Interview with Dr. Florence Rosiello on Soulmates

A:  Often when people begin therapy, they want to talk about their relationships and one lament is about the wish to have or find a soulmate.  So, here are some questions from patients and my answers to their questions on soulmates: 

Q: What is a soulmate?

A: It’s important to first define ‘soul mates’ and I’ll bet no two of us have the same definition, but here’s my view:  A soul mate isn’t another person.  A soul mate is a feeling of being emotionally ‘found or known’ by another person.  It’s a feeling we have of an emotional twinship with another, of having an inner world that is similar or accepted by the other person’s inner world, i.e., who we are/who we have been. It’s rather Zen, in a sense, because soul mate supposes that there is or can be a mutual emotional surrender to and with another person.  This feeling of ‘soul mate,’ when it exists between two people is a rare experience of sustained intimacy, tenderness, and completeness.

Q: Do you think that believing in the idea of a soul mate could deter people away from finding true love? 

A: Pretty much anything can deter some people away from finding true love.  Just the thought of having to see the person the next morning can become overwhelming for some people.  But, let’s look at your question for a moment because I’d like to make a distinction between ‘soul mate’ and ‘true love.’  Who says they’re the same thing?  A soul mate, as I said before, is a feeling and it’s a mutual feeling between two people that, if we’re lucky enough, we get to experience in our lifetime.  ‘True love’ is different and I don’t believe in ‘true love.’  How can anyone find a ‘true’ love or a ‘true’ anything?  ‘True’ or truth is an unattainable, unavailable, unbelievable, indefinable ‘whatever.’  Who knows what ‘true’ is, because my ‘true’ can’t possibly be your ‘true’ because how would we ever measure ‘true’ when it’s associated to a feeling?  I would not put the notion of ‘soul mate’ anywhere around the notion of ‘true love.’  A soul mate is a mutually developed emotion between two people and it can be filled with feelings that are the same and feelings that are different yet accepted by the other person.  ‘True’ implies perfection and I don’t believe there is any perfection, nor should there be perfection, when it comes to being a person.  True love is unattainable.  Soul mate is a journey into acceptance of another’s imperfections and an acceptance of our own imperfections, being a soul mate implies forgiveness between two people for humanness.

Q: Do you find that more people believe in soul mates or don’t believe in soul mates? 

A: Interesting question because it addresses the notion of ‘hope.’  Even when people say they don’t believe in soul mates or if they use a different term that means the same thing; I think it implies a hope for a soul mate.  But, having a hope for a soul mate also indicates a sense of shame:  A feeling of shame that we need something emotional from another person, that we’re wanting to depend on another person for completeness, that we’re vulnerable to ‘wanting’ another.  I believe that all people want a soul mate or a whatever-term-they-want-to-use mate.  We’re social animals and as such, we all want to be known and to be loved for the good parts of us and for the bad parts of us and we want to opportunity to return those feelings to another person.  If someone said to me that they didn’t believe in a soul mate, if they said they felt it impossible to ever find anyone who could accept ‘who they are, for what they are,’ well, I would think they were just telling me that they still hold out hope to find someone who will.

Q: What are some pros about believing in soul mates?

A: A big pro about believing in soul mates is that it states that the individual maintains a level of hope for themselves; a sense of future accomplishment within a potential relationship.  Believing in a hope means you can daydream, you can imagine, or create reverie, or muse about who you might be with another person.  Emotional health is purely and simply the ability to create hope for oneself and the ability to carry out the tasks that achieve some parts of that initial hope.  Of course, this has to be in the rheum of reality because unrealistic hope is just a set-up for depression.

Q: What are some cons about believing in soul mates? 

A: A con about believing in a soul mate is that some people take the desire to have a soul mate into a world of unreality, which I just mentioned.  They take the notion of soul mate and make it into the desire to control another.  They’ll often feel that it becomes their right to demand someone become their soul mate.  There’s a fine line between two people feeling the notion of being known by another in a way that is mutually useful and feeling the sense of soul mate with another.  On the other side of that line are people who feel they are a soul mate with someone who may not have a clue that they’ve been chosen.  A con to believing in a soul mate is when someone has a fantasy relationship with a person who is not participating or unaware that they’ve been picked by this other person’s imagination.

Q: Do you think that the term “soul mates” really creates an “us against the world” take on life?

A: Well, we’ve got to leave these ideas in the world of reality, in order to discuss them.  If it’s an ‘us against the world’ like Romeo and Juliette event, then, I don’t think it’s all that healthy to want a soul mate.  However, if it’s an ‘us against the world’ where two people feel stronger and more confident and better able to face the world and not ‘off themselves’ like Shakespeare suggested, then, I think there is nothing wrong or destructive in feeling a safety in numbers and a safety in loving each other.

Q: What do you believe happens when someone claims they married their soul mate, and they later end up separated or divorced?

