Carol Gee never imagined that she’d met her soulmate when she and her husband, Ronnie, first got together. In fact, she thought they were opposites in some ways. She’s open and outgoing, he’s shy and reserved; she’s measured, he’s more impulsive. But the attraction was undeniable, and the two married in 1973. “He’s a big strong man, but there’s a sweetness in him that really touched my heart,” says Carol, 65. Now, after 42 years—including a two-and-a-half-year separation when she lived in the U.S. and he lived in Panama—Carol knows that she and Ronnie, 66, were perfect match. “After all these years together,” she says, “we still enjoy hanging out with each other."
When it comes to finding your true love, it’s nice to think your perfect match—your soulmate—is out there somewhere. The myth began with Plato, who wrote that Zeus split two-faced, four-legged humans in half, leaving each one to search for the half that completes them. It’s a notion that still tugs at heartstrings today: Sixty-nine percent of Americans believe in soulmates, according to a 2015 survey from YouGov.com, an online polling firm. Romantics and experts agree that there’s likely someone out there for each of us, if we haven’t met them already. Whether the spark is true love at first sight, an irresistible attraction or comfortable chemistry, the trick is to understand why your soulmate is the one for you—and how you can keep that special flame burning for years to come.
A SHARED JOURNEY
Dan Collins, 52, never fancied himself the marrying kind. Over the past two decades, he’d dated so much that he started co-writing a syndicated column called “Single in the City” for The Examiner in 2006. All of that changed three years later, when he met Tina Saratsiotis, 49, through an online dating service. To Dan, who lives in Baltimore, it was clear they had similar interests, but he was looking for a deeper connection. On their first date he says he knew “it was different. We were married from the moment we met.” Dan and Tina married last year and, while Collins feels he’s met someone who shares his very “essence,” he says a soulmate is not “a clone with its Y chromosome changed to X” who fulfills his every need and desire. “When you have that connection,” says Collins, “differences become something you want to embrace. A soulmate makes you feel better about yourself, makes you grow, makes you a better human being.”
Experts say that accepting—and navigating—the inevitable speed bumps on the road to happily-ever-after is what keeps that soulmate chemistry vital over the long haul. “If we think that our partner should … never disappoint us and should always be perfect for us in every way, it’s … a recipe for disaster for long-term success,” says Christine B. Whelan, Ph.D., author of Generation WFT: From “What the #%$&?” to a Wise, Tenacious and Fearless You and a thought leader at the Life Reimagined Institute.
The definition of a partner is sharing a life together and accepting who we are. He’s there for me, and I’m there for him.
In fact, for Treva Brandon Scharf, 51, it was the ups and downs of past relationships that led her to her soulmate—now her husband—Robby, 58, whom she married in 2014. “I had many relationships that were built on … attraction, but they flamed out quickly,” says Scharf, who lives in Los Angeles and writes the blog The Late Blooming Bride. “If something is to last,” she adds, “both partners have to want the same thing, be it just sex or something more substantial. Not only did we have powerful chemistry, we had a powerful desire to make a future together.”
Research shows that experiencing tough times can enrich your loving relationship and bring you closer. A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that people who define lasting love as the perfect unity between couples are less happy when conflicts arise than those who see a loving relationship as a journey of ups and downs. In other words, the sooner we realize that a great partnership takes time and effort to succeed, the sooner we’re likely to meet our better half.
That down-to-earth approach worked for Tammy DeMel, 52, who defines a soulmate as anyone who feeds her soul, including her mother and a close, college friend. She calls her husband of 19 years her life partner—pointing to the deeper connection between them. She never expected him to be a perfect match; she attributes the success of their marriage to the mutual respect and understanding they’ve gained over time. “The definition [of a partner] is sharing a life together and accepting who we are,” says DeMel, who lives in Atlanta and recently posted a blog called My Husband Is NOT My Soulmate for Better After 50. “He’s there for me, and I’m there for him.”
People cut other people off, without ever investigating what else could happen between them.
A TRUE LOVE THAT LASTS
That unconditional commitment is the difference between finding romantic perfection and creating a lasting, loving relationship. Happy couples ultimately make a conscious choice to fully embrace their partner—flaws and all. Ironically, being determined to find your perfect mate could be the thing that keeps you from meeting the lasting love of your life.
Experts say stay open to the possibilities. Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., is a Life Reimagined Institute thought leader and author, with Lana Staheli, Ph.D., of Snap Strategies for Couples: 40 Fast Fixes for Everyday Relationship Pitfalls. “People cut other people off,” she says, “without ever investigating what else could happen between them.” Leave room for your soulmate to find you, too; they may come into your life when you least expect it.
Perhaps your differences will bring you together, as they did for Carol and Ronnie Gee. “I do believe that opposites attract,” she says. Or maybe your best friend is the one destined to be your true love. According to new research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, people who marry their best friend enjoy twice the life satisfaction from marriage as others. “There are many people … that you can be happy with,” says Whelan. “You’re actively choosing to make someone your soulmate.” And therein lies the moral of the story: Stop searching for your mythical match and put your heart into creating a real and lasting love. In the end, the choice is really up to you.
There are many people...that you can be happy with. You’re actively choosing to make someone your soulmate.