The Soulmate Problem
“From forth the fatal loins of those two foes / A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; / Whose misadventur’d piteous overthrows / Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife” — Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
With the wedding anniversary coming up in a couple weeks, my mind has turned more seriously to the gift I need to give and, of course, what to write in the card. For some reason, as trite as it may be, my mind keeps arriving at the word “soulmate.” It is an old idea, one that goes back to the ancient Greeks, where Zeus, fearing the four-limbed early humans would overtake him, split them into male and female, forever wandering the earth to find their “soulmates.”
That might seem more grotesque than we would typically think. Many of us have instead been conditioned by the romantic idea of the soulmate found in “Romeo and Juliet” — the ONE person for us, the ONE person we “literally” cannot live without, but perhaps more importantly, a person we can actually find. Centuries later, this idea of the soulmate persists. Think Edward and Bella (unfortunately and undoubtedly one of THE most popular soulmates of our time), think every final scene of every rom-com over the past, oh, I don’t know, twenty years, hell, even think about ChristianMingle.com, where you can find “God’s Match For You.”
The soulmate has been a cornerstone of modern romance. It’s not just a word we use in middle school poems we write before we know poems don’t have to rhyme; deep down inside, we, adults, believe, even with just a small flicker of hope, that we will find that ONE person who is meant to complete our lives, to give meaning to our existence, or we hope hope hope until we believe believe believe that the person next to us checking their texts while we read this blog IS that ONE special person who has completed our life and given meaning to our existence.
You’ve noticed I’ve been capitalizing the word ONE. It’s an important number, obviously. There are 7,000,000,000 people in the world. Let’s say that in your lifetime you’ll meet 100,000 people, or a little bit more than 1/10th of 1% of the people in the world. Some of these encounters will be one-second glances in a public restroom, some of these will happen when you are in a bad mood, some of these will occur when you’re in a relationship, some of these will be when you are two months old. So 25,000 encounters? 10,000?
If the soulmate exists, the math says that meeting them is, at best, extremely highly improbable. You have a better chance of drowning in a bathtub (sorry, morbid). I mean, you have a better chance of winning an Academy Award (that’s more positive!). Even two Academy Awards (start working on that costume design!). And that’s just meeting them. How many times do you say hi to people you come across? 1 out of every 20? 50? 100? Now you are in the world of “microchances.” Now you have a better chance of becoming president (need a speech writer? I’m available!) or an officially canonized saint (start practicing those Our Fathers!). What if your soulmate is one of those people you didn’t meet because they lived on the other side of the world? What if your soulmate lived in another time or hasn’t been born yet? Estimates say over 100,000,000,000 people have ever lived on the earth. Man, how much would it suck if your soulmate was a cavewoman? Or Napoleon Bonaparte? Or won’t be born until Year 10,123?
Okay, you’re right, math and logic have no place in a discussion of soulmates. Let’s take a look at romance. The general idea of the soul mate is that some “thing” — Zeus, God, world spirit, kismet, etc. — has placed that special somebody somewhere in the world, accessible RIGHT NOW. Let’s ignore that the Earth’s surface area is 510 million square kilometers. What are you going to do to find this person? Take a trip to Timbuktu? Go to that one Starbucks on that one corner at the exact moment when your soulmate spills their venti Caramel Macchiato on your shirt and you end up saying some cute things to each other and end up living happily ever after? Probably not. For most of us, aside from some cliche sayings of “putting yourself out there” and “making yourself available,” we assume we will just happen to come across our soulmate at one point or another. This means that our soulmate is out of our control. If we are “meant” to meet them, you will, even if you are Emily Dickinson, holed up in your house writing poems with so many dashes that people will automatically think they must be brilliant, come across your soulmate’s path. Doesn’t this seem completely un-Romantic to you? That we have no choice? That all we have to do is just kind of hang out and we will find the ONE? And guess what? If it doesn’t work — well, it’s not our fault that we were disloyal, narcissistic, abusive, stupid, selfish — nope, it simply means “they were not the one.”
Seems kind of lazy to me. Seems that we shouldn’t put love in the hands of anyone other than ourselves. Seems much more romantic to know that 100,000,000,000 people have lived on this earth, that 7,000,000,000 are currently living on this earth with 510 million kilometers of surface area, and that despite all of that, you are choosing to be with that one person. You choose it on a daily basis. You know the numbers, you know the odds, and you do not care because you choose to be with this person. You fight, you argue, you make mistakes, but you choose to work through it. You want to be with this person, but not because of some forever, unexplainable, lack-of-agency emotion, but because they are generous, beautiful, funny, respectful, smart, cute, understanding, supportive, etc. I don’t know, that just seems 100,000,000,000 times more romantic to me than Zeus splitting me from my other half.
Maybe I’m being naive. Maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe those of you who have been married for years will tell me I’m an idiot who needs to get knocked a few times off this high horse I’m riding on. All I know is I only have a couple weeks to explain this in a much more romantic way.