Soulmates For Life?

Najwa Abdullah asks: Is it time for a rethink on our long-held views on the search for a soulmate?

Few weeks ago, on a glorious afternoon, I met a good friend of mine. As we chatted over a cup of coffee in the hectic city of Jakarta, our conversation took an unexpectedly profound turn.

Some of our talks were so lame, with me asking my friend to intercede in, well, boy trouble. I feel particularly sorry and ashamed of myself for getting so emotionally absorbed with this trivial problem when there are bigger, real-life issues I should actually be concerned about.

Nevertheless, the thought of a long, lonesome wait for a “shuttle” while others are embracing their loved ones on the curb was just too much for my little heart to bear sometimes. This might sound superfluous, but the thing is that, for girls in their 20s (quarter life), thoughts of finding the right person to be by our sides to face the cruel world every day are inevitable.

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In this regard, it’s no wonder that the search for a lifetime partner, also famously considered a soulmate, becomes one of the most important phases in our lives.

On that afternoon with my good friend, our conversation traversed along various pathways until it landed on that loaded word “soulmate”. Right out of the blue, she blatantly asked me, “What do you mean by soulmate? Please define for me the term ‘soulmate’.”

Spontaneously, I said, “It’s the person you are destined to be with, the one whom you are going to spend the rest of your life with, the one who will be there for you no matter what –  your spouse.”

My friend raised an eyebrow, “Really? So they should marry and be happy?”

And I naively replied, “Of course, they should be together and live happily ever after; everyone in this world has their soulmate destined for them.”

“Then what about people who divorce? What about those who stay single for the rest of their lives? How about unhappily married couples? Are they really soulmates?” my friend mused.

I paused and pondered. At that very moment, I realised that my definition of “soulmate” was based on Disney’s and Hollywood’s superficial, wishful “someday-my-prince-will-come” construction.

I have been programmed to believe that a soulmate is someone who will meet our every wish and need when it comes to love. Well, the reality showed evidence of the contrary.

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That afternoon’s tête-à-tête left a nagging question in my mind afterwards. So what makes a soulmate then? The previously crystal-clear definition of soulmate inspired by unrealistic Hollywood romance had vanished, leaving behind a nebulous idea.

After some contemplation, I realised that it was time to redefine that word from one based on a romantic point of view, to one shaped by philosophical insight. I once read Elizabeth Gilbert’s phenomenal book, Eat, Pray, Love, and I think the term “soulmate” was rather wisely described there:

“People think that soulmate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a  true soulmate is a mirror, […] the person who brings you to your own attention so that you can change your life. A true soulmate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soulmate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soulmates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. And thank God for it.”[I]

By this definition, having a soulmate is no longer about a long, winding road to a “happily-ever-after” ending with someone. Rather, it is a powerful idea you can live by. Everything in this world is subject to transformation and nobody can promise you a happy ending except you.

You are going to meet a lot of soulmates in your life. They will teach you important life lessons, which can be intensely painful at times, but that’s how you will grow as a person. And isn’t this what life is about?

At the end of the day, unpacking the flowery myths surrounding the idea of a “soulmate” will help you to better cope with reality. The truth is, if you are so busy buying into the “glossy”, socially constructed definition, you’ll miss out on experiencing the true meaning of being soulmates.

Because sometimes having a soulmate is really about the journey to finding yourself, and not about finding your spouse.