Do soulmates exist and how can we decipher if someone is "the one"?
We didn’t always have such high expectations for our relationships. The idea of being in love with your spouse didn’t even emerge until the end of the 19th century. Marriage used to be viewed as a financial support system. The need for sexual fulfillment and the heightened expectation that surrounded it took even decades more to arrive.
Sexual freedom and post-war economic prosperity that marked the 1960s brought about a period of unmatched freedom and individualism. Dismantling societal structures that once gave us a sense of stability and belonging, such as the extended family, local community, and religion had in turn removed limitations and allowed a liberation of the “self.” Personal fulfillment took priority over social and family obligations, and, at the time it seemed like a positive change, yet we didn’t know its consequences until decades later.
While we downgraded the importance of our non-amorous relationships, we placed a heavier weight on our romantic ones. We began to look to our lovers to replace what societal structures had once provided us: stability, belonging, comfort, conversation, friendship, religious or spiritual fulfillment, emotional fulfillment, and intellectual fulfillment. What we once relied on from a community of maybe 50 people was now placed on one person. We also expected them to meet our romantic needs: sexual fulfillment and of course, passionate love.
But then, something else happened.
The advent of dating apps gave singles yet another reason to distance themselves from their communities: a way to meet potential matches from the comfort of their homes. The anatomy of society crumbled into the “self.” Sure, we are untethered but we are also lonesome. So, we then added something else to our list of expectations: the fulfillment of existential aloneness.
“The expectations of one person to satisfy all of our many emotional, physical, and spiritual needs is a tall order for one individual.” - Esther Perel
Now, we expect our relationship to provide us with stability, belonging, comfort, conversation, friendship, religious or spiritual fulfillment, emotional fulfillment, intellectual fulfillment, sexual fulfillment, passionate love, and the fulfillment of existential aloneness. We have created an overburden of expectations for one person to fulfill. As Esther Perel says, “The expectations of one person to satisfy all of our many emotional, physical, and spiritual needs is a tall order for one individual.” Or as Dan Smith says, “A romantic relationship is a part of your life, not your entire life. When you get hyper-focused on attracting or transforming a relationship, and take your eye off the other areas of your life, you put a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself and your partner.”
Our heightened list of expectations is supported by the growing number of singles and the abundance of avenues to meet them. The ease of matching with singles combined with the increase in the number of singles today equates to the mindset: “If I just go on more dates, I can find the perfect person.” It becomes a numbers game. This has caused a “paradox of choice” phenomenon as many singles try to date as many people as possible so as to not miss out on meeting “The One," but this has led to an insidious addiction.
I also fell victim to this mentality during my dating journey six years ago. Following a breakup in Chicago in 2015, I ventured into the world of dating through a few different avenues: tennis clubs, running groups, book clubs, and dating apps. I met a lot of interesting men but rarely agreed to a second date. I always found a flaw, to which the voice in my head would agree and proceed to point out the abundance of men, and that one would exceed my expectations. I experienced first-hand the stress-inducing “paradox of choice” where an overabundance of options leads to anxiety, indecision, and dissatisfaction.
Ponder on this scenario: You just met someone on Tinder and the first date is going really well. You want to see them again. Then, your date ends, you walk outside, hail a cab, pull out your phone, and immediately pull up your dating app. If this date went so well, you just can’t help but wonder who else you might find. Maybe there’s someone just a little more successful, humorous, well-traveled, or well-read. However, it’s more likely that this mindset will lead to a calendar full of perpetual first dates. Too much choice causes the feeling of less happiness, less satisfaction, and can even lead to paralysis.
“The tricky thing about life is on the one hand having the courage to enter into things that aren’t familiar but to also have the wisdom to stop exploring when you have found something worth sticking around for." - Sebastian Junger
American Journalist Sebastian Junger once said, “The tricky thing about life is on the one hand having the courage to enter into things that aren’t familiar but to also have the wisdom to stop exploring when you have found something worth sticking around for. That’s true of a place, a person, of a vocation…” It takes wisdom to know when you have found someone worth pursuing, and it takes courage to leave the noncommittal and casual world of dating and enter into a committed relationship. But still many singles grapple with the question, “How do I know when I’ve found someone worth pursuing?”
