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.