A: This is probably the best question amongst some really good questions because it addresses real life and real changes that happen to people just because they’re in the world. For instance, what happens when two people who felt soul mates to each other just changed or altered in relation to having felt their experiences in life, differently?  Even if the life experience was felt together, no two people within a 'couple experience' the same experience the same way. We know that there are slight variations on how each person took in the experience, how it affected them, how it made them think or feel differently than before the experience.  As I said, we’re imperfect and we’re lucky we’re imperfect because it means there is nothing wrong with changing in ways that we didn’t anticipate, when we initially found our soul mate.  And, if we lose our soul mate to divorce or death, that doesn’t mean we can’t find that emotional depth within another relationship, down the road.  Friends of mine who are in the 50s recently met or re-met at a high school reunion.  They had both divorced from their first marriages, yet initially, they had felt their original spouse was a soul mate who had just grown differently through the years. Yet, in their second marriage, now, to each other, they were clearly soul mates, and they both questioned their original definition of what feeling defines ‘soul mate.’  To my way of thinking, I don’t’ believe I’ve ever seen such a twinship between two people as I saw between this new couple.  Maybe it was that they both suffered in their first marriage in a similar way, but the union between these two, the involvement and acceptance of each other for who they are and who they had been, made it quite emotionally-impressive to be in their presence.

Q: What are some of the biggest adjustments a person needs to be willing to make when entering a serious, committed relationship?

A: This question is really:  “How do we change from being a solo operator to a ‘couple’ in one quick step?”   You don’t.  The biggest adjustment is that you have to adjust and when you think you’ve adjusted to being in a relationship, you need to realize you’ve now got to re-adjust and then, adjust and adjust and adjust.  But, more importantly, if you don’t see your mate going through these same adjustment…well, then, you really need to think about adjusting yourself out of the relationship.  A relationship is mutual in that it’s the journey toward a meaningful coupledom and not the pursuit of ‘I want.’  A serious committed relationship means that first you think of what’s best for the couple, and then you think about how your behavior will affect the relationship. You think in twos and not in ones.  And if you don’t do that, you can be sure that your serious committed relationship will just be the training ground for your partner’s next serious committed relationship.

Q; Do you think that people in search of their soul mate could end up passing them by, because they already have an idea of who their soul mate is?

A: Again, this question addresses the pursuit of perfection and anyone who is looking for someone perfect is actually looking for someone who will accept the imperfections of the seeker.  There are some people who are constantly thinking about what lies ahead for them in the future and waiting to see what the future will provide for them.  Why bother to do that?  Living in the future means that you’re not living in the present and then, you have to ask why would someone not want to live in the present?  And, you’re also saying that living in the future and waiting for the perfect soul mate to come by means you’re waiting for life to happen ‘to’ you and not ‘because’ of what you’re doing to make your life happen.  Some people are actively participating in their own life and making their world happen and finding their soul mate is a part of that.  Other people live an embedded life where they wait for their world to happen around them, in a passive way; and it’s these people who just hang out and let their life pass by while they wait for a soul mate who will finally provide them with a better life.

Q: Do you think today’s society has changed the way people perceive and believe in soul mates?

A: This question means to me:  Are we just too pragmatic and realistic and unromantic these days to even worry about the potential of finding a soul mate?  No.  It’s not about society and it’s not about culture, although neither of these can be ruled out as factors in how the individual experiences their own inner world and its interactions with another’s inner world, within soul mate-ship.  It’s about the individual, the person, the self, the soul, whatever word you want to use to describe who we are and how we got to be who we are.  Last month, I heard a high school girl read a poem she’d written that was about her mother.  This was a girl from a single parent home and very little financial resources.  This girl’s poem was about how her mother had made her frustrated, restricted her, made her angry, made her want to rebel growing up.  Now, in her late teens, this young girl who was about to graduate was saying in her poem how her mother’s restrictions had made the girl consider others, think about who she was and what she wanted and the rightness and wrongness of what she used to think about her mother as she was growing up.  She realized that she internalized a lot of what her mother thought and felt, she took in her mother’s values, and this surprised her.  She realized too, with hindsight, that her mother had allowed her to develop her own values, her own sense of herself; in that her mother wanted her to be thoughtful, consistent, caring of other’s feelings, even when she felt she deserved more or was entitled to more in life. Her poem, while initially angry and demanding of what was denied her by her mother, now spoke to how she realized her mother knew her, knew what lived in the girl emotionally, knew the girl’s inner difficulties, long before the girl knew herself.  The poem ended with the girl saying her mother’s voice was now her own voice and that this voice could be relied on to take care of her, to help her, to never leave her no matter how much emotionally difficulty she felt or went through in her life.  This girl’s soul mate was her mother.  None of listening to this young woman read her poem was left without tears.  We seemed to quietly ‘know’ what this girl felt.  We knew what she was so eloquently and passionately saying about being recognized for who she was and who she was about to become - by her mother. It’s a gift to have a soul mate.  And your soul mate might not look like whom you thought they would look like, or be who you thought they would be.  A soul mate is a surprise and a treasure, even if, down the road, the soul mate gets replaced with another soul mate.