Are Soulmates Real or the Nature of Romantic Love
What is a Soul Mate?
According to Dicitionary.com a soul mate is one of two persons compatible with each other in disposition, point of view, or sensitivity or, more simply, a person with whom one has a strong affinity. According to Wikipedia a soul mate is a term sometimes used to designate someone with whom one has a feeling of deep and natural affinity, friendship, love, intimacy, sexuality, and/or compatibility. Plato viewed soul mates as two halves of a whole person--each half needing to find the other to be whole. For those holding karmic beliefs a soul mate is someone who has a special mission or influence on one's life. In scientific terms a soul mate is the person, out of all people, with whom you would be happiest. For those who believe in reincarnation is the idea that devoted lovers are reincarnated together. And those who believe in astrology believe that people born at the same time and place have a mystical connection and that their souls originate from the same place. According to David Popenoe, Ph.D., co-director of the National Marriage Project, a soul mate a person who is exactly right for you, with whom you have perfect chemistry. But anyone has hundreds of potential marriage partners. And Father Charles Kraus of St. Charles Borromeo Church says, "The teaching of the Catholic Church has always been of a complete holy marital union. The relationship develops in God's presence, transmitting total trust, committing to each other in life, and continuing the abiding love of God and each other in heaven."
With all these conflicting definitions the question of soul mates can become pretty confusing. However, I would prefer not to have a philosophical debate about whether there is only one person out there for each of us. I would rather focus on the more practical question of the nature of romantic love using "a person with whom one has a strong affinity" as my working definition of soul mate.
What then is the nature of romantic love?
According to the article "Love Drug: More than a feeling" love opperates differently than emotions. Love activates the dopamine-rich regions of the brain signally satiation of deep needs. The article compares love to a cocaine adicition.
Romantic love has also been described as a strong, long-lasting tie that can be established on the basis of qualities that are essential to the tie itself in the book The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love, and Eroticism in Modern Societies. According to the book romantic love is the precursor to the pure relationship--that is a love relationship of equals.
In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology article "Romantic love conceptualized as an attachment process" romantic love is experienced differently by different people because of differences in their attachment histories. However, romantic love is described as an attachment process.
So, then romantic love can be seen as the process by which we attach ourselves one to another for the purpose of creating a lasting relationship of equals.
What leads us to feel romantic love?
If romantic love is what leads us to more lasting relationships is everyone at the whims of Cupid or do we participate in finding romantic love? The article "Experiences of Falling in Love" claims that there are special falling-in-love processes the most obvious of which is a readiness to be in love. In other words, if you are caught up in establishing your career, with only dim future thoughts for the personal areas of your life, and your soul mate walks by you will not fall in love. You were not ready to form an attachment, so you won't experience romantic love.
However, readiness is not the only precursor to romantic love listed in the article. There must also be mystery and isolation. There should be a desire to uncover the mystery that is the other person, which, if it is to lead to attachment, should result in a focus on the other's desirable characteristics and a discovery that the other person likes you.
Not to take all the mystery out of falling in love, but studies cited in the article "Personality Variables and the Ideal Mate" suggests four factors that play an important role in who you fall in love with. The first is a person's concept of the ideal mate (whether conscious or subconscious). Before a person is even ready to form an attachment they begin constructing an image of the kind of person with which they would like to form that relationship. And, according to the article, there is a marked similarity between the personality traits of that image and the person with which the relationship is actually formed.
The second factor is personality needs. Dr. Gary Chapman refers to our emotional needs as "love languages". We are each of us looking for someone to fulfill those emotional needs in our lives. However, because the nature of romantic love is that you both are trying to attach the other person to yourself it can be difficult to determine if that person will truly meet your emotional needs. (This is not to say that I believe a significant other should be meeting all your emotional needs, only that there are some needs that we should be able to look to our spouses for.)
Parental image is the third factor. Not to say that you will choose someone like your father or mother, but that their relationships with you and each other creates a framework upon which you base future choices regarding which persons are desirable.
The final factor mentioned was a tendency to choice someone like yourself. "Opposites attract" is a common saying, but unless you have some similarities upon which to base an attachment the relationship is unlikely to continue.
Romantic Love Leading to Attachment
So, you are ready to fall in love and form a permanent attachment. I would suggest that you move your ideal mate from your subconscious to your conscious. Consider your parent's relationship. How did it affect you and how does that affect your feelings about others? Are these feelings an accurate reflection or reality or a child's misinterpretation?
Consider the personality traits that make up your ideal person. What things can't you live without? What things couldn't you live with?
Consider your emotional needs. What do you expect from this person? Is that a realistic expectation? What are you in turn willing and able to give to the relationship?
Finally, don't go looking for your romantic partner at local baseball field if you despise baseball. Choose a pursuit that you enjoy. Then when Cupid's arrow flies you will have a similar interest upon which to start your relationship. You will also have the added benefit of enjoying yourself while you are waiting for love to strike.