Your Soulmate Isn’t Who You Think It Is

Mark Radcliffe thinks you should skip the supermodel and go for the one who loves you even on your worst days.

We all have our own romanticized notions of what it will be like when we find true love. How it’ll go. What it’ll feel like. What he or she will look like, sound like, act like. Even kiss like. And every once in a while, we actually meet that person. There they are! In the bar standing next to us! Or down the hall at work! Or in the line at the bookstore! They’re perfect. Everything we imagined. And so we engage. And chase. And pursue. And assume our very best behavior.And fight for a chance at that perfect union we’ve imagined in our heads for so long.And sometimes it works! We get their phone number. And a date! And a second date! And sometimes it even goes a month or two! But then at some point, it runs afoul.

What once seemed effortless becomes arduous.

The perfect conversations suddenly don’t flow as easily.

The shine has worn off the apple. It’s work, now. And who has time for that?

And here’s where many a relationship come to an unfortunate end.

Because the other person thinks it should only be constant magic. That anything else is merely a false symbol.

But we still chase them! We want it back! We think of what we can do to possibly salvage this sinking ship. Should we change ourselves? Adjust our behavior? Change our whole personality? After all: this is love. Surely it’s worth sacrificing for, no?

No, I’m here to say. It’s not.

Because there’s a big, horrible idea out there in the world of romance:

That if it’s not hard, it’s not real.

True romance must be earned, we believe. Struggled for. Barely survived.

If it comes easy, it’s wrong. Shallow. Too simple.

We must suffer for love. We must cry with certain regularity. Lose our faith time and time again only to barely regain it again.

I humbly submit that such a belief is the romantic equivalent of 100% grade-A bullshit.

Perhaps it comes from our culture’s puritanical beginnings. The notion that anything great is worth suffering for.

And while I agree that love takes work, patience and forgiveness, I don’t think it should involve perpetual, ongoing damage-control.

If the relationship you’re in takes constant, ongoing acrobatic maneuvers to keep it afloat, then it’s not a relationship; it’s a doomsday project.

Relationships, in general, should be easy.

If they’re taking a ton of work, a ton of the time, something’s wrong.

Chances are either that:

A) One (or both) of you is not a stable enough person to even be in a relationship to begin with, and you need to go off on your own to learn how to keep yourself perfectly happy with nothing more than yourself to sustain you. (And yes, I’ve been this person many times.)

B) One of you has unrealistic expectations of what the other is supposed to provide them on a regular basis. (And yes, I’ve been this person, too.) They think you’re supposed to keep them constantly entertained. Or wined and dined. Or sexually pleasured. Or emotionally rescued. Or financially bailed out.

Neither of which is sustainable.

Which is why I say the following:

Don’t chase the person you can barely hold on to when you’re at the top of your game.

Seek out the person you can be happy with even when you’re having a bad day. Or week. Or month.

Because those days will happen, many, many times over the course of a relationship.

And the person who’s only happy with you when you’re a superhero will not stick around when you finally become a mortal again and need them to be there for you, instead.

So skip the supermodel. The pursuit of own your personal Jessica Alba or David Beckham. It might be heaven for a week or two, but they’d probably dump you as soon as you failed to be the emblem of perfection for more than 2-3 seconds in a row.

That perfect pairing with the Mister or Miss Right we’ve all imagined in our hearts isn’t going to survive the endless ordinary days that real life is fraught with.

The person who’s truly right for you is probably cleverly disguised as the one you work with every day. Or the one who you’ve casually known in your circle of friends for five years. Who has seen you at your best and at your worst. And is still there, a big believer in your immense potential. And is probably an amazing kisser if you’d just give them a chance.

That’s the person it’s going to be genuinely easy with over the long haul.

So the next time you’re looking for the one, don’t look up on some stage or pedestal for some shining realization of your fantasies. Turn around and look behind you. At the person you might have overlooked. The person who is quietly everything you need them to be and more.

You just have to give them a deeper look.

—Photo he(art)geek/Flickr

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About Mark Radcliffe

Mark Radcliffe is a writer living in New York City. He has a weakness for bourbon, jazz and girls who can drive stick. You can read more of his essays here: www.theradcliffescrolls.tumblr.com and http://markradcliffe.com.

