We imagine happily ever after. We imagine growing old together. We can't imagine burying our soul-mate but know that one of us will have to deal with the death of the other.
We watch friends leave husbands for their soul-mate. We watch husbands leave wives for their soul-mate.
And then comes the day when our soul-mate betrays us. When, it turns out, he wasn't our soul-mate after all but a total scumbag with the scruples of a tomcat.
And what compounds the pain is that we never saw this coming. Nowhere in the fairy tale we were sold did the princess get betrayed by the prince who was two-timing with a step-sister.
The idea of a soul-mate has done more to distort adult relationships than just about anything apart from the g-spot.
And yet it's a fantasy that won't die.
Why? Phyllis Theroux, author of The Journal Keeper, offers us a clue:
One of the strongest illusions in life is that another person's love will liberate us. The illusion is hard to let go of, even when one Lover after another has disappeared, because while they are present they do set us temporarily "free." We feel a if we are more talented and lovable, and then they turn away and stop loving us, and we realize how much our balloon depends upon their hot air.Belief in our soul-mate is, essentially, a desire to feel whole. To see a reflection of ourselves – a flattering one – in another's eyes. And when we lose that, it's easy to lose ourselves. Suddenly we can't see ourselves at all. My sense of self was rocked to the core. If I wasn't this adored wife, then who, exactly, was I? And if I couldn't trust this soul-mate...this extension of myself, I thought, then who could I trust?
The process of rebuilding my marriage began with an acceptance that he wasn't my soul-mate. That such a thing likely didn't exist except in the imaginations of song-writers and Nicholas Sparks.
My husband didn't share a perfectly compatible value system. He didn't want exactly what I wanted in life. He didn't feel exactly as I felt – or as I assumed he should feel – about lots of things. And in order for us to piece together our shattered life, I needed to get that through my thick head.
No easy task.
I clung tight to that fantasy. But slowly, I loosened my grip. Slowly, I started giving myself what I always wanted from him. Unconditional acceptance. Non-judgement. A sense of appreciation for who I am and what I stand for. Love. And the more I gave myself those things, the less I needed them from him. The more I was able to accept him as apart from me but a part of my life out of choice.
It's less romantic, in some ways. Gone is the childhood fantasy of someone who will love me without fail. Someone who completes me.
But in its place is the recognition that I can be that person for myself. That I am complete, with or without a partner. Which is as it always should have been.