Plato wrote that humans once had four arms, four legs, and two faces. According to him, the Greek God Zeus split humans in half as a punishment for our pride, and we were henceforth destined to walk the earth miserable and searching for our other half forever.
We may have outgrown the idea that we were once physically forged to our significant other, but it seems that we are still enamored with the thought that there is one person with whom we simply belong. In fact, even in the age of digital dating, up to 73% of Americans are reported to believe in soulmates. Many still speak reverently about finding “The One,” or wonder whether they can see themselves with someone forever after a particularly good first date. Even Phoebe from Friends tapped into our longing for the person we would always hold claws with when she told Ross and Rachel they were each other’s lobsters.
But if and when you find your “one true love,” what are the chances that things will last? Lower than you might think, according to research. One study of almost 300 couples found that those who believed that there is just one person for them—a so-called “destiny mindset”—also had a higher chance of doubting their relationship. In fact, the study ultimately found that those who believe in soulmates are much more likely to break up with their significant other than those with a more skeptical approach to love.
I’ve often thought of myself as a little cynical, but I fell victim to the soulmate myth for years, dismissing people under the guise of searching for someone I was simply meant to be with. While dissecting the details of breakups with friends, I would always come up with some amorphous reasoning for leaving. Something just didn’t feel right, I would say. But whenever my friends pressed me for details, I’d struggle to articulate exactly what was wrong. I was sure that when the right person came along, things would simply slide neatly into place. That some inherent sense of completeness would intervene before I even had to bother with the interest and investment that forms the basis of a real relationship. That “when you know you know,” even though evidence suggests that sometimes love is cultivated in not quite knowing but being prepared to work at something in order to find out.
The aforementioned study argued that instead of letting destiny take care of things, soulmate skeptics tend to have a so-called “growth mindset.” They understand that relationships are imperfect things that take work and commitment. They believe in compromise and overcoming problems. They understand the unique fallibility that makes us all human and don’t feel the pressure to find that mythical being who just gets us from the outset.
For all my holding out for the spark, I ended up with a person who was my best friend for 11 years before we decided to be together. There was never a moment when I knew, but rather a bunch of small moments along the way that materialized into something significant. And what that slow build made clear to me was that the idea of a soulmate, romantic as it may be, sells the real grit of a relationship short. It ignores the nuance of your relationships, and the challenges and complexities that make them unique.
We live in a society where people are treated as if disposable, where ghosting is the new break-up chat, and the promise of something better is always only a few swipes away. But love, to me, is resisting the appeal of such transience, and sticking around to see what comes after. Relationships are hard. You will doubt them. Sometimes you will want to leave. But a deeper kind of love means sticking around anyway—not because of cosmic forces, but because you want to. It’s giving up on the notion of finding someone that we are “meant” to be with, and finding the person that we choose to be with instead.
Graphics by Kayla Kern.