Comments

  1. This conversation happened an hour ago, after me complaining about being tired and in pain and behind on chores.
    Me: “I feel like I’m always a mess.”
    Him: “But you’re MY mess!”

  2. PursuitAce says:

    I always knew who my soul mate was. They just never figured it out. LOL….
    For some people it’s the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. For others it’s a unicorn. Oh, wait. Those are both make believe. For the happy soul mates who have found each other I say, good luck and good life.

  3. My soul mate refuses to identify himself at all the places I frequent – much like the Bourne Identity, he will first need to remember that he is indeed my soul mate.

  4. The downside of love is that it can not only be elusive,but transitory.

  5. So, this is great advice… for the supermodel who just passed me by!

    I kid, I kid.. This is a good lesson for me. I’ve made a habit of passing over the perfectly suitable for the percieved perfection.. I need to work on that, because I’ve left a number of women in my wake who would have worked out just fine if I had actually given them more of a chance, now that I look back on it..

  6. Love! Love! Love it!! Great post!

  7. DavidByron says:

    This article… I think I may be right… is the first to be completely neutral in terms of men and women or men and men or any sort of combination. How can you write dating advice without mentioning gender? Rather well as it turns out.

  8. “And while I agree that love takes work, patience and forgiveness, I don’t think it should involve perpetual, ongoing damage-control.”

    I agree and disagree. I think that “love” (the really good lasting kind) should be BOTH easy and hard.

    * When you “fall” in love initially, yes, it should be the easiest thing in the world. It shouldn’t be hard-won as you say. It should mutual, irresistible, and feel entirely inevitable.

    * Once the honeymoon wears off (6 months +), you should be ready to work and compromise and recognize that your rose colored glasses cannot last, are not MEANT to last if you want to get into a battle-tested, honest, gritty, deeply entangled, long-lasting, excruciatingly intimate union.

    * Last point, with certain exceptions, I mostly doubt that love is hiding in your co-worker. I DO agree that it’s useless and shallow to chase after the pretty, high-maintenance, packages of the world that have little else to offer. But, I would argue that a person that sparks a genuine excitement on both a physical and emotional/intellectual level –is rare. And it’s rarity is, of course, what makes it so special when you find it. We don’t fall in love with the vast majority of people we meet, and thank goodness for that. Keeping your eyes open for a real gem is a skill. Some people have dumb luck. Most of us spend years fine tuning our search tools…

    • I haven’t read anything as true and profound as this comment in quite a while. Thanks for expressing your thoughts. This is a tricky topic. We all come with some baggage. It’s always a matter of whether my baggage goes well with his. Nothing in life is easy and “easy” should not be the goal. It’s easy to stay our of relationships. It takes skills to share your life with another person.

  9. Great article! After ten happily married years with the woman who is absolutely perfect for me, I agree with Marks advice of “Seek out the person you can be happy with even when you’re having a bad day. Or week. Or month.” I used to have these over romanticized notions of what my Soulmate would be like but I realized that all I ever really wanted was someone who would love me for me, be there for me unconditionally and allow me to dream big dreams. I really didn’t put a lot of emphasis on the external things, but I definitely made sure that we shared the same values and inner qualities. As a result, I have a marriage that really works and it takes very little effort. It works because we are committed to the same things in life and we have a mutual respect for each other as individuals. We are very happy doing the mundane things like sharing housework, paying bills and living life, but most importantly we are happy because we found each other and we never take each other for granted.

  10. Thank you for this! Couldn’t agree more. I’m not very interested in a superhero anyway. :)

  11. Very good article, Mark, thanks!
    I agree, many romantic ideas are eminently delusional. Very seductive, but illusory.

    I would add that physical attraction can be very misleading as well.
    – We can be attracted to who is not attracted to us (ouch!)
    – We can be attracted and think that’s love – but it’s something different (we mistake excitation with love)
    – We can be attracted to someone and not having any compatibility (and fighting constantly)
    – We can be attracted to someone who has nothing to do with us – apart from that.

