Ah, the soul mate—the perpetuating romantic myth that's still chugging along against all odds, literally. Assuming your soul mate is set at birth, is roughly in the same age bracket, and the love is recognizable at first sight, mathematical estimates indicate that your chances of finding your soul mate is only 1 in 10,000 (0.010 percent). And yet, according to a 2011 Marist poll, nearly three out of four people believe that they are destined to find the one person out there for them.
Let’s face it, you have a higher chance at winning the Powerball lottery than finding a mythological soul mate. The numbers just aren’t on your side. But bad odds aren't the only reason for abandoning the myth of the soul mate. The truth is, seeking your soul mate is actually a really good way to find yourself in an unhappy marriage or alone.
Let me explain.
You may get tricked into thinking true love plays out like a fairy tale.
When you develop an image of what your ideal type or soul mate is, you create a fantasy. This fantasy consists of yearning for the feeling of being 'in love’ which amplifies desire for an idealized lover, particularly when the apple of your eye is elusive or unavailable. Pining for that unattainable ideal becomes an enthrallment of the experience of the intense emotions of being in love, rather than a reality-based interest in the potential partner. Research shows that people who hold a strong belief in destiny are prone to lose interest in their partner much faster and are likely to give up much more easily when the relationship starts to go through hardship.
Say you finally meet this person that fits the hopes and dreams that you’ve been waiting for all your life. You lock eyes, the connection is fast and furious and filled with passion and intensity. Your mind then tricks you, omitting the non–soul mate qualities and amplifying the similarities and all the things that are perfect about that person. This is confirmation bias at play. Confirmation bias occurs when we are motivated by wishful thinking and attached to a certain idea to be true. Instead of seeing reality and facts, we have tunnel vision and only see evidence that supports our initial belief.
If you're searching for your soul mate, your brain is going to try its hardest to make you find that person, but once the infatuation phase is over, that idealized person becomes just another normal, flawed human being. For too many people, this realization doesn't set in until after they have had their fairy-tale wedding—making them face the work of getting to know one another, for real this time, all over again.
You may find yourself caught in a cycle of fantasy and disillusionment.
For single people, too, the soul mate myth can cause problems, mainly a cycle of loneliness and confusion. Creating a false fantasy about someone can cause us to develop intense feelings for a connection that isn’t real, or amplify a spark into something more than what it really is. This is especially true if you’re hungry for connection or in a state of desperation to meet ‘the one’. Even if there was an authentic connection or spark, when your mind races to create a fantasy future, you are no longer present. Instead, your mind is focusing on the next step of your goal, which objectifies the person to fill a void. You start latching on to the person to make you feel a certain way, and this is where the connection goes from an exchange of love and curiosity to one of attachment and neediness.
When I look back at the times where I fell hard for someone, only to be sorely disappointed by how they treated me or how the relationship didn’t progress—it was clear that I wasn’t basing my feelings on reality—I was high on my own fantasy. I would have an idea in my head on who my perfect person was, and then I’d meet someone who resembled that picture and suddenly my soul mate alarm bells go off. The expectations, the fantasies I created were really a result of me idolizing an idea of a person that fit the picture in my head.
You will be happier if you look at true love differently.
It’s more realistic to view a soul mate experience as a connection you build with a partner, versus one that you stumble upon instantaneously as a result of destiny. The former is a choice, where you do the work to make love and connection happen; the latter is passively waiting for love to magically happen to you.
If a long, lasting healthy relationship is what you’re after, then forget everything that the fairy tales, love songs, and romantic movies taught you about love at first sight. According to Dr. John Gottman, the founder of The Gottman Institute in Seattle, two people who focus their energy on building something meaningful together in their life, tend to have the longest lasting relationships. He also summarizes that how a couple interacts is the most important aspect of creating a healthy relationship. In other words, it’s not about magic—it’s about how well you get along, how you communicate and how you move through time together. Some couples naturally excel at one or more of these things and for other couples, it takes more work. But when it comes down to it, you choose the person you end up with and you have to keep choosing that person to make a real romance work.
Now, isn't that far more empowering?
Rather than searching for the elusive 1 in 10,000, go ahead and date someone you can build something with, who shares your vision for a good life, and is willing to learn how to create a healthy relationship dynamic. Only then could you say you've got a soul mate in the making.