When we do encounter someone that meets or perhaps exceeds our standards (at least for the time being), we magnify their good qualities and confer on them almost mythical powers to the point where we sincerely believe they are suited for us above all others.
As Esther Perel puts it, “We transform them and we, in turn, are transformed in their presence.” And when our mythical creation chooses us, above all others, our existence and importance are confirmed. There is a sort of transcendence that occurs. This transcendence is what we call the “honeymoon phase” but it’s only temporary. When it inevitably wears off, we begin to see all of our partners’ flaws that were once concealed by our rosy-colored lens.
“When you trade in one partner for another, you still have the same work. You’re going to have to do it sooner or later when the pizzazz is over.” - Ram Dass
As Ram Dass says, “After the honeymoon is over, then you are left with the work to do.” He continues, “When you trade in one partner for another, you still have the same work. You’re going to have to do it sooner or later when the pizzazz is over.” People love to romanticize their lives, and especially their relationships. It is a part of our culture. But inevitably, when people reach a certain point in the relationship where the initial passion fades and realness emerges, people end things because it starts to become real, heavy, and messy. Real work is involved and your identity is threatened. Most of us end relationships too early, normally when things get hard, before gaining the knowledge and wisdom from the relationship. We then move on to the next relationship and repeat the pattern because we didn’t take the time to learn what we needed to learn in the previous relationship.
For the relationship to move to the next level of truth requires an opening and a vulnerability that most people aren’t ready to make. As you entrench, you retrench. You pull back, push away, and move to the next one, and the pattern continues. You have the same rush of openness followed by the same unraveling. And you ask yourself, “Where am I going to find the one where this doesn’t happen?”
As you become more conscious, the idea of romanticism in relationships begins to fade, and the awakening process shows us something deeper.
Now, when you ask the question, “Where am I going to find the one where this doesn’t happen?” you realize that it will only happen when it doesn’t happen inside of yourself. Meaning, that when you fall in love, you believe the other person is the source of that love when in reality, that love is coming from inside of you - it is your essence. And when you begin to awaken, and you realize that you are the source of love, you don’t come from a place of neediness in the relationship, and you aren’t looking to “lock in” so quickly. You don’t need another person to enter into that space of love, you are already in it. We eliminate neediness and the need to depend on someone else to receive the love that is already inside ourselves.
Of course, as humans we still have a need to experience a loving and romantic relationship, however, when you need another person to experience love, then you are vulnerable, off-balance, frightened, and creating models of what the other person should be. You are suffering all of the time. But the more we individually work on ourselves, open our awareness, and love ourselves, the less neediness we feel, and the less expectation we have of our partner. Only then can true love emerge. A true love that is not conditioned on expectations or a need to change our partner. A true love that is free of fear because you don’t need that other person to be in love, you are already in it.
“I don’t believe in soulmates in the singular sense. I believe in soulmates in the plural meaning. I believe we all have multiple soulmates, and they are not all romantic.” - Jason Reynolds
There are 8 billion people in the world and there are probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of “soulmates,” that is, people that we are compatible with. So, first, “the one” or the “perfect partner” does not exist. There are multiple “ones” for you, but they do not come ready-made for the perfect relationship out of the box. There is an insidious fantasy that “the right relationship should be easy” and require minimal effort. Many people believe that if you have to work hard in a relationship, then it’s “not meant to be.” Contrary to what Disney movies and social media tell us, the “perfect relationship” requires work. As Author and Therapist Terry Real says, “If you want something, you’re going to have to roll up your sleeves and fight for it, not just once or twice, but ongoing in the relationship.” “The One” is not someone we find but someone that is created through mutual trust, respect, love, and shared memories. As Esther Perel says, “Perhaps, instead of looking for a person who checks all the boxes, focus on a person with whom you can imagine yourself writing a story that entails edits and revisions. As a reminder, there are no perfect stories.”
