I'm not marrying my soulmate (and I don't think you are, either)

December 16 2015 | Guest post by Adrienne Wong
Pizza is my soulmate art from Etsy seller HennelPaperCo
Pizza is my soulmate art from Etsy seller HennelPaperCo

Next year I will marry the man I love more than anyone in the world. My fiancé, Hyatt, and I met almost nine years ago, on the first day of college. We were eighteen years old. Marriage was the last thing on our minds.

This was long before Tinder, Hinge, or OKCupid (this was actually, incredibly, before iPhones). When I watch the way my single friends date today, I wonder: What if Hyatt and I met each other now? Would I think he was The One?

First, I would notice the surface-level differences: Hyatt loves music, and I have a tin ear. Hyatt loves going to parties and meeting new people. I would rather read a book 99% of the time. Hyatt was an athlete recruited to the college where we met; throughout the four years I attended said college, I never saw the inside of a gym. In Hollywood terms, Hyatt is probably more of a Freddie Prinze Jr. to my pre-makeover Rachel Leigh Cook.

Then there are the deeper differences, the "red flags" that my single friends so often look for: We differ in how often we like to travel, how we calculate risk, how we like to spend our downtime, how much we like to share with friends, and when we like to go to sleep.

And yet — we're still here. Not only are we getting married, we also live in an 800-square foot apartment, and we run a business together, which means we spend the majority of our time with each other, isolated from everyone else.

I have no idea if Hyatt is my soulmate. It's irrelevant to me. It's kind of like the advice to "do what you love," another aphorism that actually misses the point. At the root of both of these concepts is that if you find the perfect thing — the perfect person, the perfect job — then you're set for life. There is no adjustment involved, it just "clicks."

The concept of soulmates is dangerous. A soulmate is a static abstract theory, but humans are ever-changing. How can your partner ever measure up to an abstract ideal?

It turns out that as soon as they get engaged (or right before), many women begin to worry that the person they're marrying is not the right person for them. Keltie Colleen wrote in the Huffington Post

After our engagement, something switched in my brain and I turned hypercritical and judgmental. I began to critique every single thing my fiancé did, from the time he woke up in the morning until the time he fell asleep at night.

Another soon-to-be-bride wrote on the forum Wedding Bee:

I know I love this man and I know we'll have a beautiful life together, but the anxiety and wonder and nit-picking on his habits and self as we near engagement has made me stop and wonder — am I the only one to experience anxiety like this or am I fooling myself and there's a bigger problem at hand?

For the most part, the problem is not their fiances, but the expectations that we have for marriage today. Americans are asking more from their marriages than ever before. We no longer need to get married in order to have a partner who can sow the corn, tend the horses or even prepare the dinner — we've graduated to the highest level on Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

But for those who are agonizing over whether someone is their "soulmate," they would do better to wonder, "Am I willing to put up with this person's unique set of problems?" Because research shows that 69% of marital conflicts are perpetual: They will never go away. This means that the majority of problems you have with your partner right now — whether it's about the sock on the floor, or the way he brushes his teeth — you will still be arguing about in the next 50 years.

But that's okay! Psychologist John Gottman finds that happily married couples don't resolve their problems, they just figure out how to prevent them from overtaking everything. He writes, "Marriages are successful to the degree that the problems you choose are the ones you can cope with."

I know this is not the message that most people want to hear. One of the biggest tropes you hear about marriage is that it's "work." To be honest, my relationship so far with Hyatt has been work. But isn't everything that's worthwhile, in the end? The satisfaction and joy that comes from "doing what you love" is not because you were already inherently great at it but because you learned the craft over time.

Love is a practice. It's an art. "Love is an activity, not a passive affect," philosopher Erich Fromm attests. "It is a 'standing in', not a 'falling for.'"

So no, I will not be wondering if Hyatt is my soulmate as I walk down the aisle. Instead, I will place my confidence in the fact that we both love each other very, very deeply, and that we are both committed to a lifetime of figuring out this perfectly imperfect fit.

  1. Lovely sentiment, I totally agree! The concept of soulmates has always bothered me because both of my grandma's remarried wonderful men after their first husband died. Does that mean that they were just settling for second best when they remarried? I've always liked Dan Savage's concept of there isn't "the one", there is just the person you round up to the one.

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  2. I agree with a lot of this. I'm not sure I believe in the concept of "true love" and "soul mates" and all that. There are millions of people on this earth and I think that there are probably hundreds or even thousands of good matches out there for everyone. My husband and I are "eerily similar" according to our friends. We are a good match. We are compatible, we get along well, we work well as a team, and all those other good things that make a successful marriage. Was it "written in the stars?" were we "meant to be?" I have no idea. The point is that we are what we are now. We love each other, we're married, we're building a life and it's awesome … even if the concept of rinsing a dish before you put it in the sink is beyond him …

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  3. I get this, and many years ago I would have been absolutely right behind you. I had absolutely no illusions about my first husband, I knew I was not marrying my soulmate, and I was fully aware of the flaws in our relationship before we got married. I made it work for over a decade, and I justified my choice of husband to many people on many occasions. I used every excuse there was to justify his behaviour. The only problem was – over the years I stopped making it work, because I was just too overwhelmed being the main breadwinner and looking after the children, and I naturally expected him to pull his weight and make it work when I could not, but … he did not. Even then I still told myself I had to reduce my expectations, I had married this man and he was the father of my children, and I just had to find a different kind of happiness to the one I thought I would have. Finding out he had a long-standing affair was a relief and a get-out-clause from an impossible marriage. I do not regret my first marriage, and I see that I was just not confident enough at the time to choose a different path. I never believed in soulmates. I thought relationships had to be 'worked at' to maintain them, and that in any relationship I would have to make significant compromises. I was so fervent in my beliefs that I would rather stay single than attempt another relationship again. I never again wanted to compromise my fierce independence. And then I met the One. Slowly, love grew and it just works, all of its own accord, I do not know how. It is not hard work, we just fit, and it has not wavered no matter what life has thrown in our path. I feel blessed every day to have him in my life. He is the one who completes me and where my soul is at peace. I had never ever believed a love like this possible. I know the difference between having to make a marriage work, and a relationship that just works in a way that I cannot explain. I still don't quite believe in soulmates, but to the best of my knowledge I am marrying mine next October.

