There are a few couples I’ve encountered who seem so profoundly with each other, that the term ‘soul mates’ feels applicable. A tiny minority of the lovers I’ve met have appeared this way to me. Those few have something between them that carries a magic of its own, illuminating all that it encounters and affecting the people who come into contact with it. These are the pairs about whom stories are told, and whose relationships bring inspiration.
The majority of people have relationships of other shapes – which may be powerful, engaging and rewarding, but are different. Not everyone wants to spend their life in the throes of a grand passion on that kind of scale. For some, a relationship that gives comfort, companionship and answers sexual need is more than enough. It’s better to go for the relationship that suits your nature and needs rather than being boxed into social expectations about serial monogamy, romance, and happily ever after.
The world of romance-erotica fiction is full of destined soul mates and one-true-love scenarios. Far fewer stories explore the reality of relationship as most people encounter it, which I think is a great waste. It adds to the feeling that everyone should be seeking this one earth shattering experience of finding the right person to be with forever. You can miss out on a lot of very good relationships and opportunities if you’re focused on a quest for the ‘perfect’ one. Soul mates are people too, flawed and complex and not perfect, just very right together. Seeking perfection in anything is an enterprise doomed to fail because nothing in this world is ever free from flaw or complexity.
Much of the ‘one true mate’ fiction is paranormal – frequently featuring werewolves. It’s very easy then to give your character a supernatural way of ‘knowing’ they have found ‘the one’ and thus removing the whole experience that bit further from real life. I’m going out on a limb here to suggest this may be because the vast majority of writers have no idea what a soul mate relationship looks like anyway. It’s really easy to write ‘I will love you for all eternity, he said, and they did, happily ever after.’ Any five year old can give you that kind of story ending. From what I’ve read, many authors resort to ‘telling’ this one, because they have no means of ‘showing’ it, not actually having experienced it themselves. What it creates is a fantasy of perfection that is more likely a hindrance in learning about real love than any kind of help.
Being a hopelessly romantic soul, I hit my teens looking for true love. I learned very quickly that certain boys will trade affection for sexual favours, and I settled for affection and trading. Aged nineteen, I found someone who rocked my world, inspiring wild and unfamiliar emotions in me. I cocked it up, and hit my early twenties believing that I had already found, and irretrievably lost the love of my life. Other relationships followed, and I invested what I could, and found nothing like what I needed. Told that bestowing affection on me was like pouring it into a black hole and a total waste of time, I came to the conclusion that I was the problem. I wanted too much. I had swallowed all those dreams of romance and they were wrong, and I was a fool and should make the best of what I had. Recently, I found I had been mistaken in this, and everything else. These were happy discoveries.
I did not magically ‘know’, when I first encountered Tom some six years ago, that he was the person I should spend my time with. Falling in love with him was not the earth shattering event of romance novels. In fiction, it happens once, and then people deal with the aftermath. Falling in love with Tom is a process, and I do it all over again on pretty much a daily basis. It is always new, always surprising, and a year in, it gets more so, not less. Once the rush of hormonal ‘new love’ has worn off, relationships normally settle down or burn out. One True Love fiction tends to step away well before that happens. Real life does not fade to pink, you get it served up day by day, and you have to live your love affair, in whatever form it takes.
I wondered, before now, if I had found the person I should be with. That’s perhaps the easiest difference to pin down. I do not wonder about Tom. I know. That knowing deepens as we progress. Time and oceans cannot weaken it. Sometimes I think the challenges we’ve faced have made it clear to both of us how serious we are – insight we might not have had if getting together had been quick and easy. But then, love conquering obstacles is another romance fiction favourite. Perhaps with reason. When you test a thing, you find out what it’s made of.
I have a number of conclusions. Live, and do not be trapped by dreams into missing what you do have, or be trapped by loss of dreams into not going after what you truly need. Write what you know, and if you do not really know what it means to find your soul mate, don’t add to the hollow, empty mythmaking that feeds other people’s despair. Write about life and love as you understand it, celebrate what is good. The passion of soul mates and happily ever after are not intrinsically linked. Think of Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Iseult. Make the best story you can, in life, and in fiction.