Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ahoy Matey!

"I like the word 'soul'. I like the word 'mate'. Beyond that, you got me."
--Big, Sex and the City

"For some women, at certain stages in their lives, the search for a soul mate-- and refusing to settle for less--provides a rationale for their current singleness. But such a justification does not help them envision or find support for the long-term single life."
--The New Single Woman

I hope this New Single Woman-themed series has been relatively painless...at any rate, Trimberger has some interesting things to say about soulmates, which is always a juicy topic. I was thinking about the concept most recently while watching the really quite bad show Valentine, which airs on the CW. In it, Aphrodite is transported to the modern-day world in which she runs a matchmaking service with various other gods. At one point, one of the characters looks into an oracle at the future of a woman who married a man who wasn't her designated soulmate. She's so miserable that she kills herself.
Yeah. Seriously.

In Valentine, Aphrodite laments internet dating, saying that she preferred the old ways, in which people would marry whoever in their village "had the fewest pox". In this picture, I doubt that being soulmates entered into it. Apparently, even the gods changed their ways based on popular opinion. And indeed, "soulmates" is a fairly modern concept-- Trimberger claimed that it really gained momentum around the time of women's liberation. One utility of the soulmate idea was that it freed women to be single under the guise of "waiting for a soulmate". The pressure to marry literally whoever was available diminished. Even self-help books coming from a totally different direction agree. In Love Will Find You: 9 Magnets to Bring You and Your Soulmate Together, Kathryn Alice writes, "I believe that we are entering the era of the soulmate. Why? Because as we progress as a society, there is no reason for people to pair up and be together other than that they are soulmates" (1).

But Trimberger isn't sure how positive our facination with soulmates really is. In a note to her text, she writes: "Robert Wuthnow writes that the loose connections in modern society lead people to seek the more intense relationship of soul mates (1998, 52-53). I go even further: Focusing on a soul mate, I believe, undermines these connections. British social theorist Mary Evans also stresses that romantic love is based on and promotes individualism (Evans 2003)". While friendship networks build valuable community, says Trimberger, the search for a soulmate diminishes it. And furthermore, may leave us with few resources for life on our own. In Kathryn Alice's book, quoted above (thanks Amazon!), she talks about a man who moved across the country to be with his soulmate. But after reading Trimberger, I wonder what happened to his community, if he had one. Sure, he gained a soulmate, but he lost his friends, family, and pastimes. He went from having a network, presumably, to relying on one person for all his emotional support. Sure, it's a good story, but how healthy is it?

Asexuality lends an interesting twist to the soulmate concept: When sex isn't necessary for you to have a satisfying relationship, why couldn't your soulmate be a friend, family member, or mentor?
Indeed, it's pretty corny to call someone your "soulmate" unless you're taking marriage vows. Like "virgin", though, "soulmate" is a fine word that is overtaken by implications: Your one chance at happiness, your other half, etc. Kinda scary! Hopefully, one of asexuality's legacies to the wider world will be to take some of the pressure off-- the pressure to date, have sex, and find your soulmate. Of course, asexuals still face many pressures that depend on the person, but I think it would be nice to at least have some options as to which pressures we undertake.

Personally, I think soulmates are like affordable apartments in San Francisco. I know they're out there, and I even know a few people who have found one. But, while I maintain some hope of finding one for myself, I remain open to other options, and try not to let the search consume my life (although it can be tempting to obsess over it). If you do find your soulmate, remember to keep maintaining all the support systems you were hopefully developing before you met them. And invite us all over for a party at your incredibly cheap apartment.


gatto fritto said...

I've already found my soulmates, and there are four of them, all cats.

My heart belongs to them and no one else will ever take their place.

Anonymous said...

The problem I find with the concept of soulmate is the problem I find with all pair-based relationships: They may be perfect for you, but are you perfect for them? Given it's pretty hard to find out how someone honestly feels about you, how do you know the one who is echoing you in the talk of soulmates is really feeling that way, not just knowing you're the best for the moment?

Fellmama said...

That thing about community is so very, very true. I'm facing a move in the near future, and my boyfriend is concerned that, if I move to his area, he'll be my only support and Bad Things will happen. I find it kinda funny, mostly because one of the reasons I'm considering moving to his area is BECAUSE I know more people there than anywhere else on the East Coast. Go figure.

Ily said...

Gatto, will it totally embarrass you if I say that's adorable? I had a cat, Shadow, from aged 6 to around 20, and I think we definitely had a unique bond. He would sleep on my pillow every night. My allergies are better now, but I miss him. Maybe I should start getting attached to Macaws or tortoises instead? You're right Hann, it's hard to find a relationship that's 100% mutual. But I try not to worry about that too much... "you are what you love, not what loves you" and all that lot. And Lanafactrix, that's pretty wise of both of you. Honestly, I never even thought about this issue until I wrote this post, although I think it may have been in the jumble of my mind somewhere. Knowing people is definitely a good thing.

gatto fritto said...

"Gatto, will it totally embarrass you if I say that's adorable?"

Not at all; thank you.

"I had a cat, Shadow, from aged 6 to around 20, and I think we definitely had a unique bond. He would sleep on my pillow every night. My allergies are better now, but I miss him. Maybe I should start getting attached to Macaws or tortoises instead?"

But kitties are fuzzy! Anyway, don't you already have a kitty who chases her tail? Maybe you could get attached to her. Of course cats are all different. As much as I love all my cats, I can't honestly say I love them all the same. Sunny was my first cat and I'm surely most attached to him. We've been together nine years. I don't have the same kind of bond with Luna, but I've only known her just over a year; maybe after we've been together nine years I'll be just as attached to her. Only time will tell.

Anonymous said...

Joining in the cat as soulmate bandwagon. My soulmate was my cat, and I miss her horribly, years after she died.

I guess that's one bummer of having a soulmate: what if you outlive them? Then what?

There's another quote about soulmates from Sex and the City--I can't believe I know this--at the end of the series, where Carrie suggests that her friends (Charlotte, Miranda, Samantha) are her soulmates, and any guy she's with is just a lover, etc. I liked that.

Ily said...

Thanks for mentioning that Sex & the City quote, I love it!

Carolyn said...

I don't think I totally understand the concept of a soulmate. I kind of always thought it sounded like someone who was just like you and would finish all your sentences, and that it would be really boring to be with that person for life. I mean, who came up with this idea that you can and should get everything from one person, I agree it is a dangerous concept that makes us less community focused.