- The problem with this model is that it offers a view of marital love that is hard to sustain—one focused on the ebb and flow of romantic feelings. Tweet This
- Couples who embrace the soulmate model are often left disappointed by the real-world realities of love and marriage. Tweet This
- Men and women who buy into the soulmate model appear more likely to end up divorced. Tweet This
Taylor Swift’s hit song “Lover” is the perfect anthem for this Valentine’s Day, especially since she is in the midst of a very public romance with her latest boyfriend, Travis Kelce. “There’s a dazzling haze, a mysterious way about you,” she sings to her “magnetic force of a man.” This gets the start of a love affair just right. But the song’s refrain poses a harder question, the one that bedevils all romantics: “Can we always be this close forever and ever?”
For couples planning to get married, Valentine’s Day is one of the most popular moments to pop the question—for turning a romantic relationship into a “forever and ever” thing. But if you aim to put a ring on it, or have already tied the knot, it’s worth reflecting on the model of love and marriage that suffuses not just Valentine’s Day and Taylor Swift’s songs but countless movies, shows and books, from the latest offerings on the Hallmark Channel to Elizabeth Gilbert’s mega-bestseller, “Eat, Pray, Love.” This model is based on the idea of finding a “soulmate”—that special person who gives you an intense emotional and erotic connection, who makes you feel happy and fulfilled.
The problem with this model is that it offers a view of marital love that is hard to sustain—one focused on the ebb and flow of romantic feelings. Seeing marriage this way is attractive on its face, because romance is so charming. But as an ideal, it can make it more difficult for husbands and wives to embrace a richer, more stable and ultimately more satisfying idea of marriage, beyond the me-first spirit of soulmate love.
“A soulmate is someone who has the locks to fit our keys, and the keys to fit our locks,” wrote Richard Bach in “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” a touchstone for this kind of thinking published in 1970. The model was a perfect fit for a decade that elevated personal self-fulfillment as a goal and expected marriage to further it. As psychologist Scott Stanley of the University of Denver writes, a soulmate is “someone for whom you would not have to make major compromises.” Your soulmate should be easy to love, someone who simply makes you feel happy.
This idea has proved especially popular among young adults in the U.S. A 2011 Marist poll found that 73% of Americans believed in a soulmate, the idea that “two people…are destined to be together,” with fully 80% of those under 30 taking this view. For those seeking a soulmate, what matters is emotional skills and the ability to spark romantic or sexual chemistry. These qualities are supposed to put men and women on the path to what they see as the primary goods of marriage: intimacy, self-expression and self-fulfillment.
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