“Be stubborn in your values and flexible about your criteria.”
I’m not saying that we can create the perfect relationship with anyone. Of course, we must have the knowledge and wisdom to choose partners that are in alignment with us. Your core values will drive what you need in a relationship to feel fully aligned with your partner. I always say, “Be stubborn in your values and flexible about your criteria.” For example, my core values are self-aware, open-mind, respect, trust, abundant (financial) mindset, and humor. This became my “dating blueprint” and drove my decision to say yes or no to a second date. However, I remained flexible on my criteria such as being tall (6’1”), having dark hair and eyes, and preferably from a Latin culture. Maybe my guy would end up being a blonde Californian. Would that affect our long-term compatibility? No. (I lucked out, I got my tall, dark, handsome Latino.) The point is to loosen the rigidness of what your ‘perfect partner’ looks like and stay true to your core values. As long as your values align, relax into the dating experience. You don’t need to be certain you are dating the right person. There is curiosity, the unknown, and mystery. You’ll feel much more relaxed if you allow yourself that curiosity, that openness, that uncertainty.
When our essential needs are met, it’s easy to start looking for what’s wrong or missing in the relationship.
I did the same thing in my relationship with my partner Diego. I said, “Yup all good. He is emotionally mature, self-aware, and has a growth mindset. I feel mutual trust and respect. There’s good communication and good sexual and emotional chemistry. He has a great family and friend circle. We both want similar things in life, yada yada yada, but where’s the intellectual chemistry?” We tend to hone in on what’s missing in order to reach full maximum potential for our relationship. There’s just one problem with this: You will always find something “wrong” or “missing” in your relationship with this perspective. Human beings are not perfect, and we cannot expect perfection in our relationships either. Some of you will be saying, “But my friend Lisa tells me she found her absolute perfect man and she would not change a single thing about him,” to which I would respond: Your friend Lisa has the perfect “relationship lens.” Ideally, this is exactly how the majority of us should be viewing our relationships.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”- Marcel Proust
The key to sustaining a long-term relationship is having many new relationships with the same person. We're all going to have many relationships over the course of our lives. Some of us will have them with many people, and some of us will have them with the same person. Some people find their 'new' by hunting for their next relationship, other people have an innate or learned ability to see their partner with new eyes. It’s a perceptual shift.
Relationships become uninspiring and monotonous when you’re having the same thoughts, conversations, habits, and routines. This is when couples say they’re falling out of love, but in reality, they are just bored. However, we never know our partner to the extent that we think we do. We stop learning about him or her, we stop asking questions, and we stop feeling curious. Furthermore, we are quite often more interested in seeking information about our partner that fits an image of who we desire him or her to be based on our own set of needs and expectations.
Have you ever been in a discussion or argument with your partner, and you attempt to get him to agree with your opinion the entire time rather than try and understand his perspective? It’s a similar concept: we are constantly trying to get people to like us, believe us, agree with us, and be like us. But when you become conscious of this pattern, you can choose a different way: open-mindedness, understanding, and acceptance. If we can learn to love another human being on that deep level of nakedness and openness, we can learn to love life with that same deepness. That’s what an intimate relationship is: a practice to keep the spark of genuine love alive, stretch the honeymoon phase into a lifetime, and learn to see your partner with new eyes every time.
Perhaps if we spent more time striving to be good partners ourselves, rather than expecting the other person to satisfy all of our needs, we’d have happier relationships and a more stable society. The more that we individually have done “the work” on ourselves, the less we are stumbling through the dark together, trying to change each other based on our giant list of expectations. When we already feel the source of love inside ourselves, we eliminate neediness and dependence on another person for that love. It is remarkable how the nature of your relationships will change when you come from a place of love, rather than trying to get love.
Your relationship can be a vehicle for healing, true love, and liberation. So, maybe the goal shouldn’t be finding “The One”, rather, finding someone you can do “the work” with.
Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic by Esther Perel
Ram Dass Here and Now Podcast, Episode 78