I get the thrill of the concept, of course. There’s a lot of romance built around the idea that there’s only one person for everyone and it’s only a matter of meeting..somehow, somewhere… Hell, much of Hollywood has grown rich off that storyline, even while the stars of those films divorce their spouses every four months. Still, the dream lives on.. that one, that only, soul mate for forever and ever. I can certainly understand the desire to credit deities or fates or kismet or karma when “stars align” and everything just seems to be working out perfectly but, as the The Washington Times reports, it takes more than thinking you’re soul mates to be sure your marriage will last.
“Soul mate” couples are often happy at first, because they have intense emotional and personal connections, said W. Bradford Wilcox, lead author of the article in the Sept. 1 issue of Social Science Research.
But their unions are at high risk for disenchantment and divorce because it’s hard to sustain such intensity in a long-term relationship, he said.
Instead, couples who have the best chance for lasting happiness are those who are strongly attentive and affectionate with each other (like soul-mate couples) but also believe that marriage is lifelong, and that they should be part of larger social and religious networks.
“In a word, the more spouses embrace the married state, and the institutional norms that go with it, the more they enjoy it,” wrote Mr. Wilcox, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project.
And that’s the crux, isn’t it? People buy into this idea that a soul mate is possible and that tends to create a false assumption that no work will be required to maintain the connections and sustain the relationship. I won’t deny that compatibility is key (probably second most important thing after chemistry) but they’re right about that intensity thing – that early rush of whoohoo is delightful but it can’t possibly last long enough to build two lives around. There’s got to be more in a relationship than two people having a fondness for the same music or movies or sexual positions. There have to be better reasons than that to build something solid on, especially if there’s any desire to have it endure. There’s got to be something bigger and stronger and longer lasting under it. A real foundation that has less to do with lust and random coincidences and more to do with wanting to make things work, especially when faced with the inevitable challenges that will crop up.
The religion/social connection thing is interesting, too. I would pass on the religious aspect of strengthening a relationship but certainly like the idea of having some kind of social network to be a part of as a couple. It’s not healthy to be too self-absorbed (even when it’s very, very fun). Joining a club, or staying close with family, or even being able to count on support from reliable friends can help with maintaining a solid bond.
Anyway, the article also mentions a poll done that had to do with people getting grilled about whether they believed in soul mates and whether or not they thought they found one. Weirdly enough, answers varied as much by (American) geography as they did by age.
In the South, Midwest and West, between 96 percent and 97 percent of spouses were sure they had married the “right person,” but in the Northeast, only 90 percent thought they had married correctly, with a whopping 10 percent answering “no” to the “right person” question.
Age also made a difference. An astonishing 100 percent of spouses ages 18 to 29 said they married the right person, and older spouses (in the 45-59 and 60-and-older age brackets) were also confident they had married correctly, with 97 percent and 96 percent agreeing, respectively.
But those in the 30-44 age bracket were a tad wobbly, with 92 percent saying they had married the right person and 8 percent saying they had not.
Sucks for those 8%, I suppose, but even if the 92% weren’t lying, how many of those relationships could statistically end in divorce anyway?
There is little that is “for sure” in this world, so why would soul mates be exempt?
Am I being hard on “true love” here? I don’t think so. I think people can certainly wind up with people who wind up being all they ever wanted and more. I think those are the lucky people and they’re even luckier when the feeling is mutual.
But the quest for perfection, that there could be one who’s just right, one who’s better than whoever you might be with now.. I think that’s why a lot of decent relationships that could be long lasting wind up flopping. If one or both people continue to look for that better fish all the time, they’re never going to appreciate what they’ve got in the bloody boat right now. The idea that there actually IS one right person for anyone..how many decently terrific people will the hunter ignore while that search is on?
Not to get all maudlin, but how many times could the hunter have experienced joy and happiness and love in the time wasted looking for that perfect someone who might not even exist at all?
I don’t believe in “soul mates” either. I think at some point in your life you are ready to settle down, and when two people who are generally compatible are both ready, you take the next step. I have a lot of chemistry with my wife, and it has never really waned, although I can attest that marriage has been a lot of effort.
The concept of a soul mate is likely part of our higher than necessary divorce rates in this country. If there is such a thing, it comes from effort and work, not just providence or chance.
From another angle, it could also be argued that divorce is a “simple” method to get out of a relationship people never should have been in in the first place. In some cases maybe couples therapy or counseling of some other kind maybe could mend some bridges and break down some walls. Instead of doing that, though, they’ll take the divorce route because less work is required in the long run, assuming kids aren’t part of the property split, of course.
But yeah, if it’s clear early enough that too many problems add up to no good stick-together solutions, why keep at it? “Soul Mate” be damned, I’d rather be happy…