I, like most people, have been in and out of love more times than I can count. And yet, for all my many love affairs, and all my broken hearts, none has touched me more deeply or more profoundly than the love I have right now. It is a love that is stable, consistently kind, deeply honoring and frequently fun. It rarely wounds and often heals. For I, the lucky woman that I am, am happily married to my soul mate. Finding him was a long and arduous road. In fact, it wasn't until I was 41 that I recognized him, although I'd known him years before, having dated him briefly while I was in my mid-thirties. How could I have missed my soul mate when the affinity between us was, even then, so effortless and obvious? I thought about that question long and hard for quite some time. And I have come to the conclusion that a soul connection often eludes us simply because we are looking with the wrong set of eyes.
Recently, a prominent study was done in which a group of singles was asked to agree or disagree with the statement, "When you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate first and foremost." Not surprisingly, 94 percent agreed. Most of us have elevated our standards way beyond what our parents were hoping to find in a life-partner. No longer are we simply looking for "someone" to marry. We are looking for "The One. I am often asked whether or not one can miss their soul mate, either by failing to recognize him or her, as I myself did, or by sabotaging the relationship in some way. I'm sad to say I believe the answer to be yes. Many of us are so consumed with acting out the wounds of our childhoods and with repeating the unconscious, negative patterns of our families that we are not really available to sustain a nurturing and stable connection. I don't think the high divorce rate indicates that we are not necessarily meeting our soul mates; I believe it may indicate that we are not be prepared to realize and sustain that love when we do.
Well over a decade ago, a well-known psychologist came out with a book purporting that we always marry someone who wounds us in the same ways that one or both of our parents did. He, like several others of his time, believed that falling in love was little more than a mutual recognition of well-matched pathologies. His teaching did much to further our suspicion of romance and weaken our confidence in love. My experience has shown me that it is not necessarily true that we always marry someone who wounds us in the same ways our parents did. We do, however, chose partners who mirror our relationship to our individual selves. If my parents were critical, then I may have a tendency to be self-critical. This will then attract in people who are also critical of me. However, once I've mastered the ability to relate to myself in a kind and loving way, then I will choose a lover who reflects this kindness back to me.
Most of us are fairly certain that we know what we are looking for. He or she must be successful, attractive, creative, educated, spiritual, fit and funny. We then assess those we meet according to our preconceived notions of what we want, thinking we are looking for love when, in truth, we are often just searching for someone who fits our agenda. Yet, in her book, Soulmates, author Carolyn Miller states, "Our soulmates seldom appeal to our personality - our ego. That's why they are called soulmates rather than egomates." A soul mate coupling might actually appear to be somewhat peculiar and odd at first glance. The profound connection between soul mates is revealed in the natural and almost effortless communicating and communing that occurs, and not so much as perfectly matched external criteria. Those things that might matter most at the end of one's life are the true measures of a soul mate connection. A soulmate helps us to live with a deepened sense of purpose and meaning, inspires us to expand our capacity to love and be loved, and helps us to grow ourselves wiser and more kind in general.
The "never-marrieds" are one of the fastest growing groups in America. This may reflect our ever-increasing standards of what we ultimately want from a lifelong partnership. However, the higher our standards, the more that is required of us to be more authentically self aware, more mature in our ability to give and receive love, more at peace who we are and who we are not. That we also be less driven to get that which was missing from our childhoods, less motivated to be loved in a way that compensates for the love we don't give to ourselves, and less defensive against opening our hearts to another. All of us can actualize love to the extent that we are willing to do the inner work to heal ourselves of old wounds. Being ready for love when love appears is as important, if not more so, than actually meeting "The One.
Katherine Woodward Thomas, M.A., M.F.T., is a licensed psychotherapist and author of the new relationship book Calling in The One: 7 Weeks To Attract The Love Of Your Life (Three Rivers Press, Feb. 2004, $15.95). She grew up on Long Island and currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter. For more info visit: www.CallinginTheOne.com