I'm sick of soul mates

I don't believe that there is one person out there meant just for me.

By Cary Tennis
Published March 18, 2004 8:41PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm tired of reading about people who've found their soul mates! I don't believe in soul mates. I've had strong, close, intense relationships of one sort or another many times in my life, but I don't believe there's one person out there meant just for me, and I don't want there to be. I wonder if people who spout the "soul mate" line are delusional or simply dishonest. The idea of snuggling down into some complacent twosome in which someone expects me to be his other half fills me with an intense desire to flee. Why are so many people, often women, obsessed with getting married, living together, finding someone to spend every waking moment with? And what is wrong with me that I hate this idea and recoil from it as if it threatens my very existence?

I'm young, female, attractive, fit and smart. I have a good job in a big city and make quite enough money to support myself. I own my own home and take care of my own problems. But I do have one problem that I can't seem to take care of. The men I date initially love the fact that I am not clingy and don't want to get married in six months or have a child in three months or move in with them immediately. They think it's just great that they've met a gal who wants to see them on the weekend and maybe once during the week, have freewheeling conversations, paint the town, and then return to her own world until the next date.

Then, as time goes on, they want to get all domestic. No more painting the town -- that's always the first thing to go. "Why do you want to go to a bar, when we can just -- (fill in the blank -- drink at home, watch TV, etc.). Then the L-word gets uttered.

I have never been in a position to reciprocate with the L-word, much as I appreciate the sentiment from others, because it is so loaded. I know people who fall in love at least once a month. I have no idea what they're talking about. I've felt physical attraction, obsession. I've felt pure fondness and complete admiration. But love is something so ridiculously used up by reality shows and advice columns, that I have never identified it as an authentic feeling in a romantic relationship.

I tried living with someone once and it was a horrible experience for me, though the boyfriend was thrilled with it (see, I'm not mean or nasty -- I'm very nice to people). I don't want to get married. I might want to have kids (sooner rather than later, because I'm in my 30s). But the idea of settling down into a little family unit is like a smothering black cloud. I don't want to look for someone I can tolerate living with and get married just to make it easier to have children. But I also don't want to have them alone. I know there's got to be another way, but I've yet to meet a man who is interested in that other way. My current B.F. is quite the loner himself, but even he is starting to make noises about living together.

The easy answer is that I am emotionally stunted and don't understand intimacy. But I think it's more complicated than that. How can I plan the rest of my life, especially the part about having kids, with this aversion to settling down with someone?

Soul Mates Seem Silly

Dear Soul Mates Seem Silly,

The way you are sounds fine to me. These other people you are talking about sound fine to me too. In your own universes, you are all fine. But whenever you leave your houses and encounter each other, you have trouble. Some of that trouble seems to be that you have different unspoken expectations. You expect a man to be able to hear what you say and understand it literally. If you say you don't want to get involved, you want him to understand you mean you want to see him once a week or maybe twice but you don't want to pick out drapes. You mean not involved in its literal and absolute sense. But certain things you do belie what you say. They have predictable consequences that you can't change just by speaking certain words. For instance, if you continue to kiss men with your clothes off, men will continue to fall in love with you. It's just what happens. I don't make the rules.

You ask me why and I say I'm sorry, our 50 minutes are up.

Let me try to summarize your wants, some of which may be mutually exclusive. You want a man. You want a child. You want sex. You want night life. You want to not have to live with a man like husband and wife. You want to go out when you want to go out. You want to have a man in your life but if that should change you don't want to have to put up with him still being there.

Some of the things you want are more or less in your control: You are free to have a child and choose who lives in your house. You are free to have sex with men and to have a night life, provided someone cares for the child while you're out.

The things you have no control over are the expectations and desires of other people -- the nature of other people, fertile men in particular, the way they understand the world, what they think you're saying, what they try to get you to do, how they feel, which ones are available to you. These are things you can't control. So the minute you begin interacting with other people, you lose a measure of control. It seems to me that when you lose control over external circumstances, you feel trapped or panicked, like your life is slipping out of your grasp. So if control is what you want, you need to minimize your exposure to the vagaries of other personalities and your commitments to them.

So I think your best bet is to start planning now to raise a child. Find out how much it costs to have a child and what you have to do to feed, clothe and educate one. Look into how you can get a child. Be ready to support the child by yourself. If you have parents nearby, they should help, but they, too, will make demands on you. Think through the moral implications of having a child on your own. Are you secure enough in your own vision of who you are that you can be to that child what he or she requires you to be?

Because, look at it this way: If you think boyfriends are an imposition on your freedom, think about what a child is. A child completely changes your life. Everything you do, after you have the child, involves the child.

So there are all these contradictions in the things you want, and you need to break them down into their particulars to make it all work for you.

One more thing. I hear you trash-talking the soul mate thing, and I take that kind of personally. I don't know that anyone really knows what a soul mate is. Aristophanes says one thing, Thomas Moore another. One person says a soul mate is a lover from a past life. Another thinks a soul mate is the perfect husband. Others think the soul mate is more like a perfect one-night stand with a cowboy. What I usually mean by "soul mate" is someone with whom there is a feeling of understanding and passion that exceeds rational understanding. It might last, or it might not, but because it so exceeds understanding, it inspires thoughts of the supernatural or the divine. If you have never experienced a powerful yet bafflingly clear connection so seemingly telepathic that it defied your rational understanding, then the idea of a soul mate would, understandably, have little meaning. But many people have experienced such a thing, and find it helpful to have a word for it, and an explanation, however unprovable.

So good luck. There's nothing wrong with who you are or what you want. It's just hard to do.

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Cary Tennis

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