I know I’ve touched on the topic of soulmates before, but I ran across a study the other day that sparked a lot of thinking that I’d like to “just share” with y’all.
In my freshman year of high school, my family lived in Mobile, Alabama, a city I absolutely hated. I didn’t have a lot of friends there till I discovered tabletop gaming, but the ones I did have gave me a good birds-eye view of the concept of “soulmates.”
Lynn wasn’t a mental giant by any stretch, nor was she especially honest or even pleasant to be around; she was, like me although for different reasons, an outlier in the cackling gaggle of girls in which I’d found myself. I really don’t know how she came to have so many of these “soulmates.” I didn’t even know a single boy I wanted to date–I didn’t actually feel much interest in them yet (it’d probably distress and/or amuse the heck out of you to know how late of a bloomer I turned out to be)–but Lynn not only found boy after boy to date, but got to know them enough to declare them, one after another, to be her “soulmates.” She’d have an excruciating breakup a few weeks later, and then shortly afterward find another “soulmate.” Wash, rinse, spin, repeat. It took me a long time to understand why Lynn needed this illusion she’d created for herself.
My best friend Stacy, meanwhile, had this one boy she was on and off again with; he inspired her to do the craziest and most lunatic things you can imagine–even to the detriment of her sanity and health. Anybody with teenaged kids will understand when I say that apart, those two had problems that weren’t too dissimilar from what I reckon most kids their age have always had, but when they got together, the sum of their crazy created an alchemical reaction that was catastrophically bigger than its parts. But it was all worth it, because he was her “soulmate.” I didn’t like him; I thought he was skeevy and more than a little weird. As with Lynn, it took me a long time to understand why Stacy went for this guy the way she did.
And, too, I had a lot of music, movies, and TV shows that treated the subject of “soulmates” as this mystical bond and connection that not only couldn’t ever be broken, but couldn’t be denied. I’ve mentioned that my Christian programming led me to believe in this unbreakable, undeniable bond myself. I didn’t know who it was yet, but from the tender age of 16 I knew that my god had selected someone for me and was holding him for me till I was ready.
Thanks to the mythology I’d been taught by my church and the world around me, I knew a lot of things about how that relationship was going to go and what it’d look like. He’d be perfect. He’d be exactly what I needed. He might not recognize at first that I was his soulmate, but he’d figure it out eventually. There was no avoiding it. Once together, even if we fought a lot, and we almost certainly would because that was the only sort of relationship I’d ever seen, deep down we’d be inseparable and the fighting would just be part of our wacky hijinks. Or we’d meet and immediately know that we were meant to be together. There’d be obstacles to overcome and constant tests of our devotion to each other, tests issued both by us and by a disapproving society. We’d grow, sure, but we’d grow together, in ways that didn’t threaten our bond. Even if we broke up, we’d keep coming back together because we were meant to be a couple.
Our lives together would be totally adventurous and exciting, because soulmates were like that. Soulmates were destined for great things. Normal folks, rubes, they might get together without that destined spark, but that sort of love was far beneath us. We were meant for much better lives.
And if any part of that proved to be untrue, why, then, I’d been wrong about this particular person. I needed to scrap him and start over again to find my real soulmate. But really, it was a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, wasn’t it? If he seemed perfectly compatible with me, then of course he was my soulmate. But if he were horribly mismatched, then that was also a perfectly legitimate expression of the concept–in the 80s, we actually liked the idea of mismatched couples (see: almost any Brat Pack movie), and you know, we still do. There wasn’t really a disqualifier–any trait that made someone a soulmate could also, in the reverse side of its coin, still be valid as a soulmate’s trait.
The hilarious part? I also held the idea simultaneously in my mind that all it took for two people to make a decent go at marriage was that they be of different genders and be sure they’d been approved by my god. (Yes, I’m all for marriage equality now. But I quite seriously had no idea what homosexuality even was, much less knew about the full beautiful spectrum of gender identity and orientation, back then.) On the one hand, I had this idea that I was destined to meet a completely hand-picked human being who, out of all the teeming billions of people on this planet, was specially chosen for me. A god had taken time out of his busy day dealing with black holes and ignoring starving people to figure out just exactly who would be perfectly suited to my dreamy, absent-minded, nerdy, geeky, romantic personality. On the other, though, any two people should be able to make a relationship work if they just tried hard enough.
