The conventional and idealized view of a soulmate is that there is one person out there who will fulfill all of the things that you wish and hope for, that they will complete you like the missing piece of a puzzle. We get this romanticized view from Plato’s Symposium where it was said that individuals—with four arms and legs and two heads!— were divided so that they could spend their lies finding their missing half, the one who would complete them and make them feel divine again (incidentally, Zeus split people up in the first place because he was worried about them having too much power!). A return to the Garden, this model holds that once you find the soulmate your work is done and that bliss and perfection will be yours!
The Kabbalistic view of soulmate is a bit more nuanced, and I think, a lot healthier psychologically speaking. It posits that the romantic soulmate is the person who is meant to be your partner as you both work together on creatively transforming yourselves and the world. The soulmate is meant not to be a savior but rather a catalyst, the one who will help you elevate yourself, even through the difficulties together. Furthrmore, the Kabbalists posit that it is not necessary or even worthwhile to spend every waking moment with your soulmate, but then when you are together, there is a special and magical bond that is transcendent.
This view of a soulmate is a wonderful antidote to the Hollywood script because it doesn’t promote perfection, illusion, or codependency. Rather it views the soulmate as an important part of one’s life purpose, but it does so in a real, three-dimensional framework. The soulmate in this model isn’t an angel, but rather another flesh-and-blood human being with whom you are meant to do and become more than you were on your own. In other words, with your soulmate you can both have and transcend your ego.
The philosopher and writer Allain de Botton does an amazing job of deconstructing our notion of soulmate in his novel “The Course of Love” and in his NY Times article “Why you will marry the wrong person.” Both humorous and arresting, de Botton contends that the soulmate as we know it is so elusive because of a variety of factors: we don’t know who we are getting involved with until we are knee-deep in it, we don’t fully acknowledge the complexities and idiosyncracies in ourselves and our lovers, and we tend towards the familiar rather than what is truly good for us. Put simply, there are myriad complex factors that make the meeting of two souls rather messy and complicated! On the bright side, it turns out that as human beings, we truly are nonlinear, emotionally complex, ambiguous, and dynamically affected by our changing inner and outer environment. Why should it be any different with our intimate partner?
De Botton also notes that as a society, we have moved from marrying for economic and family reasons to marrying for love and the feeling therein. While this has been liberating in many ways, it also belies the fact that emotions don’t stay permanently, that our psyches are dynamically moving in and out of different spaces. This obsession with true love also brings out a romantic perfectionism that can make just about anybody feel like they are a failure in love!
It turns out, true love (and a true soulmate) is not about finding ‘the one’ and ‘being the one’, it is rather, about finding new and flexible ways of creating and expanding together, of learning how to weather the challenges and storms of a real imperfect life, and in that crucible making something beautiful together.
Put simply, it is more about how one negotiates and develops the relationship rather than finding it, as our conventional notion of soulmate implies. As Erich Fromm in “The Art of Loving” instructs, it is not falling in love that we should truly be after, but rather ‘standing in love.’
Michael Alcee, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist with 10 years of college counseling experience who specializes in helping individuals tap into their creativity in their academic and personal lives so that they can flourish in their college years and beyond. Founder of one of the first college groups dedicated to introverts, he is a Ted-X speaker, regular ThriveGlobal contributor, and author of peer-reviewed articles that specialize in college counseling and educating the public about the transformative power of psychotherapy. He is a dynamic speaker and clinician who uses his background in music, literature, and the arts to help individuals and groups make creative connections for personal growth and development. He currently works in private practice in Tarrytown, NY and as the Mental Health Coordinator at the Manhattan School of Music.