A letter to Salon advice columnist Cary Tennis begins this way:
I'm tired of reading about people who've found their soul mates! I don't believe in soul mates. I've had strong, close, intense relationships of one sort or another many times in my life, but I don't believe there's one person out there meant just for me, and I don't want there to be. I wonder if people who spout the "soul mate" line are delusional or simply dishonest. The idea of snuggling down into some complacent twosome in which someone expects me to be his other half fills me with an intense desire to flee. Why are so many people, often women, obsessed with getting married, living together, finding someone to spend every waking moment with? And what is wrong with me that I hate this idea and recoil from it as if it threatens my very existence?
Personally, I lean more toward "delusional."
I am, of course, the exact opposite of the writer, who describes herself as "young, female, attractive, fit and smart." But I find myself just as perplexed by this concept, though I think my uneasiness is related to my conviction that if such a person existed for me, she would be forever out of reach.
But let her continue:
I have never been in a position to reciprocate with the L-word, much as I appreciate the sentiment from others, because it is so loaded. I know people who fall in love at least once a month. I have no idea what they're talking about. I've felt physical attraction, obsession. I've felt pure fondness and complete admiration. But love is something so ridiculously used up by reality shows and advice columns, that I have never identified it as an authentic feeling in a romantic relationship.
This I can appreciate. I'm at the point where I am queasy about the very sound of the L-word, where I will fumble for an approximate synonym even when the context is utterly mundane: "I really, um, greatly enjoyed that movie." It's almost as though if I use the word, I am trespassing, or at the very least committing some form of copyright infringement; how dare I presume that my muddled, inchoate feelings have something in common with the Real Thing?
Mr Tennis, at least, attempts to clarify the term "soul mate":
I don't know that anyone really knows what a soul mate is. Aristophanes says one thing, Thomas Moore another. One person says a soul mate is a lover from a past life. Another thinks a soul mate is the perfect husband. Others think the soul mate is more like a perfect one-night stand with a cowboy. What I usually mean by "soul mate" is someone with whom there is a feeling of understanding and passion that exceeds rational understanding. It might last, or it might not, but because it so exceeds understanding, it inspires thoughts of the supernatural or the divine. If you have never experienced a powerful yet bafflingly clear connection so seemingly telepathic that it defied your rational understanding, then the idea of a soul mate would, understandably, have little meaning. But many people have experienced such a thing, and find it helpful to have a word for it, and an explanation, however unprovable.
I've come close, I think. But the only activity I've ever undertaken in which "close" counts for anything is the lobbing of grenades. (Somewhere in the accumulated detritus of my life is an Expert Grenade badge issued by the Army, the result of having had a good day on the course for once.) And this, I think, is where I part company with the skeptical young woman. She questions whether such mysterious creatures as "soul mates" exist at all; I'm willing to allow that they might exist, though I question whether one exists for me.
If I start writing to advice columnists, though, that's the time I'm going to start to worry.
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Copyright © 2004 by Charles G. Hill