I’ve had a fascination with the idea of “soul mates” for a very long time. The idea of that one, fated, true love who would finally complete me was implanted early on, most likely first through 80’s bubble gum pop, and then solidified through my encounters with the musicals “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables.”
To say that our culture romanticizes the idea of soul mates is an understatement. I suppose there is nothing wrong with searching for The One — to each their own. But the ways in which it has been romanticized in that you-complete-me-I-will-die-without-you kind of way is insidious and destructive, especially because it is one model of relating being put forth as the ideal for everyone. It also encourages us to locate self worth in external sources rather than from within. The level of codependency that results from obtaining self-worth from external source is problematic.
But it sounds so good, right?! The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and co-suicide.Or the image of an old couple who die one right after the other, of a broken heart, or because they’re so linked that one could not exist without the other.
I remember reading Wuthering Heights when I was 17. I only read the first half and declared it my favorite book of all time. How could I not, with passages such as this:
“He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.”
My teenage self (and my fourth house Scorpio Moon and Eighth house Venus in Pisces) didn’t stand a chance — I knew that I wanted that kind of fated connection. I wanted to find my other half. I wanted to lose myself in someone and to have some torrid, long term, angsty, passionate love affair with my soul mate. There is such incredible poetry in that kind of connection, and maybe even sometimes longevity and stability. Unfortunately, the stories I was drawn to also often carried the theme of unrequited love and triangulation. I identified with them in the role of the mistress/other.
Somewhere in my twenties, it all began to shift – very, very slowly. Cultural conditioning, particularly around relationship norms, runs so deep. I started to recognize the face of my soul mate in more than one person, and increasingly in myself. I started to open to the notion that perhaps we have more than one ‘soul mate,’ and that we’ve been traveling with many souls over many lifetimes, working out all kinds of different things.
I realized that nurturing those connections and remaining open to them was a higher priority for me than choosing one person to be with for life before I’ve even met the rest. Learning through relationship is part of my spiritual path, and I began to shun ideas of what I’ve been told they’re supposed to look like. I could really only decide on the qualities of relationship that are important to me rather than the concrete ways those qualities might manifest.
This all blended nicely with my introduction to non-monogamy, which I saw as a way to honor connections that came into my life in whatever way they need to show up. When I feel that zap of erotic recognition with someone, which happens fairly rarely in its more romantic forms, I want to be able to explore what’s there.
I’ve also come to recognize that that zap doesn’t necessarily indicate long-term, passionate intimacy. It jolts me in order to help me recognize someone with whom I have some kind of contract; I have remain open to the fact that I don’t know what that contract is or how long it will take for that contract to be fulfilled or worked out – a week, months, years. Nor do I know if we’ll both be in a place in our lives to commit to the work, therefore leaving it to another time. Remaining open to these mysteries while being authentically in touch with my needs has proven to be a very tricky endeavor.
In his “Pluto” books, Jeff Green talks about different kinds of bonds: Karma Mates, Soul Mates, Same Soul, and Twin Souls. Lo and behold, I recognized a whole lot of karma-matey relationships, which Green characterizes as “two people who have had past-life connections and experiences that are not finished or resolved.” With this category, it’s important to remember that karma is not necessarily a negative thing.
Soul Mates, in this framework, are “two people who have independently acted on their desires to embrace a spiritual or transcendent reality, and the real purpose of the union with one another is to continue their individual spiritual development because of and through the relationship.” Now that sounds lovely. And requires a high level of discernment.
As my understanding of soul mates and relationship evolves, I’m coming to understand just how deeply my conditioning runs. It can be so difficult not to romanticize tumultuous, passionate encounters. It is also difficult and confusing to confront the ways that I believe ownership and possession are part of a healthy bond – more facets of relationships that have been romanticized as natural and healthy.
Something I’ve also realized, however, is that sometimes passion in that carnal, I-want-to-throw-you-up-against-a-wall, can’t-stop-fucking kind of way is actually a way of avoiding intimacy. Sometimes passion comes from developing a container with another person over time, creating space for vulnerability to unfold. Erotic energy is not simply a sexual energy, it is the energy of community-building and friendship as well. It is the container that occurs between therapist and client or teacher and student that allows transformation to happen.
Someone once told me that my genius lies in understanding the complexities of the human heart. It seemed like a nice slogan to refer back to, even as I flounder and blunder my way through figuring out how to relate to others within a paradigm that tells me there are only one or two “true” ways. I come back to a belief in soul mates again and again, even if it looks differently than it did before. Sometimes it’s hard to tell what is rationalization and self-delusion and what are honest goals being sought after with integrity.
As always, the temptation to look at it dualistically in terms of right and wrong looms. Holding the tension of all the paradox, contradiction and not knowing can be difficult, although usually pretty inspiring, at least when it’s going well. My hope is that as more people start engaging alternative notions of soul mate and relationships, we will start to develop models based on quality and morality, no matter how relative, that are based in a quest for authentic truth and reverence for the different forms of connection. Even if it takes a very, very long time.