Soulmates : Are they a thing?

Humans need real, emotional and physical connection. Research shows that loneliness is just as deadly as smoking half a packet of cigarettes per day, and that lonely people are 30% more likely to die prematurely than those with strong social connections. We need friends. We need to feel connected to something bigger than us. We need to feel understood, and we need to belong. We choose our friends based on common interests: maybe you like to do the same things, maybe you have the same values, and the same sense of humor. Maybe you are connected through work or kids. As Bill Murray says “Friendship is so weird. You just pick a human you've met and you're like, 'Yep, I like this one,' and you just do stuff with them”. And that’s pretty accurate. Every positive social connection, close or otherwise, adds to our overall well-being. We are tribal by ancestry. It is in our blood.

But what about those deeper, more complex relationships? What about those friendships that don’t always make sense, sometimes are painful, but somehow change us, illuminate us and help us grow? Sometimes these relationships are romantic, but often they are not. These are people that we collide with and afterwards we wonder what just happened, and nothing is ever the same again. Sometimes they stay forever, sometimes they make only an appearance in our lives. Often we never see them coming. They are often not who we would expect. Different cultures and religions call these friendships by different names, but the theme is always the same. Another soul, with whom you inevitably cross paths, positively impacting both of your lives. Western culture calls these connections ‘soul mates’, a term coined by poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, often with a romantic connotation, which is not always the case. It also implies that there is only one person in the entire world with whom you can have this connection, but given the world has seven billion humans, it would make more sense to say that although such connections are rare and precious, they are unlikely to be singular.

Greek mythology tells that humans were originally four legged, four armed beings with two faces. The God Zeus was threatened by their power, so divided them in half. Even after their wounds were healed by Apollo, humans would forever be searching for their missing halves, or ‘soul mates’. Philosopher Plato wrote in ‘Symposium’ “Ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, seeking to make one of two and to heal the state of man. Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the tally-half of a man, and he is always looking for his other half”. We can survive without our soul mate, and we should be independent and confident enough in ourselves to do that. But a soul mate is often a person that is a like lantern to our darkness, lighting up the spaces we couldn’t or wouldn’t see ourselves without their sometimes uncomfortable radiating clarity. This is the person who understands us, who doesn’t run from our darkness, our sometimes shady and saddest parts of ourselves. They let us away with nothing. We can’t hide from them or fool them. The wild spaces that we don’t show to just anyone, don’t frighten them. And sometimes it hurts. Often it is confusing. And sometimes we thrash against them which is why in a romantic sense, soul mates sometimes just don’t work. The dynamic is too intense. Author Elizabeth Gilbert says ‘“A true soul mate 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 soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful”

The Irish call this person your ‘Anam Cara’, literally translated as ‘soul friend’, and often transgresses all labels and beliefs, making the relationship indefinable and unique. According to Irish poet an philosopher John O'Donahue, "...You are joined in an ancient and eternal union with humanity that cuts across all barriers of time, convention, philosophy and definition. When you are blessed with an anam cara, the Irish believe, you have arrived at that most sacred place: home."

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

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© 2016 Claire Inkson. All photographs copyright Claire Inkson

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