If we continue searching for “the one,” when do we ever truly love the one we’re with?
A few years ago a friend of mine found her soul mate, or at least she thought that she had. She was in her apartment, feeling a bit sad about being a single graduate student, when she heard the music coming from what she assumed was the apartment next to her. She had seen a moving van recently, and knew that a new guy had just moved, so she listened with interest, hoping to discover what kind of guy he was from his music. It was distant and a little difficult to hear, which automatically endeared her to the man. After all, this showed a bit of courtesy and consideration of his neighbors. She sat quietly, sipped her wine, and listened to song after song that she loved.
By the end of the night, my friend was sure that this was a sign that she had found The Right Guy. Who other than a soul mate would play the same eclectic collection of indie bands, pop music, classical, and country that she loved? It was as if he had a playlist of her favorite songs. It had to be fate, she thought, a guy who was into music as much as she was and had the same quirky tastes.
It was all great until her phone rang and the music stopped. That is how my friend discovered that she had not been listening to a neighbor at all. Her iPhone had fallen into her panty drawer and was playing her favorite list on shuffle. (My quip about her finding her soul mate in her panties was not appreciated.)
Truth is, I do not believe in soul mates. I do not believe that we are destined to have a great love if only we find the right person. In fact, I do not really believe in “true love.”
Here is what I do believe: When it comes to relationships, what matters is not how much we love a person but how we feel about ourselves when we are around them. Some people bring out the best in us and others bring out the worst. Unfortunately, those we feel great kinship with, those who feel like destiny, can be the people who bring out the worst in us.
I had a boyfriend who was an incredibly kind and decent person. We “clicked” in that ineffable way that soul mates are meant to, and our chemistry was unbelievable. But something about our interaction brought out all of my incompetence. To this day, if I am around him, I begin feeling dependent, needy, and inadequate. I do not like who I become when I am around him.
Having said all of that, I find that my soul is at home with my husband, Pete. But I do not, for even a minute, believe that I am the only person in the whole of the world who could have given his soul rest and found rest in return.
The thing that I find most vexing about the idea of soul mates is that it implies a certain effortlessness. Everything is supposed to fall in line, to be perfect from their “meet-cute.” Any deviation from that script of perfection sets off our alarms that maybe this is not THE right one, perhaps the Universe or God is sending us a sign that we are settling.
The truth is that at some point, we have to stop auditioning our beloved for the role of significant other and just give him or her the part. We have to stop judging whether or not we want to stay in the relationship by the day, the week, or even the year that we are currently in because some days, weeks, and months are truly crappy.
For what it’s worth, here is my advice as a woman who has been married for more than a dozen years (most of them happy): There is only one sign that you should read to determine if the person that you are dating is right for you. How do you feel about yourself when you are dating them? After a few months, do you feel stronger and more competent, or do you find yourself deferring, demurring, and shrinking? As time goes on, do you find that you are more critical of yourself, your body, your personality, and your little quirks, or do you see yourself through his/her eyes, as entirely lovable and sexy?
The answer to those questions holds the answer to “Can I be happy with this person for a lifetime?”
Lynn Beisner is the pseudonym for a mother, a writer, a feminist, and an academic living somewhere East of the Mississippi. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.