Dumping the Soul Mate

Valentine’s Day is here and with it, the annual fluttering about the importance of finding your soul mate. A recent university-sponsored survey of 20-somethings discovered that 90 percent believe that when you marry, you want your spouse to be your soul mate, first and foremost.

I used to agree with this statement. Now I think it’s dangerous.

It’s not that I discount those first-blush, super-energized shivers of heat and hope. And it’s great when a new love seems to understand everything we say, and even some of what we don’t.

But neither chemical attraction nor spiritual connection constitutes a soul mate.

I learned this recently while interviewing face-to-face – for a book on married men – 60 American husbands about their relationships. A dozen of these men had been married for 50 years or longer; one had been with his wife for an unfathomable 72 years.

And what did these experienced husbands have to say about younger men and women who are searching for a soul mate? Two words: Stop it.

Indeed, the collective wisdom of the men I surveyed could be put quite simply: You don’t find a soul mate. You create one.

Chemical attraction is one ingredient in this creation, no doubt. And yes, you’ve got to be able to talk to, dream with, and share values with the other person. But the most important ingredient in developing a soul mate, husbands told me, is time.

It may take 30 or 40 years, or more. Soul-mate status comes not just from sharing euphoric moments, but from enduring tragedy and disillusionment as well. Together, soul-mates suffer money problems, and illnesses, and seasons without sex. Sometimes they even fall out of love for a time.

One of the wisest men I interviewed for my book was a man named David Popenoe of New Jersey. When we spoke, he was 71 years old, and had been married for 44 years. In his day job, he was co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University.

In my conversation with Popenoe, when I first brought up the concept of soul mates, he harrumphed. He said people seeking soul-mates usually are setting themselves up for a fall. That’s because few partners can live up to the expectations that the term implies.

And then Popenoe offered what may be the best advice I heard for those who are determined to have a soul-mate relationship: Spend less time trying to find the right mate, and more time trying to be the right mate.

©2008, Neil Chethik

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For 20 years, Neil Chethik has made it his goal to find out what men really think -- about family, relationships, fathering, aging, sex, and more. He is the author of two best-selling books, Fatherloss (Hyperion) and VoiceMale (Simon & Schuster). He’s been a nationally syndicated columnist, a big-hall speaker, and now, the national media’s go-to guy for what men really think about their everyday lives. Contact: Neil Chethik, P.O. Box 8071, Lexington, KY 40533 or 859.361.1659 or E-Mail or

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