Six lies about love

SN&R advice columnist Joey Garcia debunks the soul-mate myth

Soul mates. The phrase enters our minds and releases a montage of seductive images. Our soul mate is the one who will understand and appreciate us—our other half, our twin flame, our spiritual mirror. The advertising industry is constructed to nurture our yearning to attract a soul mate. If we could only lose weight like Kirstie Alley, it would rain soul mates. Use a Schick razor, and a sexy, barely dressed soul mate will hover at your shoulder. Purchase the right perfume, antiperspirant, breath mints, bra, cleaning products or jeans, and you will enhance your chance of meeting the one true love of your life.

In my 10 years of guiding SN&R readers through the thickets of relationship drama, I’ve noticed that the belief in a soul mate is nearly always tangled inside the inability to let go of a relationship that is long dead (or should be). Are soul mates real, or is the idea just another lie about love?

(1) We each have a soul mate.
Blame Aristophanes. His speech in Plato’s Symposium impregnated Western culture with the soul-mate concept. A comedic playwright, Aristophanes told a charming creation story about the three sexes (male, female and androgynous) that populated the world. Each of these original humans had two faces, four arms and two sets of genitals. They thought of themselves as gods. That angered Zeus, who retaliated by slicing them in two, leaving each half longing for its other half. The soul-mate shtick was a joke, carefully calculated to justify the ancient Greek practice of pedophilia. As Aristophanes points out post-story, it is necessary for a man to “win the favors of his own young man so that he can recover his original nature.”

The idea that each of us has an ideal mate is both reassuring and pitiful. In a world full of splendid people, believing that only one person is the right one and that life will be perfect (the ancient Greeks also were obsessed with perfection) once you find that person is a setup for relationship failure. By fixating on the need for a soul mate, you’re likely to miss living your life. And you just might place enough pressure on any existing romance to force implosion.

(2) Soul mates recognize each other at first sight.
This idea is seated in the previous lie. If you were separated pre-birth, there is a part of you that knows “the one” who is your true partner. Let’s admit the layered assumptions here: that the ancient Greeks knew more truth about creation and love than we do, that their stories (even those intended as teaching tools or allegory) are factual, that each of us is incomplete without another human being and that the purpose of life is a search for love.

In reality, “at first sight” is biology in action. There are pheromones at play or perhaps the eye’s tendency to measure, subconsciously, proportions that match the physical structure of a beloved childhood friend or a loving parent. The spark of recognition also can be driven by lust, the most selfish of emotions.

The reality is that people commonly feel an instant connection. Those who build on their feelings and are in the right space emotionally to be mature in a relationship can create a love story. Of course, each of those people felt connections with others they dated, but it didn’t work out. This time it did. Was it love at first sight or a mix of attraction, effort and synchronicity?

(3) If the sex is spectacular, the rest is destiny.
A friend I’ll call Brian had a series of roller-coaster relationships with women he dated. He would meet a woman, feel a connection and ask her out. A passionate kiss led to great sex. Boom! He had an instant relationship with a woman who had a severe eating disorder or was suicide-prone or had some other crisis. And, although she had been in therapy before, she wasn’t now (and it showed). She would hysterically accuse him of this or that, and he would anxiously try to help (OK, fix) her. These relationships dragged on in the classic Western style: tension-building, explosion, honeymoon—until Brian or his girlfriend had the courage to set aside the illusion that the other was “the one” and seek another soul mate.

When Brian moved from Sacramento to Southern California, he joined an Internet dating service that prided itself on matching soul mates. But his relationship troubles continued. Then, one day he called me on his way to a first date. “I decided to take your advice,” he said. “I’m going to be friends first, to really get to know a woman. I’m going to try your three-month rule.”

For adults who have difficulty establishing healthy relationships because they have sex before learning if their date is a viable partner, I suggest waiting three months before any sexual activity. That way, the intense physical and energetic connection that is established through sexual intercourse won’t blind them to the lack of genuine compatibility.

The results? Brian recently married the woman he was on his way to meet that day. Although the Web site allowed him access to a wide array of interesting women, practicing friendship first allowed him to be emotionally available to one of them.

(4) Once you find your soul mate, you won’t need anyone else.
The “it’s you and me against the world” songbook plays the soundtrack for episodes of infatuation, not love. Being alone with the one you think you love can be romantic, but in some relationships, it means isolation from family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. When genuine love exists between two people, their other relationships are enhanced, not truncated.

Here’s a story that illustrates how quickly we drop family and friends when the person we assume is our soul mate enters our lives. A reader of my advice column wrote, “I have been eating my heart out over a man I met a few months ago at a club. He called daily until I agreed to go out with him. After we became intimate, he wanted to spend every evening together. He sent me roses and said he was falling madly in love. I felt it, too! He was my soul mate!

“We began planning our future. We spent every evening together and every weekend. My family and friends complained, but I didn’t care; I was in love! After five weeks of bliss, he went camping with friends (I had to work). When my schedule changed so I could meet him, he said his ex-wife was there. I didn’t go.

“He returned a different man—unhappy with his career and only wanting to see me on weekends. (It was true that I had been spending too much time with him, but I felt so betrayed!) I want everything the way it was, but he never calls unless he’s calling me back, and he never says he loves me. Did he ever love me? Or was he just playing me? I’ve lost 21 pounds in two weeks. I cry myself to sleep. Should I just leave him alone?”

Yes, and she also should toss out those ideas that love means never having to spend a minute alone. If this woman had maintained her relationships with family and friends, they might have pointed out that she was being set up for infatuation, not love. Now, she gets to apologize for taking them for granted and ask for help nursing her wounds.

(5) Your soul mate loves all the same things you do. You never argue.
If your perfect partner is a clone, rather than a human being, then yes, this is true. Otherwise, recognize this belief for what it is: unrealistic. In her book I Need Your Love—Is that True? How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them Instead, Byron Katie challenges the neediness with which we approach romantic relationships. She writes, “For the personality, love is nothing more than agreement. If I agree with you, you love me. And the minute I don’t agree with you, the minute I question one of your sacred beliefs, I become your enemy; you divorce me in your mind. Then you start looking for all the reasons why you’re right, and you stay focused outside of yourself. When you’re focused outside and believe that your problem is caused by someone else, rather than by your attachment to the story you’re believing at the moment, then you are your own victim, and the situation appears to be hopeless.”

Genuine love includes challenge. So, confrontation (which simply means to meet face to face) or the respectful sharing of feelings and expectations or even requests for certain supportive (not codependent) behaviors is normal in a healthy relationship. Participating in that level of emotional connection won’t always be comfortable or even welcomed. It is, however, part of the reality of genuine love.

(6) True love lasts forever.
Genuine love lasts forever, but that doesn’t mean that your relationship with that person will never end. When a relationship reaches its natural conclusion, it dies, but the memories and lessons live on in the subtle ways you have been changed by love.

If romantic relationships are still “Greek” to you, here’s a key: You have millions of soul mates. In religion and psychology, the soul often is described as the pure God breath inside each of us. Its very nature allows ease of interaction with others. If we all operated from our souls, anyone could be our soul mate.

What we really need, though, are ego mates—people who can tolerate our neurotic egos and support us in healing that wounded self. Once the neurotic ego is healed, our healthy ego merges with our soul. Then our capacity for genuine love expands, and the world becomes our soul mate, just as the mystics foretold.