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    • This resonates with me. I was in a relationship for seven years and in that one I constantly found myself justifying my choices. My choice of clothing, friends, work, hobbies, etc. Everything was scrutinized and criticized under the guise of "loving me" and wanting to help me "reach your potential." I was young and I fell for it for a long time. But, I'm happy that relationship happened because it made me realize what I didn't want in a marriage. A motto for my husband and my relationship is "Let me be that I am, and seek not to altar me." It was wonderful to realize that I could do, say, or be anything in front of my husband and he would love me and support me. Sure, there's stuff about each other that annoys us but we accept those things as part of the other person and don't try to change each other. It's great.

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  4. Thank you for writing this! I have always been mystified by the idea of having one soulmate. Statistically, the "one" concept makes no logical sense to me, and philosophically and emotionally, the idea of one person being perfect for you also makes no sense to me because I am polyamorous in terms of my relationship orientation. The issue of unrealistic expectations entwined with the soulmate theory is profound. Whether one is poly or monogamous, having impractical expectations of your partner(s) is a recipe for disappointment, frustration, and serious communication problems.

    That being said, I have been known to refer to some of my deeply emotional relationships as being soulmates- with an emphasis on the idea that there can be more than one. I think I started saying it in the sense that Anne of Green Gables spoke of 'kindred spirits.' For example, I might say "I consider Jack to be *a* soulmate, he is one of the best people I know, and we have a very important and serious connection, but it doesn't compel us to any particular course of action."

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    • Whenever my friends told me my soulmate was out there, I'd glumly respond "he probably lives on a different continent then".

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    • I just want to also say that I do not believe in there being just the 'one', for all I know there might be several who are naturally more compatible with me, and I just chanced upon one. Life changes you, so logically speaking different people will be more compatible with each other at different stages in their life. Searching for a soulmate is unrealistic, and far too non-specific. I simply searched for someone who would accept me as I am, because this time round I knew myself much more and I had accepted myself the way I am. There's a big difference between 'being prepared to be changed by a relationship to make it even better', and 'HAVING to change yourself to make a relationship work'. What I notice most about my relationship now (as compared to my many years of marriage) – I no longer feel the need to justify myself. Not to him, not to anyone. Because I make sense to him, he makes sense to me, and we as a couple make sense to other people, without having to explain anything. And even after three years, I am still amazed by that.

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  5. LOVE THIS article. We all need to stamp out unrealistic expectations from marriage and love and learn to accept a person as they are. Americans are spoiled brats with too many issues they choose to cling to. Stop looking for a soul mate, work on yourself and if you fall in love, nurture it patiently.

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  6. YES. THIS. ALL THE THIS.

    I feel like this is a particularly engrained idea in Christian circles I'm from, because so many people have been trained to think of "their future spouse" in dating & decision-making or, worse yet, God has someone pre-ordained someone to be your spouse. Heaven forbid you fall out of God's will & mess up the time-space continuum by having the wrong person's kids or GASP. STAY SINGLE FOREVER. The irony in that being most Christian denominations believe in independent human will & responsibility. You just can't win.

    I've very grateful my family was way more logical than some of my church family when I got married last year. "The One" is the one you choose, plain & simple. [In non-monogamous relationships I'd imagine that would be as many ones as you want.]

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  7. I didn't agree with a lot of this, which is fine! We don't all agree with everything and difference is accepted on Offbeat Bride. But the title is kind of clickbaity in a way I don't usually associate with this site. I don't mind if you don't think there is such a thing as soulmates but I believe I am about to marry mine so please don't tell me they don't exist. I have been with my partner for six years and endured a lot of ups and downs so I don't think I am that naive. I genuinely believe we are perfect for each other. To me our relationship is not something that might evaporate if I don't do enough 'work' on it. Once we met it was a fact of life and it is fun and a pleasure to have him in my life but also necessary. If he does something around the house that annoys me I don't think of it as a red flag, I think 'how can I deal with this without hurting both of us?'. He is my soulmate and yeah, sure it is convenient that I met him when we were studying the same thing and he doesn't live on a different continent but is it also not likely that your soulmate would speak the same language, have common interests and shared experiences that allow you to connect?

    I think it is fine to analyse your own relationship any way that you want. If you do have doubts or you do feel like you have to put in effort then it is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of your relationship but maybe just how you think and process your feelings. So I respectfully disagree, I do think I am marrying my soulmate and I will quite happily say it and shout it at my wedding!

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  8. A little off the main topic, but referring to the second paragraph. I've heard a lot of concerns about "if I met my partner now online we wouldn't have gone out" and I have to disagree. So many of my peers, including myself, is now with someone we met online, and none of us are completely compatible. I went out with my "perfect match", and the date went well, but it would have been like dating myself! The same weekend I met my now husband, and yeah, we disagreed on politics, but we just clicked. Besides, most people who meet online mostly go off pictures and how interesting the person is via the messages. Great article though, congrats on your upcoming nuptials!

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