Society has told us that one day we will grow up to meet the person who completes us, the person who is our counterpart, our other half. Is it just me, or is that conception a little, I don’t know, disturbing? Is it bothersome to think that you are not whole, and without this other half you will be harboring this ever-present inner void?
If we don’t meet this kind of soulmate, are we incomplete?
I tend to think that true love and its essence are not about finding that other half, but about finding another whole. After all, we all are whole: It just takes growth and experience to become the person we want to be, to feel secure in our own skin. When two wholes meet and fall in love, that’s when a relationship can find strength and move forward.
Who knows — maybe there’s a reason why those Nicholas Sparks romance dramas unfold the way they do. His stories usually center on young love. Then there’s an inevitable breakup and heartache, but right when you think it’s not meant to be, the two estranged lovers do find a way back to each other — it just so happens that it’s years later when they’re older, and have possibly come into their own, perhaps no longer pining for a half that was “missing.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the New York Times bestseller Eat Pray Love, has an interesting take on the role of soulmates:
“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.”
Another trap we may all succumb to is the notion that once the passionate phase of a relationship starts to disintegrate, the chemistry may be lost as well.
“After a few months or a year or two, at most, the ties of romantic love normally die down into embers,” say psychologists Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener. According to their positive psychology book, Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, Hollywood fuels the image of “true love,” which is highlighted by individuals moving from relationship to relationship in search of sustainable passion.
Many couples break up during this transition; however, they’re missing out on the phase that’s to follow. A period of passionate love gives way to companionate love, where there is a readiness to accept and acknowledge a partner’s flaws and sacrifices are made for each another.
“It’s true that passion comes and goes during companionate love, and that a spouse can sometimes feel like a friend instead of a lover,” say Diener and Biswas-Diener. “This is a sign that the relationship is growing rather than dying.”
Since the type of love in a relationship is an integral source of overall fulfillment, it’s also important to tread carefully when encountering deficiency-love. The Happiness book suggests that this form of love does pose potential consequences for long-term happiness in a relationship; the theory is based on the belief that we are attracted to those who satisfy our needs.
“If you’re low in self-esteem you will find attractive a person who gives you many compliments,” Diener and Biswas-Diener explain. “If you get bored easily, you will be drawn to an entertaining, exciting person.”
They propose that deficiency-love is substantial for as long as our needs are stable, but as we evolve and grow, our needs change. Unless our partner’s needs change at the same pace as our own, the relationship can be in jeopardy when the other person no longer can supply something we need or desire.
I tend to believe that love can certainly bring out the best in us, and true romantic love does ignite great happiness. But when it comes to relationships, it may be worth questioning the idiosyncracies and nuances that come with the territory.
Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the Secret to Psychological Wealth. Wiley-Blackwell.