Dumping the Soul Mate

Copyright 2007 by Neil Chethik www.NeilChethik.com

Valentine's Day is coming and with it, the annual fluttering about the importance of finding your soul mate. A recent university-sponsored survey of 20-somethings discovered that 90 percent believe that when you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost.

I used to agree with this statement. Now I think it's dangerous.

It's not that I discount those first-blush, super-energized shivers of heat and hope. And it's great when a new love seems to understand everything we say, and even some of what we don't.

But neither chemical attraction nor spiritual connection constitutes a soul mate.

I learned this recently while interviewing face-to-face for a book on married men 70 American husbands about their relationships. A dozen of these men had been married for 50 years or longer; one had been with his wife for an unfathomable 72 years.

And what did these experienced husbands have to say about younger men and women who are searching for a soul mate? Two words: Stop it.

Indeed, the collective wisdom of the men I surveyed could be put quite simply: You don't find a soul mate. You create one.

Chemical attraction is one ingredient in this creation, no doubt. And yes, you've got to be able to talk to, dream with, and share values with the other person. But the most important ingredient in developing a soul mate, husbands told me, is time.

It may take 30 or 40 years, or more. Soul-mate status comes not just from sharing euphoric moments, but from enduring tragedy and disillusionment as well. Together, soul-mates suffer money problems, and illnesses, and seasons without sex. Sometimes they even fall out of love for a time.

One of the wisest men I interviewed for my book was a man named David Popenoe of New Jersey. When we spoke, he was 71 years old, and had been married for 44 years. In his day job, he was co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.

In my conversation with Popenoe, when I first brought up the concept of soul mates, he harrumphed. He said people seeking soul-mates usually are setting themselves up for a fall. That's because few partners can live up to the expectations that the term implies.

And then Popenoe offered what may be the best advice I heard for those who are determined to have a soul-mate relationship: Spend less time trying to find the right mate, and more time trying to be the right mate.

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Neil Chethik is a writer and speaker. He is author of FatherLoss: How sons deal with the deaths of their dads (Hyperion) and VoiceMale: What Husbands Really Think of Their Wives (Simon & Schuster). Reach him at neil@neilchethik.com or at www.NeilChethik.com .

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Copyright 2009 Neil Chethik