Soul Mates Aren’t Real. Believing in Them Ruins Love.

“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks that deals with questions of meaning and happiness.

D.o you believe in true love? Probably like this: 94 percent of Americans say they do, according to a 2019 survey by data collection company Statista. I’m one of them, after 30 years of marriage to my true love.

True love isn’t too controversial I guess. But a large proportion of Americans also have more romantic – and less realistic – beliefs about love. According to a 2017 survey by the dating platform Elite Singles, 61 percent of women and 72 percent of men believe in love at first sight. In 2011 a Marist poll asked: “Do you believe in the idea of ​​soul mates, these are two people who are meant to be together?” 74 percent of men and 71 percent of women answered “yes” to this question. .

For many who believe in them, these widespread, almost magical notions of romance could be the essence of true love. Others may say that a more earthbound approach to romance is better – that in the long run, true love is a combination of luck, free will, and hard work. The evidence shows that the latter group is correct. Additionally, it can be more difficult to get into imaginative ideas about romantic love.

many studies have shown that popular culture and the media tend to portray love and romance in an unrealistic way, rely disproportionately on love at first sight and live happily. Research into Disney’s animated films, for example, shows that most of them focus on precisely these topics. These films, in turn, can influence the views of children and young adults about romance. A 2002 study of 285 unmarried students (both women and men) found a strong correlation between the time they spent watching TV shows about love and romance and how much they expressed idealistic expectations about marriage. A 2016 study found that young girls who had recently seen a movie with a love story were more likely to “support idealistic romantic beliefs” than those who had seen a non-romantic movie.

Despite its popularity in stories and films, love at first sight has little to do with reality. Researchers have found that what people describe as “love at first sight” has no connection to the true hallmarks of true love such as passion, intimacy and commitment. Rather, “love at first sight” is either a phrase people use about the past to romanticize their meeting (regardless of the way it actually happened) or one that they use to convey an exceptionally strong physical Describe attraction.

Even if it’s a fantasy, believing in love at first sight is relatively harmless for couples. That’s because it’s a retrospective narrative, not expectations of the current relationship or the future. Other idealistic but unrealistic beliefs can do a lot of damage. Take the idea of ​​romantic fate or “soul mate” – the belief that two people are deliberately brought together by invisible forces. Research on hundreds of college students has shown that such expectations correlate with dysfunctional patterns in relationships, such as the assumption that partners will understand and predict each other’s wants and desires with little effort or communication because they are a cosmically perfect fit. In other words, a belief in fate leads to a belief in mind reading.

That hurts relationships. On the one hand, it hinders forgiveness after an argument (“You should know what is bothering me without my having to tell you!”), Which in turn increases the need and escalates the severity of conflicts. Researchers have also found that people who believe in fate are more likely to end a relationship through “ghosting,” in which one partner abruptly breaks off contact and the ghostly partner breaks up without explanation. Perhaps when searching for their soulmate, people feel less responsible for the other person when that particular relationship just shouldn’t be.

The opposite of “fateful beliefs” is the belief in free will – the belief that partners decide whether they should be together and are therefore responsible for the success of the relationship. To make sure that doesn’t sound unromantic, researchers have found clear evidence that the greater the belief in free will, the greater the feelings of passionate love in a relationship.

Fundamentally, belief in fate in romanticism commit the “mistake of arrival”: the belief that, as soon as a certain circumstance is reached, everything will be permanently good. Believing in soulmates is functionally the same as believing that you will have true and lasting satisfaction when you get a particular job, gain financial independence, or move to a sunny place. Nothing is more human than this belief that keeps us hopeful despite our negative experiences. But it’s a recipe for bad luck. We cannot achieve lasting satisfaction – at least not in this mortal shell – and waiting for it will always leave us disappointed.

Iif you search For the right relationship, there are three ways you can avoid the pitfalls of belief in fate. First, remember that Hollywood doesn’t care about your love interests. When indulging in romantic comedy, think about its source. According to the UK-based Marriage Foundation, “A-List” screen stars have a 52 percent divorce rate within the first 16 years of their first or subsequent marriages, more than 10 points higher than the rate after the same length of time among even the most divorced cohort of Americans who first married in the 1970s; more than 20 points higher than Americans who first married in the 1960s; and 21 points higher than the UK average. Not even the makers of the film can achieve the standard they promote. Enjoy the occasional rom-com for entertainment if you have to, but do it the way you do with science fiction because it’s about as realistic.

Second, work consciously to ensure that your romance grows beyond the incandescent flame that marks the new love. Maintaining passionate love forever is not only an unrealistic goal, but one that would not make you happy even if it were possible. On the contrary, the most joyful and enduring romances are those that can evolve from a passionate to a companionable love – one that still has a lot of passion, but is essentially based on deep friendship. To increase the chances of success, do not ask yourself as your romance progresses, “Is our passion as great as it was?” rather: “Does our friendship deepen?”

Finally, ask all potential partners about their beliefs about fate right from the start. Someone who says they are looking for their “soul mate” or admits that they believe in love at first sight may seem wonderfully romantic at first, but a few weeks or months later they are disproportionately unlikely to be able to forgive you, that you have not read his mind or suddenly cannot be reached by voice, SMS, DM or e-mail. Finding a realist is a better choice.

E.enduring love is not a cosmic switch that is turned on once and for all by mysterious forces. Rather, it is a clock face that we can set up for one another over time through the commitments we make and keep. Romantic love, like any other important pursuit: success comes from our constant endeavor; Satisfaction from a good job.

“Love does not change with its short hours and weeks,” wrote Shakespeare in his 116th sonnet, “but it holds it to the brink of ruin.” True love goes on and on, on sometimes bumpy roads. Challenges and lows are not evidence that partners are not meant to be; rather, they are inevitable and offer growth opportunities. Long-term romance is such a sweet adventure precisely because it isn’t fate.

When was the last time you remembered being really happy? Let us know on an audio clip no longer than three minutes and email it to howtopodcast@theatlantic.com or leave us a voicemail at 925-967-2091. Her story could be featured on Arthur Brooks’ upcoming podcast on building a meaningful life. Please include your name and location in the email and / or audio file. By submitting this clip, you agree that The Atlantic may use it, in whole or in part, and that we may edit it for length and / or clarity.

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