Sometimes social psychology research states the obvious. Like, if you set impossibly high standards for a relationship, you’re likelier to feel that you’re failing. This is basically the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by Norbert Schwarz and the improbably named Spike W.S. Lee (“Yo’, Spike, how’s tenure working out?”).
As written up in The New York Times, the study compared two relationship mindsets—people who view partners as ‘meant for each other’ (as soulmates, in other words), and less romantic sorts who view relationship as a journey between mortals, not a divinely-inspired (or intended) event. Guess what? The people who believe in soulmates cope less well when the inevitable adversities arise. The Times article quotes Melissa Dahl, writing in The Science of Us, who states bluntly: “The research suggests that believing in soul mates—or destiny, or the idea that there is exactly one person who you were absolutely put on this earth to find—will backfire.”
Spike, who is presumably not the celebrated
Knicks fan filmmaker, adds a similar thought: “When conflicts arise, [people who share the journey idea] are better at dealing with it; they have higher marital satisfaction; they’re less likely to divorce. All kinds of good things happen to people who believe in the journey idea.”
The spiritual teacher Muktanda is alleged to have said, “No appointments, no disappointments.” Well, if my “appointment” is with relationship perfection, as with the soulmate concept, I’m setting myself up for one mighty big disappointment.
Yet people persist. Do they ever! Our species has a deep-seated need to believe in soulmates. Of course, it’s not really soulmates we need so much as what the notion stands for, which is the end of separation. The return to the Garden of Eden. What lonely souls we are …
I don’t buy the notion of original sin, but I do buy the notion that we’re born alone and die alone. Yes, we can have moments in the Garden—in the mother/baby dyad at the breast, and in rare moments of ecstatic sexual or spiritual connecting. But these are rarities. Peak experiences.
I’m here. You’re there. There’s space between us.
That’s the reality. Get used to it.
And: Make that your baseline for love and you’ll be doing yourself a favor.
Soulmates? Bah humbug!