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Why NOT to Believe in Soulmates…

May 4, 2017

I hear a lot about soulmates in my line of work, as in, ‘when will my soulmate show up?’ Or ‘She must not be my soulmate because….’ Or ‘But he’s my soulmate so….’

Over the years I have actually come to see the entire idea of soulmates as very problematic, especially for women, so at one point I did a lot of research on how this idea originated. I turned to classic teachings on karma and relationships from all the world’s major spiritual traditions, and could not find a lot of support for the idea. Ancient Greek philosopher Plato seems to have been the first to use the term, but that was in the context of an allegory that could be considered a creation story; it was not a teaching on karma or relationship. Really the idea of soulmates is a modern idea – a Western one that has combined Eastern-based teachings on karma with Western Romanticism and New Ageism.

Of course just because it’s a modern idea doesn’t make it wrong. But a standard I like to use for evaluating ideas we cannot prove or disprove is ‘does it help people?’ And really in this case, the full question might be ‘does a belief in soulmates help people to manifest more love in their lives?’

From what I have observed and experienced personally, often it does not, especially for women. The soulmate idea is heavily marketed to women in current relationship and spiritual literature, and is basically an adult version of the Prince Charming or Knight in Shining Armor myths fed to us in princess stories as young girls. Both those childhood tales and modern soulmate ideas perpetuate the belief that we are not complete until we have found our mate, and that once we do everything will be great – our inner pain will disappear, we will feel complete and loved, and our relationships will always be easy.

Often these beliefs are held on an emotional level, even if on an intellectual one we reject anything so simplistic. The emotional imprint drives our lives, unconsciously forming the foundation for our goals and decisions. The irony is that letting go of these beliefs is often the key to attracting and opening to true love.

Here are the myths that I feel many of us internalize as part of a belief in soulmates, and why these can be problematic:

Myth #1: Everyone should mate for life, and life is incomplete without a mate. Of course we all want companionship and love, this is a natural and beautiful part of being human. But women often devote the majority of their personal power and attention to finding a romantic partner. A lot has been written about this, and of course a belief in soulmates is not the only factor driving this – there is a whole host of cultural conditioning and biological forces at play. But a woman’s entire happiness all too often rests on the state of her romantic life, in a way that I rarely see play out for men. Singlehood is viewed as a problem that needs to be solved, and the drive to do so overshadows other life accomplishments and experiences. I have worked with so many women who are unhappy whenever they are not in a relationship, and are thus not able to recognize the gifts currently in their lives, including love in forms other than romantic – friends, family, etc.

The irony of this is that in order to open to love, we need to feel it. The best way to attract more love into your life is to open to and appreciate the love you already have. Then your attraction field is not emanating lack and frustration, but expansion and fulfillment.

Myth #2: A true love connection is instantaneous and unmistakable. Movies are filled with ‘meet cute’ moments, and we all want to experience those. Some people do lock eyes across a room and ‘know’ this is someone they want to be with. But research on relationships has repeatedly shown that the happiest couplings are very often those that started as friendships and grew gradually into something more. The expectation that instant attraction or inner fireworks will accompany the arrival of a potential partner may cause you to overlook someone who you could truly grow and flourish with over time.

Myth #3: A relationship should never feel like work. Relationships are where most of us deal with our most complex self. Everything comes to the table when we are in relationship. This is true for all kinds of relationships, but especially romantic. It is inevitable then, that you will come up against parts of yourself, and your partner, that are hard to face. Deciding when a relationship is worth working to save and when it’s time to give up is always very difficult, and there aren’t any generalized rules for it. But every relationship will feel like work at some point. Often when we go through these ‘work’ phases, the relationship is deepened, as are we. Of course, this doesn’t mean sticking it out in relationships that are abusive or chronically dysfunctional, which brings me to the next harmful belief…

Myth #4: Soulmates should stick it out no matter what. My heart just drops every time I hear a woman say ‘but we have a soul contract’ to justify putting up with multiple betrayals or abuse. Often this is coupled with the belief that she is supposed to help heal and save her partner. Relationships are work, but both people have to be willing to work, and you can’t do someone else’s work for them. In addition, some wounds just can’t be healed in relationship – love alone (especially tortured love) is not enough.

Myth #5: My partner completes me. It’s a lovely, romantic moment in the movie Jerry Maguire when Jerry tells Dorothy ‘you complete me’. What a wonderful thing to feel. As a description of an emotion, love as completion works. But on a bigger level, it’s a real disservice to yourself to mistake this emotion for ultimate truth. None of us need anyone to complete us, because we are each complete within ourselves. Discovering this is the essence of the spiritual journey. The greatest love stories are between two individuals who each know this deeply, and can therefore love each other spaciously and unconditionally, without needing the other to fill any holes they feel in themselves.

All too often, we are looking to our romantic partner to make us feel whole. We look to them to make us feel worthy, strong, and seen. But the truth is no one else can heal the wounds within that make us feel incomplete, unworthy, weak, or unseen. A relationship may mask our pain or sense of lack for awhile, but if we don’t deal with the root emotional patterns ourselves, they will eventually rise up to destroy the relationship (or are partner’s will, if they also have not dealt with their own wounds.)