    I even began to think that, when I feel attraction toward someone, it’s most likely more of a bad sign that a good sign. ;)
    Thus, I agree with Mark that, if you’re looking for long term compatibility and happiness, it’s better looking amongst the people we have around, friends especially.

  12. Thanks for a wonderful post. I’ve had love both ways, the kind you have to work for seemingly every day, and love that is deeper, peaceful even.

    Both times I found the deeper, more passionate and more peaceful love, I found it in someone I had known for a while, a friend who had been there for me, even while we were dating other people. One was a friend from college who I had known and been close with for two years before we stopped dating other people and started seeing each other as ‘the one’. The other was a guy I met and sat next to three days/week for three months in a rehabilitation study on traumatic brain injury. For months we had coffee together, played scrabble, helped each other out, etc. Then, when the time was right, we got closer and kissed. That was 8+ months ago and I’m so excited about our relationship, our future, everything with him :)

    I believe love like that happens when you’re ready to see it, to feel it.

    It does take effort, a willingness to be open and honest. It feels like a deeper effort, a beautiful effort, not a struggle.

    Love!

    • @Jackie Rose: “I found it in someone I had known for a while”

      Beautiful! :)
      All my best relationships had a strong foundation in friendship. And I couldn’t imagine loving someone who wasn’t my best friend at the same time.

      I think it helps thinking outside the usual “relationship binary”: friends Vs. lovers (as one opposite to the other); actually the two can mix – and they often do (like you did).
      I’m thinking about writing on this relationship binary, because it doesn’t reflect the much more varied reality we’re living in.

      • Hey Crescendo63!

        Mmm I completely agree with your thoughts on the friends vs. lovers binary. We limit ourselves by creating fictitious boxes, such as those, that don’t reflect reality. Love has never been so neat and tidy for me, and that’s okay. I try to see each person I meet as a unique blessing in my life, so I allow myself the freedom to find love anywhere and everywhere.

        Here’s to mixing it up :)

  13. Speaking as someone who has been married over 20 years to a woman I regard as my soulmate I wonder if the author has a clue. It’s good advice not to reach and a true soulmate should never be a reach. A reach might not necessarily have to do with physical appearance. It’s just someone who doesn’t feel the same way about you that you do about him or her. That part I agree with.

    However, any relationship that you want to succeed long-term involves work and a lot of it. Over time we mature and evolve and so does the relationship. It’s not all peppermints and fireworks. In addition to good times there are trying times, too, and it is what happens during those times that defines the relationship. It’s folly to think that when a relationship stops becoming easy then it’s not worth having or working for. I wouldn’t say true love necessarily involves a lot of work, but in practical terms with flawed individuals involved it does – and that’s okay.

    I wonder how long the author has been married for.

  14. I appreciate the sentiment, and agree with the premise that it’s best to choose someone who loves and “gets” the real you. But there’s one premise I have to reject: that we’re all striving for supermodels or superstar beefcake, and anyone “less” is somehow a letdown or compromise.

    If we’re talking fantasies, I’d chase Nicholas Kristof before I’d give David Beckham a second look. Great minds thrill me, while great bodies merely decorate the surrounding landscape. And the guy I married is no compromise. He’s my dream guy, better than all the Brad Pitts and Tom Cruises in the world. Because he’s real, not a manufactured image. He’s real, he’s crazy smart, and his jokes make me snort milk out my nose. Life with him is a fantastic adventure, and I can be completely myself with him.

    So please, with respect, skip the supermodel references. Star@#$%ing isn’t everybody’s idea of a dream romance.

    • @Kim: “But there’s one premise I have to reject: that we’re all striving for supermodels or superstar beefcake”

      Not everybody, but many people on the dating scene have a strong bias towards aestethics. And this is true for BOTH genders.
      Many people even mistakes excitation and lust for love (not their fault, really, since it’s our biology screwing – pun intended ;) – with us).

      If you’re totally out of that picture, good for you (and your mate), but don’t talk like the world is a mirror of yourself – because it’s not. You’re more the exception than the rule.
      An article has to talk about the average and the most common – it cannot consider every possibility and variation.

    • I took the author’s point to be not to strive for the figurative supermodel, not necessarily the literal supermodel.

