Holding back on relationships while waiting for the mythical soulmate

Finding a long-term partner these days seems harder than it was in earlier generations. In my parent's generation everyone seemed to marry in their 20s. It seems rather young nowadays. In Japan, companies which used to be against workplace dating are now organising singles meetups, a bit like corporate speed dating!

One reason people are having trouble hooking up with a perfectly good potential partner is the notion of the soulmate. Something magical happens when you meet your soulmate. You know instantly that this is the person who will fulfil that empty part of you. And being soulmates, your lives together will be easy, loving and forever. It is a wonderful idea. And when we are looking for our soulmate, the key ingredient is the instantaneous magic that identifies him or her. Without it, any relationship is bound to be short-lived, temporary and not worth investing in.

The soulmate is a wonderfully romantic idea. I see images of slender swooning lovers as I write this.Very romantic. Very risky too. The belief in the idea of a soulmate can lead us to make poor decisions or just not make decisions at all.

This soulmate idea seems unhealthy to me. Why is that? The idea seems that not until we meet the soulmate will we become complete. The perfect bonding of two souls into one whole. That empty hollow inside is filled and we can begin to live. Well, this means that without the perfect soulmate partner, we remain incomplete. We might devalue our own worth, by ignoring all the good things about us, because despite them, despite all the work we put into our jobs, our relationships and everything else, we are just not fully formed until we find our soulmate. Only when we are joined and made whole will all the stuff we have done in our lives, all the helpful things we do for our friends, all the difficult learning we persist with, only when the soulmate arrives does all this stuff have any meaning or value.

Somehow, this romantic idea of the soulmate has a rather nasty undertone.

So we wander through a range of relationships looking for the special feeling that we will identify that this is Him or Her. How are we going to recognise this feeling if we have never had it before? And we will only get one chance to recognise this feeling, since surely there is only one soulmate so the feeling can come only once. It follows that we really must recognise this feeling, because if we miss it, then that means we will have to be on our own or make do with second best, to live with someone knowing that we are making do, or even that we are still on the lookout for the soulmate. But how will we know, if we can only have this feeling once? Such vagueness can make us feel vulnerable and unstable.

So belief in the soulmate myth puts our future down to luck, without which we will spend our whole lives in a sort of purgatory, constantly looking for someone who will be identified by a feeling that we have not yet had and so we cannot define. It is vague, but surely we will know it when we come across it. That means we are always on the lookout for that spark, that magic, an immediate and overwhelming feeling. So, what is this feeling that we are going to get when we meet our soulmate? With all this international travel and the new wider world that we are all exposed to, well maybe the soulmate was there in Prague airport, but I was too far away to catch the feeling? Or too worried about finding my passport? If you let your guard down, you might lose your chance.

But how does it account for the satisfactory relationships of people who married within a tight circle, people who married someone from their own street? What luck they had that their soulmate was so handy. Bad luck for you if everyone in your village is already married or far too young.

But most of all why are we relying on feelings for such an important decision? Feelings come and go. How we feel today will vary from hour to hour. And we could feel differently tomorrow. In fact, we will feel differently tomorrow. Feelings can't be trusted. Anyone who suffers anxiety knows that feelings can overwhelm, and if they respond to them, their lives will be constrained. Well I suppose those are bad feelings, but the soulmate will generate good feelings surely?

One of the dangers that comes from believing in this idea, is that we get hooked on the belief that feelings have meaning. The only meaning is the meaning we put onto these feelings. If we believe that anxious feelings mean that we are going to have a bad day, then we can expect a bad day. If we believe that only powerful romantic feelings will lead to a good relationship, we will believe that without those feelings the relationship will be weak. But these feelings are all caused by the hormones in our blood. Anxious feelings are caused by hormones, and so are those amazing surges of electricity that come when you meet someone you really fancy. Relationships built on the foundations of powerful feelings must crumble, because feelings are so variable. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Long term relationships are not built on emotional ecstacy. Those overwhelming thrilling feelings of sexual encounter, when he looks at her and they both fall in love at first sight might launch you together so you can start get to know each other. But then so can an introduction by a friend without all the sparks and fireworks. We dupe ourselves when we think that these overwhelming, rushing, thrilling feelings are the only way into a long-term loving relationship. Slow burn is effective too. Softly softly works.

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