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Do you believe in soul mates? That there is a perfect somebody for everybody, and that finding that match is the secret to a lifetime of happiness?

I was reading a very insightful article on this idea of soul mates, how it is actually a rather modern phenomenon, and how basing relationships on this model might actually be the cause of much relationship angst today. (I will try to find a link to the article, I forgot to bookmark it.)

In short the article said that around 1970 the soul mate relationship model became the dominant narrative, leaving behind the prior one which viewed marriage in more of a give and take model.

The ideal of a soul mate is seductive — that perfect other half, who gets you absolutely, adores everything about you, and unlocks the key to your highest possible level of fulfillment and personal growth.

The trouble with the soul mate philosophy is that it has an unspoken “your soul mate will just get it” component. In theory, there won’t be problems in a soul mate relationship and in fact, if there are problems that is in itself a sign this person is not your soul mate.

In the give and take model, there was less emphasis on what the individual was getting from the relationship, and more about the whole of the unit. Good times and bad times were expected, one’s partner was not on a pedestal, the good of the order was what was on the pedestal.

My paternal grandparents had this type of marriage. My grandfather was a very intelligent, but very difficult man. He had a bad temper. He drank a lot. He spent money foolishly. He stayed out late and sometimes didn’t come home. While I am sure my grandmother struggled with many unhappy moments, she didn’t speak of them, and she was a good and faithful wife to him until he passed away at the age of 79.

I don’t know how she did it. I don’t know if I could have done it. She must have had the patience of a saint. I do know that she found happiness in other areas of her life, in gardening and keeping a home, the animals she raised on the farm, in her relationships with her four children, and eventually their spouses and grandchildren.

Their marriage was in many ways the argument for feminism, that women should be able to escape such a union. Should “have more.” I doubt that a woman in her situation today would stay married in a culture that makes even slight dissatisfaction a reason to divorce — much less being married to someone who, to put it mildly, was a rather notorious character. My grandma surely would have gotten the “you go girl” advice today. And indeed she sacrificed much in order to make the marriage work.

Were they soul mates? Probably not. In fact from the somewhat puzzling story my grandmother told me of their courtship, it almost sounded like an arranged marriage. As she told it, she went from living with her parents to living with his, and that was it, they were married. And in Nebraska in the depths of the depression, it is very possible that it was a practical pairing based on necessity, not love.

The trouble with the soul mate model is — troubles will eventually surface. One partner will let another down. There will be discord. There will be impasses. If the relationship is based on the idea that the union will only bring happiness and fulfillment to the self, it is only a matter of time until hard times or disagreements of some sort of another will hit. When they do, they are read as a “sign” the relationship is not what it was thought to be, and as a reason it should end.

It’s a problem I see in many marriages around me today — when hard times hit they aren’t viewed as something to work through, more often they are seen as a justification to jump ship. It’s a much less stable model, one based on perpetual good fortune and fair weather.

Maybe my grandma’s generation understood something we have lost. That hard times were a sign to work harder and that not giving up come what may was what made marriages last a lifetime. It may lack the romantic mysticism of the soul mate theory, but it sure seems like a much more solid foundation to build forever upon.

What do you think? Do you believe in soul mates?

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