      For me, ‘supermodel’ in relationship terms would be someone who is frightfully intelligent, always proactive and witty, ambitious in a humanitarian-type way, fit and active but not in a neurotic way, on and on. It doesn’t last though to create a relationship with someone who you only truly love when they’re at their best or if they only truly love you when you are at your best. When that happens, you end up chasing the best in your relationship (which the author talks about) as opposed to appreciating the good and bad days each person has and loving each other through good and bad.

      No one is on top of their game all the time, so if the relationship falls apart when one of you is not at the top of your game, its probably not going to last so long.

      I agree with other commenters, that lasting love takes work, more work than almost anything in life, but if you are in love with each other as whole, amazing and flawed people, the decision to work for your relationship become easy. The work is worth it.

      Author, correct me if I’m wrong on my understanding of your post!

  15. There is one dynamic I’ll mention, don’t be feel you aren’t attractive enough in both body and mind for those who are quite physically attractive and/or have a great personality. Take the chance, you never know your luck until you try. Don’t “settle” or purposely go for people you feel are much less attractive because you are desperate, there’s no point thinking He’s too good for men, she’s too hot, etc. Physical attraction is important to a degree, but being attracted to their personality is also very important.

    I say ask out a supermodel, but don’t ignore everyone else and ONLY go for supermodels. They are human still, they have flaws, insecurities, fears, negatives and positives like the rest of us. Who’s to say a supermodel won’t love you on your worst days? Sounds a bit like the author doesn’t view them as decent humans….Not very good advice I’m afraid to assume so badly of that group.

  16. I think the author’s main point is – two people who truly belong to each other “loves “- in its truest essence.He is not saying that when the relationship stops becoming easy that it isn’t meant to be. I think what he is try to point out is that – everything should flow naturally. If things become stagnant somewhere as it would many many times in their lives – the love should be able to sustain the complication. Both naturally agree to letting love flow again… And again. The way in which both agree to work things out is what the author describes as ” relationship being easy” :)

  17. like it a lot :)

  18. Jon Swerens says:

    Well said! But as an amateur student of the Puritans, I offer this gentle corrective:

    You said: “Perhaps it comes from our culture’s puritanical beginnings. The notion that anything great is worth suffering for.”

    And I say: Nah.

    Despite the stereotypes that have built up around the Puritans over the years, their view of romance is much closer to the clear-eyed ideal of this column than to the “suffering romantic” trope. The Puritans’ view would be close to the wonderfully warm-hearted and cool-headed views of Jane Austen.

    On the other hand, the suffering romantic is the fruit of the Gothic pulp romances of the Victorian era (think “Wuthering Heights”) that took root in the latter 19th century and early 20th in America.

    Great job.

  19. Completely agree. The wisest advice I ever got was, “Marry someone with whom you see yourself still having amazing conversations in 30 years.”
    It is also important to note that ensuring dopamine is still produced and released is a factor in retaining that ” in love” feeling. Doing novel things together (they don’t have to be ingenious or complicated) releases dopamine, which helps the person associate that ” good feeling” with their partner.

  20. Mark,

    I agree with you but some other significant aspects beg consideration.

    What appeals to us or gives us a positive experience is not just a function of the object of desire. It is more importantly related to our state of mind. The journey is in many ways more important than the journey.

    An apple from a fruit bowl on the dining table doesn’t give the dame experience as one from an orchard after a few miles walk.

    The sunrises for us everyday but the sunrise on holiday is much more special. It is a function of the beauty of the place but also of the unique state of mind when on holiday.

    The bottom line is : be yourself and try to enjoy. Don’t go hunting. Dont try too hard. However, dont ignore when opportunity is knocking on your door.

  21. Yes, yes, yes, yes. This is a much needed reminder that the nonsense we see in every single romantic-comedy will only skew our standards and come back to bite us in the butt when we finally realize how wrong we’ve been about love and relationships.

    -Valentine
    Flux: Encountering Adulthood
    http://www.fluxforum.com

  22. This is minor but it bugs me the illustration is of an attractive woman going for a man. This seems to happen a lot in advertisements and TV shows. When are we gonna get some model-esque men going for some realistically proportioned women?

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