This doesn’t mean that we can’t be in a relationship until we have dealt with all our shit. Two people in a loving, supportive relationship can provide the foundation for each to work deeply on themselves. In order for this to happen though, both partners need to let go of the expectations they have formed that the other person will heal and fulfill them. That is too much pressure for any one person to bear.

Your fastest path to feeling complete is to recognize yourself as whole apart from your relationship. How to recognize this is different for everyone – it is the healing and awakening process, however that may manifest for you. When you recognize your own wholeness, you can love more freely and generously, and attract people to you who can love you this way too. Staying true to that is sometimes a daily struggle, and being in relationship is often our path to bringing it forth. However, not being in a relationship may be the path to that too. Either way, our happiness and fulfillment is not based on finding just one person out there in the vast expanse of the world.

May you find love within yourself

May you know yourself as love

May you bring this love to every relationship you have

9 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2017 1:33 am

    Thanks you for this beautifully insightful post! I’ve long been bothered by this concept of the soulmate, having been asked by women in the past if I “think we’re soulmates.” It’s a loaded question. The quick, crass answer is “no,” but the deeper truth is that I simply don’t subscribe to the theory that we all have one person out there somewhere who will “complete” us, and I have no idea where that notion originated. It’s interesting that, as you point out, it’s a recent phenomenon, coming from our own New Age self-help culture. I also love your idea that myths aren’t inherently problematic, and that the litmus test lies not in factual accuracy, but in whether or not it’s helpful.
    I can attest to the fact that women don’t have a monopoly on being hindered by the soulmate concept. As a mental health counselor, I’m amazed at how many men are convinced beyond a doubt that all of their problems would be solved if they could only find the right woman. Cultural conditioning, however, precludes us from publicizing this belief. The myth of self-sufficiency is also at play here. Ironically, both myths are an impediment to our development.
    As a Zen practitioner, I recognize the “soulmate” myth as feeding into the delusion of separateness. It’s founded on the notion that “I’m Over Here” and I need “Someone Else Over There” in order to provide me with something that I lack. As you so clearly state, true relationship begins when we stop believing that someone else can “complete” or “fix” us, and that we don’t have to have our shit together to be in healthy relationship. In fact, we get our shit together in intimate relationship, because that’s where we’re shown those parts of ourselves that we’d probably rather not look at. I could comment all night, as this discussion spins off into so many different directions. I’m looking forward to reading other comments. Thanks again! Jeff

    p.s. if there’s any veracity to this soulmate notion at all, I’d be willing to wager that we find that person when we stop looking and let go of the belief that he or she even exists.

  2. May 5, 2017 4:51 am

    I absolutely agree. Well said.

  3. May 5, 2017 10:50 am

    Reblogged this on aura.soul.art and commented:
    Lisa Erickson​ is one of my favourite mystics. Once again her and my opinion converge on the subject of the elusive ‘soul-mate’. As always a very good read indeed. Enjoy!

  4. Lori permalink
    May 5, 2017 3:17 pm

    I actually often say that my husband and I are soulmates, because it does feel like we are meant to spend this life together. But I also agree with the damage that all of these myths can cause. Our relationship is definitely work at times, as all are, and we both recognize that our wholeness does not come from each other. I think of us as walking on the path through life together, next to each other, but not entwined if that makes sense. But I can see how people I have known have really fallen into these traps.

  5. May 5, 2017 5:38 pm

    Hi jwmcdonough2014, thanks for your thoughtful comment. That’s interesting to hear about the men you have known who have also hung on to the notion of all their problems being solved when they meet the perfect mate. It’s a very romantic and seductive idea, and of course a lot of pop culture definitely propagates it too, in terms of romantic comedies etc. Which are all fun and lovely, I don’t mean to sound like an anti-romantic curmudgeon! But it’s the projections we add to this idea that can really hinder our ability to actively love. I do think women are often more damaged by this idea – I was thinking especially in terms of career, with research showing many women hold themselves back in their 20s while prioritizing finding a partner in a way that men do not, and which has long term impact on their earning potential (something Sheryl Sandberg addressed in her book Lean In.)
    And yes in terms of asking ‘is an idea helpful’, as a Buddhist you probably recognized that as similar to upaya or ‘skillful means’ – does a practice or belief serve our awakening? Often a much more helpful debate than ‘is it true?’

  6. May 5, 2017 5:39 pm

    Thanks KDKH

  7. May 5, 2017 5:39 pm

    Thank you for the reblog Jayn

  8. May 5, 2017 5:41 pm

    Hi Lori, that’s a beautiful symbol, in terms of walking side by side, I think very much the same. And I do absolutely feel the karma at work in many relationships, including my own marriage, and am grateful to have such a wonderful companion. So it is really about not getting caught up in a label, or attaching projections to it that aren’t helpful – that may actually be harmful in some cases. Thanks for commenting.

  9. selftaughtsoul permalink
    May 6, 2017 5:33 pm

    A lot of these ideas, at least from my own perspective, cause more harm than good.

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