It makes me cringe now to think about how egocentric I was. But I was a teenager. I had an excuse. When I hear women twice my age talk like that, I don’t even know where to begin. There are women my age out there right now this second convinced that their god is going to eventually drop the perfect man in their laps to marry. Some of them have been waiting their entire lives. I bet many of them have met men who were perfectly acceptable mates, but ignored these men because they were waiting for the one their god had chosen. (I sure hope they’re right about there even being a god, because it’d really suck if he didn’t exist and they were waiting for nothing.)
So what happens when you meet your soulmate and then you break up? Or you realize that things are going just so wildly wrong that there’s no possible way you could ever make a relationship work with that person–or if parameters change, like if he or she deconverts from your religion?
I’d always had this lurking suspicion that having a belief in the soulmate myth made someone more inclined to end a relationship that wasn’t quite working out rather than figure things out and move forward. But guess what? I was right!
This study actually talks about soulmates, putting the rise of “soulmate-based” marriage in the 70s, and asserts that people who buy into the idea are more likely to divorce because they feel that a marriage should be supernaturally emotionally fulfilling. I’d also add this: when many Christians feel that their marriages aren’t supernaturally emotionally fulfilling, that can be an indication to them that they maybe mis-heard their god’s voice somehow–that they’re in the wrong marriage to the wrong person. They need to ditch that person so they can go find the real soulmate their god’s prepared.
I suspect it’s that feeling of mis-hearing their god’s voice that leads to Christian wives often telling their deconverted spouses that they’d rather the husband be a wife-beater or an alcoholic rather than a simple ex-Christian. It’d be something to work with. At least then she could indulge in the idea that he’s still her soulmate, since those sorts of shattering problems and drama are part and parcel of the myth. There’d be all this fixing and reconciliation and praying and breakthroughs ahead for the couple. At least in the end she’s got the illusion that she might still achieve the Happy Christian Marriage that she’s been building in her head all these years. But if he’s not a Christian at all, then the end result–the Happy Christian Marriage–is never going to happen, which means all that drama and all those problems may well not be building toward the final Kodak moment she thinks is hers by right.
And, too, remember that Christians get indoctrinated to believe that a relationship with a non-Christian is a “dead end” and pointless. I find that an abhorrent and hateful mindset now, but it was something I took as axiomatic back then. Why would I want a relationship with someone I wouldn’t know after I died, is how I thought about it. Why would I want to love someone who was just going to “choose” to go to Hell? Why would I want to waste my time on a heathen unwashed sinner? Not like Jesus did that–oh wait, there are lots of stories about him doing just that. Oops. Well, phooey.
To the Christians in the UYC: It astonishes me how Christians will often decide to make lemonade out of all sorts of things they do wrong, but won’t buckle down and figure out their marriages when they may have mis-heard their god about who they should marry. Whether you heard or mis-heard the name you were supposed to be matched with, you’re there now. It’d be nice to see what you can do with it before throwing in the towel. And that spouse may well still be your soulmate, if you persist and insist on believing such things. There’s no reason that a soulmate absolutely must be of the same religion. There’s no real reason why your god couldn’t have told you to marry this person knowing full well that he or she would deconvert later on and would never return to the fold.
But if you were that wrong about this person being your soulmate, how do you know the next time you’ll be right? That you’ll hear the right voice? That you’ll pick the true soulmate out of the lineup before you?
You could pick the wrong person next time too. There’s nothing saying you can’t. You were wrong this time. Why can’t you be wrong next time too?
It almost looks suspiciously like there really isn’t just one soulmate out there for each of us, doesn’t it?
The myth of the Happy Christian Marriage is a lie. It was a lie when you thought both of you were Christians. Reality was always there waiting to tear down the curtain in the innermost temple of your heart. You just didn’t see it back then. Some very few people never see that curtain get torn, but they are the smallest of minorities in this world. Most people will see the curtain tear. You’re just one of them, that’s all. The illusion is still a lie now. Reality is what there is. Accept it or deny it as you please, it’s still all there is. But reality has a lot to recommend itself. It’s where real communication and intimacy happen. It’s where love can truly blossom and bloom. It’s where two people can finally find the happiness they craved, if they’re only brave enough to follow where reality leads.
And love is worth being brave.
Next up, we’re going to talk about jumping hoops. I’m not very good at jumping these days–bad back and all. But I keep getting told I should jump through hoops. It’s the weirdest thing.
PS: I got through this whole post without talking about Tim Minchin. I should get a medal for this.