A recent soulmate question, How Do You Tell a Soulmate You Are Not In Love with Them Anymore?, generated a flurry of comments and additional questions that boiled down to one recurring theme: Is the Quest for the Perfect Soulmate Doing More Harm than Good?
That’s an excellent and thoughtful question.
This search for our “perfect” match, the idea that there is only One who is “perfect” for us and that everything will be wonderful when we finally find each other, has created a burden of over-inflated expectations. Instead of making for more happy relationships, this search has made countless people ridiculously unhappy and caused them to be alone needlessly.
Anything less than “perfection” (whatever our personal and very subjective of perfection might be) makes us wonder – Is this all there is? Could there be someone better? What am I missing? What if I lose that “in love” feeling? Then we’re off, chasing this elusive Charming Prince or Princess again, the victim of our own great expectations.
It’s a vicious and very unhappy cycle.
Few, if indeed any, relationships can survive those ever-loftier expectations all the time. Think how many couples you know personally who marry or commit for love, then a few years down the road, after work and kids and Life have taken their toll, they've lost that loving feeling. What had once been a perfectly decent marriage seems stale and boring. They've lost interest in each other and grown apart. Perfection isn’t perfect anymore.
But hey... It’s still a pretty good relationship, so instead of making a clean break they start looking around. Just a little. They aren’t quite ready to give up on the commitment (or maybe just like hanging on to the perks), but want to re-instate their right to keep scanning. Warning: One foot on the boat and the other on the dock will land you in the water every time.
We have a highly romanticized idea of soulmates. It seems to stem from the utterly ridiculous notion that if we are with the right person, we’ll always be in sync, we won’t disagree or fight or get bored or deal with day-to-day annoyances.
ALL relationships are incompatible to one degree or another.
The two of you come from different families, different backgrounds, different experiences, different expectations. You WILL disappoint each other from time to time. That is inevitable, natural, and extremely helpful for your growth individually and as a couple.
The magic comes from learning to see from the other person’s perspective. That means each partner learning what’s good for the other person and good for the relationship. In other words, seeing a bigger picture than just yourself.
Marriage is not supposed to make you happy. Marriage is supposed to make you married, a team committed to working together through whatever comes your way. It is your responsibility to find your own happiness and bring it into the marriage to share as an asset, a resource.
The clue that you are ready to marry or enter a relationship is NOT finding that special person. Finding someone with whom to embark together in life is a RESULT of making yourself ready to shoulder your share. (Hate to bust another myth, but relationship is not 50%/50%. It is 100%/100%. If that doesn’t make sense, invest some time in understanding. It’s an investment in your own happiness and the success of your relationships.)
Here are 8 tips for knowing you are ready and knowing what to do once you’ve made the commitment:
- Give up the idea of perfection. Right now. Forever. You aren’t perfect and neither is your partner. Perfection is a myth and also 100% subjective. On the real world, there is only “good enough” which means perfect for you. It means they complement you and sometimes challenge you. Think of it this way – You wouldn’t want your mate to hold you to ridiculous (in your mind) subjective (in their mind) standards so don’t do it to your partner.
- Forget being completely understood. You are a mystery to your Beloved just as he/she is sometimes a mystery to you. Getting to know them – what makes them tick, what upsets them, what makes them feel fabulous and loved – is part of the dance. Learn to love dancing.
- Realize that you are little nuts. Maybe a lot. No matter how badly we want to believe it’s always the other person who is crazy, it’s mostly just us. We’re all weird in some way, at least to other people. The sooner you accept that about yourself, the sooner you’ll be able to relax about your mate’s so-called peculiarities.
- Be prepared to be loving, not just to be loved. These are two vastly different things, yet one leads to the other. Here’s the secret: Being loving towards your partner in ways that are meaningful to him/her is the shortcut to being loved in ways that are meaningful to you.
- Marriage, or any committed relationship, is like a small business. There are roles and responsibilities, work to be divided equitably, budgets to be devised and followed. That may sound the opposite of romantic, yet these are what form the firm foundation of a smooth romantic relationship. They are bedrock for ongoing and growing romance, friendship, and partnership – those qualities we claim to treasure most. Great romance is not all hearts and flowers. It is planted and grows deep roots in the day-to-day trenches.
- Sex and love are not the same thing, no matter how much movies and novels tell us otherwise. There’s a lot besides sex going on in a great relationship. Good sex is a nice, maybe even excellent, thing to have, but great marriages can thrive with OK sex or even none at all. Health, age, and many other issues can change a couple's sex life, but that need not destroy their relationship or their romance. There are many ways to express love and romance. Explore them, even if sex is a vibrant part of your relationship now.
- You are ready, willing, and happy, to be both student and teacher. Sometimes your partner will be wiser and more experienced. Sometimes you will. The trick is pooling those resources for mutual benefit. Keep in mind that the real purpose of soulmates is to help each other with growth and awakening. The romance is just a delicious side benefit.
- And finally, The Biggie – You are really not all that compatible with anyone. It’s nice to be with someone who shares interests and beliefs. It’s far better to be with someone who respects and tactfully negotiates differences. You will both continue to grow after you become a couple, sometimes in opposite directions. One of my favorite stories is about an atheist man married to a religious woman. One thing they had in common was their love of walking. So he always walked her to church, then went down the street to read his paper in the coffee shop. When church was over, he met her at the door and they walked home together, enjoying the neighborhood sights and sounds and fragrances. They enjoyed a long happy marriage because of their adherence to the principle of nurturing their common ground and respecting their differences. This may be the most romantic story I’ve ever heard.
Here’s the truth. There’s not one single person who is right for each of us. We are never at risk of missing out. Relationships, all relationships, are what we make of them. Some have potential, others do not. None are perfect.
The search for that mythical perfect person is likely the cause for the vast majority of romantic heartache. Maybe it’s time for a romance reality check.
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