I recently chanced upon a viral story: a zoo in Los Angeles euthanising an elderly lion couple – soulmates, they called them — so they would not have to live alone without each other. Hubert and Kalisa were inseparable from the day they met, much like my husband and myself, really, though I do not think I would be too happy should someone decide they have a say in when we live or die, together or otherwise.
Which brings me to the real thought in this piece. I wonder, does our search for a significant other rest heavily on us finding a soulmate, and is that necessarily a good thing? I mean, Hubert and Kalisa lived, literally, happily ever after.
It turns out, the juice might be in how you believe in the soulmate theory.
In 1998, C. Raymond Knee of the University of Houston published a study on destiny and growth beliefs towards romantic relationships that I found really interesting. Knee examined how destiny and growth beliefs influence the initiation, coping, and longevity of romantic relationships. He found that when one approaches a partner with the destiny belief, the longevity of the relationship correlated with the initial success of the relationship, and when one approaches a partner with the growth belief, the relationship flourished with relationship-maintenance strategies.
Tragically, the creator of the term soulmate himself may be a good example of Knee’s theory. According to Wikipedia, an early use of the word “soulmate” comes from the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in a letter he penned in 1822: “To be happy in Married Life… you must have a Soul-mate.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge battled crippling anxiety and depression throughout his adult life, and grew to detest his wife.
Sure, I think everyone yearns to find that someone that disintegrates the cold black part of our hearts with just one warm googly-eyed look of love. Globally known as “The One”, a quick search on Google affirms that when you find The One, you will “just know it”, you will feel like you have known them your whole life, and feel like your souls have met before in a previous life.
Big words, and what grand promises, oh, Google.
There was even a survey conducted by the British branch of Match.com which found that people in the United Kingdom tend to meet The One at age 27. Are we so conditioned that we need to spend the rest of our lives with our soulmate, so invested in the idea that there is only one person meant for us that when we encounter hiccups in our relationships, that we unintentionally sabotage the relationship we already have?
I’ve never been big on soulmates, I’m reckless and rash; I guess the romantic idea of floating through life, wistfully waiting for The One to show up never appealed to me. I’m not generally a “waiting” type of person. In searching for a soulmate, one seemingly starts with a mental list detailing the ideal partner and the perfect life one would share together with The One. If The One is out there, we will meet someday, somehow, somewhere.
That idea is, perhaps unfortunately, deeply ingrained in the human psyche going back millenia. In Plato’s text “Symposium” of 360 B.C.E., Aristophanes explains that early humans had both sets of sexual organs and double the number of appendages we have now. Zeus, fearful that these humans could get too powerful, split these humans in half. “And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself… the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment.” Socrates goes on to destroy Aristophanes’ beautiful story, but let’s leave the philosophy aside for now.
In any case, who am I, then, as a mere mortal, to reject what the Gods tell me? The other half of my body I shall find.
When I look at animals, like Hubert and Kalisa, or even at the penguin, that mate only with one other penguin for their lives, I think, why can’t it be that simple for me? Well, because life isn’t that simple. Life is full of ups and downs, twists and turns; it challenges you and your relationships, and things don’t always remain the same.
Turns out, the other half of my body I did find. And it was destiny. But I didn’t make a list, nor did I wistfully wait my whole life. It was hard work, I spent many years on many terrible relationships to find him. We both did. And it continues to be hard work, but we do it together.
Is he my soulmate? Perhaps. Will we die together? I don’t know, but it will certainly not be by the hand of another.