As a child and teenager, I was fed two very particular messages about love disguised in fancy stories and romantic plot lines. The first was the notion that one soulmate exists for every person and that once you find that person, you’ll know you’re meant to spend the rest of your life with them. The second was that my soulmate would save me from all danger and from ever becoming sad or lonely.
Consequently, I actively sought out movies, books and TV series that reinforced these ideas, making them even stronger and more valid in my mind. (Confirmation bias is a powerful phenomenon.)
These messages set me up to feel like a complete failure when my relationships didn’t work out. I was often left feeling as though I wasn’t pretty, smart or interesting enough. The problem was always with me and never with my distorted beliefs.
It took me a lot of trial and error to learn that no relationship is a failure. They might not help us achieve the goals we hope they will, but no connection with a person is wasted. Sometimes people are like mirrors; they reveal to us the lessons we need to learn quickly and clearly. Others offer us delayed revelations, gifts that won’t make sense until after they’ve left us. And, of course, there are those relationships that are like messages in bottles; their lessons are not meant to wash up on our shore until years, sometimes decades later.
Once I was able to let go of the following beliefs, I felt freer, more grounded and much less anxious about relationships in general.
Myth 1: There is one soulmate for everyone and they last forever.
While I do believe that soulmates do exist, I do not think they are necessarily meant to stay in our lives forever. There are moments when our souls expand to include more people, and other times when they contract to hone in on a few special relationships. (Soulmates also need not be romantic partners; they can include friends, pets and long-lost family members.)
You may have had numerous soulmates by the time you meet the person you decide to spend the rest of your life with (if that’s a decision you want to make in the first place). That’s because anyone who teaches you something about yourself, points you in a new direction, shows you a different side of humanity, or even points out characteristics you don’t necessarily want in a partner is a soulmate.
This can be painful because the alignment of two souls at a particular place and time can feel like it’s supposed to last forever. But sometimes, two souls have a job to do and once the job is finished, it’s time to part ways. Your soulmate’s job could be to change your soul just enough so that it’s ready and open to meet the next person.
Myth 2: Our soulmates and partners are our saviors.
My life experiences also challenge the notion that our soulmates are supposed to rescue us from all things painful. I won’t deny it’s less lonely with someone by your side; plus, partners can be a nice distraction from depression, anxiety and trauma.
But a soulmate cannot prevent a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, cancer from returning or natural disasters. The same goes for our own internal battles. We can’t expect our loved ones to be our knights or caretakers in shining armor. We must first learn to accept love and care from ourselves before learning to accept it from someone else.
True soulmates do quite the opposite of take away our burdens; they show us that we can handle them. They stand by our side while we go through difficult emotions and circumstances, internal or external. They might carry us at times when we’re too weak to stand, or give us much needed cheerleading and support, but they never undercut or replace our ability to withstand difficult times on our own. This is because when someone loves you, they value and believe in your own strength.
It’s easy to look back at our laundry list of failed relationships, connections and sparks that fizzled out, opportunities we didn’t pursue. But what about all of the ways in which your experiences with love have changed you for the better? What about all of the characteristics you learned to value in yourself, the red flags you learned to look out for, the warm moments where you felt what it was like to finally be treated how you deserve?
Once I stopped subscribing to beliefs that no longer served me, I was free to focus less on finding “the one” and more on what I’d learned that would help me be a better person and a better partner. Perhaps som