Friday, February 05, 2010

Soulmate. Schmoulmate.

Well, here I am back on the marriage bandwagon. It's a fascinating topic and one that seemingly occupies a large portion of my gray matter. But it's not really marriage I want to talk about, it's this notion fed by the media and, unfortunately often by our own best friends, that our soulmate is out there—somewhere. If we just wait long enough, look hard enough, bend ourselves into the right positions—eventually we will find, attract, and hold in an everlasting and perfect embrace "the one." The one that was meant for us.

I hate to say it, but what a bunch of crap. It simply doesn't happen like that. And expecting that it will or even should probably impedes the possibility of something much less glamorous but much more viable and fulfilling actually ever happening.

As often occurs, I've run across the topic out of the blue in two very different media sources just this week. The first time was in an Italian psychological monthly. The second was in the book, Committed, by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love), which I can easily, even happily, recommend. Both recount as a departure point the mythic allegory presented by Aristophanes in Plato's Symposium. He tells us that "humans originally consisted of four arms, four legs, and a single head made of two faces, but Zeus feared their power and split them all in half, condemning them to spend their lives searching for the other half to complete them." (Wikipedia, "Soulmate.") Thus, here we are today, many of us, in perpetual search of the Mr. Right who just happens to be looking for us, Ms. Right. Hmmm. When you put it like that, it just doesn't seem like such an intelligent way to spend your time does it?

In Committed, Gilbert conducts fairly exhaustive, though admittedly purely personal and non-academic, research into the the marriage rites, rituals and raisons d'etre of many (often far flung) cultures. Places where being man are wife are more or less job descriptions. Places where marriages are conducted by arrangement. Places where divorce is all but unheard of. Places where the notion of your husband being Mr. Right is laughed right out of the grass hut...because it's just such an inconceivably inconceivable notion. (Do you think maybe if they'd read Plato's Symposium they wouldn't laugh so much?)

The funny part is this: no one disputes that your spouse or life partner can become your soul mate, in a sense. What's disputable is the notion that a couple can instantly click without the benefit of: maturation, sticking together, living and working side by side, tolerating each other's faults, being honest about their own, hurting each other, misunderstanding each other, irritating each other, etc. And I'm sorry, but the part where the other person "completes" you will forever and always remain a myth to be brutally debunked. Our task in life is to complete ourselves.

And so, it is with a heavy heart, that I say that there are women I love and respect and about whom I care deeply who continue, despite their intelligence and their talent and their otherwise brilliant insights, to look for the one headed, two-armed, two-legged creature that completes them and their soul. It is painful, really, to witness. If they could just visit the right country, go to the right cocktail party at the right time, go to the right book-signing of the right debonair writer, be in the right vegetable aisle at the right organic grocery store at the right hour of the right man's day...


I don't want to bruise their already bruisy hearts, but I want to tell them as lovingly as possible to stop. Not stop as in give up hoping for love. But stop as in stop looking for that kind of love. I want to tell them to shut their minds to the soul mate and open their hearts to the flesh-and-blood guy who's likely right in front of them. Right there. The one buying non-organic white bread. (Ick, bad choice of bread...but maybe he just needs someone to gently set him straight...or not...for the rest of his loving life.) See what I mean?


1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:36 AM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I'm spent so many hours listening to perfectly intelligent women tell me how this guy or that guy didn't fit "the list" and then crying about feeling so alone. My opinion is that there is a choice to be made: either commit to finding "the one" and get very comfortable living alone, or open up to finding "the one who fits" and be willing to work on maintaining and growing the relationship.

    I realize I'm the outlier. I LOVED living alone. But I LOVE living with my husband, who started out as my friend. I wasn't on the search, and I found exactly what I needed when I didn't even know what I needed.

    When it got hard, I had a very wise friend remind me that relationships require work. Further, she told me that I could go ahead and bail, but I would just have to do the same work with the next relationship. She asked if I were willing to let this man go so I could search for some hypothetical other where I wouldn't have to do any work. Put that way, my decision was simple: stay and do the work.

    I'm glad I stayed. The flesh-and-blood guy right in front of me is just what I needed all along. And fortunately, he doesn't like non-organic white bread!