The first time I heard the expression "soulmate" used by a friend, it was by a twenty-something Canadian woman who began an online relationship with an American in his late teens, moved to live with him, got pregnant, tried working illegally in the US, and eventually (I think) got married. This rather turned me off to the term. This didn't sound, to me, like someone pursuing their "soulmate"; it sounded like two people doing something terribly stupid and permanent because they didn't want to take the time to think through the consequences.

The popular idea of a soulmate, I think, has too much predestination wrapped up into it. It implies that each person has a member of the opposite sex somewhere in the world (but, miraculously, almost always within a few miles of where they're living) with whom they share a spiritual psychic link that means they're cosmically intended to spend the rest of their lives making each other happy.

This is good for fairy tales and popular fiction, but it's a bad way to approach romance. It means that there's one and only one person anywhere on the planet that you can be happy with, which is silly. It means that you'll be eternally joyful together while you're alive, which is wrong. And it means that each person and their soulmate are linked in some ephemeral fashion that gives them a perfect and complete understanding of each other, which is ridiculous. I've never even heard of a longtime-married couple who thought that their relationship was an embodiment of perfect understanding and communication and happiness.

The reality is that true soulmates are made, not born. Couples come together because they have shared interests and goals in life, and they build up from there. Communication is practiced. Understanding is developed. And the joy of being with each other fades an grows, fades and grows with each day that the two people are together. There's an initial illusion of magic because, let's face it, it takes most people years to find just one person who shares even fifty percent of their interests. But that's just statistics, not spirituality.

Am I being cynical? No, I'm not. I'm recently married to a woman with whom I intend to spend the rest of my life. When we first met, I wasn't looking for a relationship and she was already in one, but she noticed me and remembered me well enough to pick me out of a hundred other e-mails eighteen months later. After just a couple of conversations, we were sure we had the same goals and essential interests; after a few months of dating and talking, we were certain of it.

But there's no supernatural magic in this, romantic though it may be. We have a lot of trouble communicating with each other some days. We've been nasty to each other a couple of times when the day hasn't gone as well as we'd have liked. Stresses have come and gone. But we're still committed to each other because we want to be, not because we think we were fated. Because if you're not willing to work at a relationship, all the fate in the universe isn't going to keep you together.

The common misconception about soulmates is that they are meant to be together. The soul is a mysterious and undiscovered country. It weaves a fabric of existence far beyond life and the deeper meaning of what lies beneath are easily misinterpreted by those who try to simplify its workings into definable concepts.

The word is abused by those who fall in love and stay together for long periods of time, even for their whole life. It is easier to do this with someone who is not your soulmate. Someone who fits the definition of soulmate is fully in tune with your thoughts, your ways and your pain. They are too close to you to be close to you.

By direct definition, a soulmate is someone with whom you have mated with at the soul. Not at the heart, the mind or the body. You may not even be physically attracted to your soulmate because the attraction is on a completely different level. It is an attraction so powerful that it borders on repulsion because it causes light to be shone on things you might rather not face.

In some cases, soulmates may complete each other, or feel as if they do. What is missing, what fills in the blanks, appears and becomes clear. Then it becomes muddy. Being with a soulmate can be like looking into a mirror and trying to remove the glass between yourself and the image that you see. The image is not you, but it reflects you, both in light and darkness. Too much of either may be more than either can take in large doses. Therefore, soulmates may be better oceans apart than sharing the same bathroom.

Couples can debate bills, babysitters, schedules and commitments. Soulmates cannot. Their debates live on the metaphysical plane and such arguments can drive them mad. Soulmates are not made for this world, they are a promise of things to come. Fall in love. Experience the wonders of life. Enjoy the colors of the sky and of the leaves. Seize the day and live in the moment. This world was not made for one as beautiful as you. This chapter of existence is here for character development and foreshadowing events to come.

(Ice cream can be quite refreshing on a hot summer's day.)

The concept of a soulmate, and all of its inherent difficulties, makes a lot more sense in belief systems which embrace reincarnation, especially those which also hold to some concept of karma.

An individual soul comes into this world more than once, and in different bodies. That soul interacts with others over its many lives. Conflicts occur, as do more amicable interactions. People and other incarnate souls spend quite a bit of their lives settling various kinds of issues with others. The issues -- good and bad -- between two souls are not always resolved before one or the other disincarnates, however.

Under the Hindu concept of karma, how you conduct yourself in this life determines what you come back as in the next. Most pagans believe that you reincarnate in order to resolve issues left over from the previous life, or to learn some sort of lesson, or to apply the lessons that you learned. With those two things in mind, let's reexamine the soulmate concept.

The purely romantic notion of the soulmate is someone you are destined to share your life with in all aspects. That is a rather narrow view of the whole concept. If two souls have unresolved issues from past lives, then it would follow that the forces of destiny would have them draw together in order to resolve those issues. Karma is ultimately about balancing the books spiritually -- you push on the universe in some way, and it pushes back. A corollary to that is that when the universe is pushed, it will naturally tend to shift back toward equilibrium. The interactions between souls push on the universe in a multitude of small ways, and only resolution of those issues brings things back into alignment -- and the tendency toward equilibrium will bring those souls back together, time and time again, until the issues are resolved.

