I’ve been thinking about the idea of a soulmate, because I’ve seen friends who are in relationships, and friends who are not in relationships but searching for romantic partners. The idea of a soulmate is central to our idea of relationships now, isn’t it? That’s what we are all searching for, a soul mate, a partner who shares something with us that is of the soul, that goes to the core of who we are. I’ve seen friends who are convinced they are with their soulmates, and friends who are trying to find theirs . . .
And it seems to me that we’re thinking about the concept in the wrong way.
The goal shouldn’t be to find a soulmate. It should be to actually be a soulmate. And I think a soulmate is not necessarily a romantic partner. It’s anyone with whom you have a deep connection, and it can be a parent, a friend, a child . . . We need soulmates, and we need lots of them, but the best way to have soulmates is to be a soulmate, meaning to be the sort of person who is a soulmate to other people. Which is something you can practice.
So what does it mean to be a soulmate? Think about what we want from our romantic partners: we want to be understood, and then we want to be loved for who we are. A soulmate makes us less lonely, and there is a sense in which we are all alone: we all perceive the world from within our individual bodies, with our individual consciousness. As soon as you close your eyes, you are alone in the dark. A soulmate offers connection, and support, and understanding. A soulmate offers love. But it’s love that comes from and reflects that deep connection: the soulmate loves you for and because of who you are. This is why I say a soulmate can be a parent, friend, a child. A soulmate can even be an animal. (Those who have deeply loved and been understood by a cat or dog will know what I mean.)
One way to make your life rich and wonderful is to have soul mates, and lots of them. But by lots, I don’t mean hundreds, because I think that’s impossible. You can’t connect that deeply with so many people. If you have two, or five, or ten, you’re doing well. What you want to do, of course, is be a good soulmate to them, to give them the love and understanding, the support, that you want yourself. (I should say, here, that being a soulmate is a reciprocal relationship. If you’re not getting that love and understanding back, it’s not a soulmate relationship, but something else. Obviously, what you get back will depend on the person in the relationship, and will change over time: a relationship with a child is not like one with a friend or parent. But the bond will be reciprocal.)
To have soulmates, you need to be a soulmate, and that takes practice. None of us is a soulmate naturally: we need to learn how. The best way to learn, the way you can always practice, is to be a soulmate to the one person you should always treat with love and understanding: yourself. You need to be your own soulmate.
There are several reasons you should be your own soulmate. First, because you’re handy: you will always be there to practice on. Second, because you need love and understanding and support, right? And there will be times when other people can’t give you those things, so you should be able to give them to yourself. And finally, because in our culture, we put such emphasis on finding a soulmate, by which we mean a romantic partner, and then we expect that partner to be our only soulmate, to be the person who gives us all the support and connection we need. Which is way too much of a burden to put on a romantic relationship, or on one person in general. We expect a partner to complete us, without realizing that we need to complete ourselves, so we can bring a complete person to the relationship. And, indeed, to all our relationships.
So, how do you go about being your own soulmate? Well, you can start by making a list of all the things you want from a soulmate. And then, systematically, figuring out how to supply those things for yourself. I was thinking about the things we typically want from relationships: things like love, and a home, and security. Adventure. The impetus to grow and become more of what we should be, more of ourselves. Those are the things we need to provide for ourselves. It’s only when we can provide them for ourselves that we can truly share them with other people: it’s only when you know how to go off on adventures that you can invite others on them. You can’t wait for other people to be the source of your adventures, or your security, or personal growth. If you can’t create a home for yourself, it’s very difficult to have one with another person.
Because here’s the thing: if you don’t love yourself enough, no one else is going to be able to love you enough to make up for that absence. No one else can fill up that particular abyss.
It’s dangerous to approach relationships, particularly romantic relationships, with that sense of need, to expect a romantic partner to supply what you can’t supply yourself. The danger is, in part, that you will get into or stay in a relationship that is unhealthy, simply because a relationship of any sort is better than no relationship at all. But an unhappy relationship, potentially even an abusive relationships, is worse.
On the other hand, a relationship in which two people can be their own soulmates, and also soulmates for each other: that’s the ideal, isn’t it? That’s when you can be a parent without expecting your child to fulfill your dreams, because you’ve fulfilled them yourself. Be a friend without expecting your friends to resemble you or agree with all your opinions, because why should they? Loving them as they are. And that’s when you can be in a romantic relationship without expecting your partner to supply what you lack, because you can do that yourself. So you can truly be partners, together because you want to be. The bonus of being in a romantic relationship is that you can practice being a soulmate to yourself and your partner at the same time. But you should never neglect being a soulmate to yourself.
This is a photograph of my paperwhites in full bloom. Outside, the ground is still covered with snow, but inside, I have created my own spring . . .
(One word of caution. By saying that you should practice being a soulmate, I am not at all implying that you should be or stay in relationships that are one-sided, in which you are supplying all the soulmate-ness. One reason to be your own soulmate is so you won’t get into those sorts of relationships. Soulmate relationships are always reciprocal. If you are good at being a soulmate, you will find that people want to be your soulmate, will actively seek you out for that purpose. And some of them will be soulmate material, but others won’t — they will be coming to you out of their own need for affirmation, their own sense of lack. But you won’t be able to help them: you can’t supply for other people what they can’t supply for themselves. They will also need to learn how to be their own soulmates. That’s the work we all need to do, for and by ourselves . . .)