legend of soulmates can be traced to Plato. In his story, humans originally had both male and female genders and twice as many arms, legs, and faces (one set for each gender). When humans brazenly threatened the gods, Zeus split the humans in half as punishment. As a result, each human would forever long for his or her other half. If or when the two found each other, there would be an unspoken understanding, and the two would know no greater joy than when they lay together.
In essence, the original use of the word soulmate referred to literal halves of the same soul. To find one’s other half was to become complete, with all effort spent only on the search and nothing more required for complete happiness once reunited than to be together.
The Classic Soulmate
The classic use of soulmate does not stray too far from the original legend and is still common in our culture. The first definition of soulmate in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament,” implying that a perfect person exists who will give you the best, most complete, and most loving relationship. The classic soulmate appears flawless.
American media often portrays the search for “the one” as the ultimate goal, and the aftermath of finding the “perfect” partner is rarely depicted. Women are taught to wait for their prince charming, and men are taught that effort is required at the beginning of a relationship (to find one’s soulmate), but it does not necessarily have to be maintained once soulmates are joined.
Partners who become too invested in searching for “the one” may risk ending potentially fulfilling relationships as soon as a relationship hits the first bump in the road (as all relationships inevitably do). Relationship issues become signs that this partner is not your soulmate, because if this partner was your soulmate everything would be “perfect”. In reality, no relationship or partner is perfect, and this limited definition of one’s soulmate can keep partners from finding the motivation to work through the tough times.
The Modern Soulmate
With the expanding relationship research and reality testing of the modern age, new definitions of the word soulmate have sprouted. People are learning that there may be more than one person out there for them, and encountering problems in a relationship does not mean that you are with the wrong person.
Modern definitions of soulmate include someone who is not meant to be your romantic partner but who you deeply connect with. This can simply refer to a friend, relative, or a short-term fling that could not last. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, deftly summarizes, “…a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life…Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.” The versatility of this definition expands the opportunity to encounter multiple soulmates in one’s lifetime in a variety of relationships.
A soulmate can refer to someone you are strongly attracted to, who you have an intimate connection with, or who helps you grow into who you would like to become. It is someone who shares your values and beliefs, and having a relationship with your soulmate does not mean it is absent of all human fallibility.
Finding Your Soulmate
Echoing the modern definition, finding your soulmate in an intimate partner is not about finding the perfect person so much as it is actively choosing to love an imperfect person who also loves you with your imperfections. A partner can grow to become your soulmate as your relationship evolves. It is often through embracing our flaws and vulnerabilities that we grow closer to our partners and more greatly appreciate our partners for helping us become who we want to be. Inversely, partners can grow apart and lose their function as each other’s soulmates without the proper nurturance and attention to the relationship.
Soulmates are human and imperfect, just like you. It is important to be flexible with our expectations for relationships and to set our relationships up for realistic success. When you think of your partner or who you imagine you want as a partner, which soulmate are you looking for?