If you’re one of the many men or women out there waiting for your Prince Charming or Fair Maiden, I’ve got bad news for you. They don’t exist.
At least, not in the sense of “one perfect person destined to be your lifelong, trouble-free partner.” “Happily ever after” is much easier to say than it is to accomplish.
If you’re reading this blog, I believe you’re a reasonable, grounded person. You probably acknowledge that no relationship, whether marriage, dating, friendship, or family, is without its struggles, arguments, and disagreements. I won’t belabor that. You already know that relationships require investment and are always susceptible to damage or ruin. Trust is an egg; easy to break, really hard to put back together.
But I do think that even very intelligent, emotionally mature people can get distracted by the idea that “the one” is out there, just waiting to be unearthed like a rare gem. In fact, we tend to think that these “silver bullets” exist in a lot of areas of our lives. Maybe this diet is the one that will finally get me healthy. Maybe this job is the one that will be fulfilling as well as profitable. Maybe this person will be the one that I can love and cherish with ease for the remainder of my days.
This notion, this pervasive belief that courses through our cultural veins, is not surprising. Consider the following reasons why this infectious lie of chance solutions to our biggest personal issues persists:
- It’s external. It allows us to blame our environment for our failures, rather than our own action or inaction. “The job market is bad,” “the diet plan was debunked,” and “they just weren’t the one for me,” are all statements that reflect this environmental blame for a lack of personal success.
- It’s romantic. Not in the sense of “kissy kissy” romantic. Affection, intrigue, longing, those are all fine and well. When I criticize the notion for being “romantic,” I mean definition number two: “suggestive of an idealized view of reality.” This applies to all of our examples. An ideal world is of course desireable. It would be wonderful if the best jobs, perfect health, and wonderful partners would fall from the sky into our laps. But that’s just not how it is.
- It’s popularized. Both fiction and non-fiction media flog us with dreamy stories of perfect couples that magically fall in love. The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t translate into the real world. The ridiculous turnover rate of celebrity marriages is why the end credits roll on romcoms after the “perfect” couple realizes they’re soul mates and get together. Then, because we’re relationally sadistic in our culture, we derive pleasure from gossiping about the breakup too. Drama at the beginning and at the end of a relationship sells two sets of magazines, but it won’t make you happy in your life.
There’s little I can do to dissuade you from being influenced by #3 (popularity) other than to tell you to stop reading and watching that crap. It’s part of our culture and I’m not here to start a revolution, just to help you live a better life. The only way I can address #2 is to tell you that if you want to daydream, go ahead, but if you want to actually make things happen, whether getting a better job, getting fit, or getting into a healthy, long-term relationship, you’ll be best served by shattering your idealized perception of the world and adopting a more realistic view. If it’s any consolation, even if the reality is more difficult, it’s much more fun and fulfilling.
But really, it all comes down to #1 (externality), and that much I can definitely attempt to persuade you to intellectually abandon. Not long ago, I posted the following statistic from Richard Koch’s book The 80-20 Principle, which might just change the way you think about the idea of externally destined “soul mates”:
20 percent of those who marry comprise 80 percent of the divorce statistics (those who consistently remarry and redivorce distort the statistics and give a lopsidedly pessimistic impression of the extent of marital fidelity).
Moreover, CDC vital statistics data paints a picture even easier to understand:
- 41 percent of first marriages end in divorce.
- 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce.
- 73 percent of third marriages end in divorce.
It seems clear from long-running statistics that the answer is not, as Journey said, “paying anything to roll the dice… just one more time.” When it comes to the notion that the person you picked was the problem, they just “weren’t your soul mate,” it is time to stop believin’. Soul mates don’t exist. There’s another answer.
Been pretty heavy so far, huh? Let’s talk about the real solution.
What inspired this post was a conversation with my wife. We’ve been married 3 years and have been a couple for 8. We’ve had many discussions on the subject, and we both agree on the following: we could have made it work with someone else.
Sound terrible? Maybe, but I think it’s just realistic. I love my wife desparately, more than I ever have. Each year we spend together I fall for her more and more. Every experience, every laugh, every argument, helps us know each other, and ourselves, better and better. I’ll be committed to her and her alone until death pries us apart.
And yet, the reason for this passionate commitment isn’t magical romantic butterflies or some fate that underpins the universe. It was a choice to make a long-term commitment and continual investment in her and our relationship together. We’ve been making little deposits in our relationship for over a decade. For many years, we made deposits of friendship and familiarity before there was ever a “relationship” (although at least on my end there was always attraction). It was these active investments that allowed us to have a meaningful romantic partnership.
Just as importantly as investments in our relationship were the investments we made in ourselves. The best couple isn’t made of up two complementary puzzle pieces that aren’t whole without the other. The best couple is made up of two independent, self-sustaining people who would be just fine without the other, but can be great with the love and support they receive from their spouse.
Emotional maturity. Spiritual solidity. Financial literacy. Physical fitness. These are all things that you should do for you before you even consider pairing up with someone else for the long haul. You owe it to yourself, much less your future partner, to be a whole person on your own, without them to “complete” you. That’s placing an undue burden on anyone, even a dedicated husband or wife.
If soul mates don’t exist, you are responsible for making yourself an attractive candidate, for going out and meeting people, and for being insightful and wise enough to choose to invest in someone worth investing in. Only when you acknowledge that you own the problem can you begin to create the solution.