So in a lifetime, you're likely to have more than one soulmate, in the broader sense of individuals whose karma is tied to yours in some way. (They're not necessarily going to be human.) You're not necessarily going to know it at the first meeting. Only when you realize that someone keeps coming back into your life, or enters it and doesn't leave (especially if you want them to leave), will it become clear. And it's not always a good, happy, romantic thing. You and this individual are coming together to resolve leftovers from past incarnations, or to teach each other necessary lessons. It's not always pretty.

And when you think about what kind of issues in your past lives could have brought you together in this one, it can be downright sobering. In the case of romantic soulmates, two people are fated to love because they didn't love each other enough in previous lives. Was it because they were great lovers for whom a single lifetime of love was not enough...or was it because they did each other some great wrong, and are brought together this time to learn love for each other? Or, since love and hate are not opposites, but are merely two aspects of passion, was it complete indifference that caused it?

So don't go looking for a soulmate. They'll be brought to you, or you to them. There will be more than one, unless you can go through a whole series of lifetimes without leaving unresolved issues in place with more than one soul. And the interaction between the two of you can run the whole spectrum of emotion.

An origin of the idea of soulmates is from Greek Mythology.

Humans had, supposedly, four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. They were extremely powerful and Zeus, the leader of all the Gods, feared them immensely.

He split them all in half, forcing them to spend the rest of their lives searching for their other half so they could be complete.

What is a soulmate? If you believe that there is someone out there who has a divine predisposition to being the "perfect partner" for you... No. The odds are ridiculously against that. There are 6 billion people in the world. If you only have one soulmate in the world, the odds of me being your soulmate is 1/6,000,000,000. It is highly likely that your soulmate might have just died in a landslide, tsunami, earthquake or flood in the past week without you ever having met him or her.

Assuming that in your lifetime, you get to know about than 3,000 people personally (which is a very generous estimate) your chance of ever meeting your soulmate is 1/2,000,000. (To put things in perspective, the chance of you winning 4D is 1/10,000) If you're Singaporean, the chance of you meeting your soulmate in Singapore is 1/1200, assuming you don't mind your soulmate possibly being of the same sex, of a different race and religion, and of any imaginable age gap.

What am I trying to say here? The idea of "there is only one person out there for me" is romantic, but unrealistic and absurd. The truth is, it is entirely possible for me and you to develop a loving relationship if we both put in the effort and the circumstances permit it. I've known my girlfriend for about 9 years now, but there was no divine element involved in us getting together. I was just a teenage boy who thought it would be cool to have a girlfriend, so I pestered her until she said yes. It was a silly, impulsive decision (as far as silly, impulsive adolescent decision-making goes), but today we are best friends, lovers and everything in between.

"That makes you soulmates, then!" some of you might be thinking. Not exactly. What we are today is a conscious decision on both our parts. There are definitely other guys out there who would be a better fit for her, and there are girls out there who would be a better fit for me. However, you don't see either of us looking around for that 'better fit'- because there will always be someone 'better'. The value of a relationship (whether one between family, friends, colleagues, partners, you name it) is not the perceived (and very subjective) value of the individuals, but the communication, shared experiences, respect and trust between them. You can't develop this overnight.

Nobody is born a great friend, father, husband or lover. You develop and grow into your role, making mistakes and learning from them along the way. Think of your best friend- was he or she your best friend the day you met him or her? You don't meet someone and think "OMG I'm in friendship!", you develop it over time. Why do we do that for love? It's probably just the hormones and social constructs overriding logical thinking. I detest the conventional concept of a soulmate because it implies that there is a shortcut to a great relationship. There isn't. Sure, some people get along better than others, but it still takes time and effort to pursue that goal. Sometimes you get lucky and things seem to just fall into place, but there will still always be friction on some plane of your mutual existence- or else it wouldn't be interesting, and you wouldn't have any value to add to each other's lives.

If an elderly couple claim to be soulmates, I would smile and be inclined to agree- not because they were made that way, but because they grew into it over time. If anybody else does it, they're really setting themselves up for disappointment- they would end up expecting too much, and will likely be complacent and give too little. It's especially sad when a couple has been together for years and lose the fire halfway because their "nothing can go wrong, we're soulmates!" assumption made them ignorant to the slow chafing and disintegration of their relationship.

Do I ever worry about "the one that got away"? No. I do, however, think about past relationships all the time. How could things have been different? Would we have been happy? Did I do something wrong? Sometime I fantasize about how I things might have been if I had gotten together with someone I might have 'clicked' better with, or even simply someone more cool or attractive. Everybody does that. Sports fans do it all the time when they fantasize about "dream teams". It's a fun exercise in fantasy- but the truth is that no dream team in reality would be able to match up against an actual solid team with an identity to bind them, a loyal fan-base to please, a point to prove, and a legacy to defend and glorify. At the end of the day, the happiest and truest fans are the ones who go back to supporting the teams that they grew up with- not imaginary ones they make up, or whatever team happens to be successful at that time.

I assert again, as I often do, that reality is far more wondrous, beautiful and fulfilling than you can possibly imagine. Scrap the idea of an imaginary soulmate that might some day sweep you of your feet and focus on giving your best in all the relationships you have in your life right now.

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