The good news: We all have one.
The great news: It’s God.
The bad news: That’s it.
As a single woman, the notion of a “soul mate” does come up every now and then. I may have wondered to myself if I had one, who he is, where he lived, and how we would find each other. Like my romantic life is a game of “Clue” and I will either be validated or surprised by whether I’ve figured out it’s Athanasius* in the city of Chicago, whom I met because I caught his debonair hat off a gust of wind.
But as I thought about it more (part of my discernment-link), my rational brain came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in romantic soul mates, primarily because there is no official Church teaching, philosophy, encyclical, or what have you, written by people infinitely smarter than I that makes a solid case for one human being (who’s been called to marriage, natch) destined to be made for another human being. I also believe that there are some distinct problems with the defense of the concept and some validation in my point of view from the beauty of real teachings from the Church, official and everything. See tomorrow’s post for that. Yes, I’m making you wait! But we’re Catholic; we’re used to it. 😉
Special note: I don’t mean for this post to judge or belittle the many lovely people married to wonderful-sounding spouses who earnestly believe in the concept of soul mates and point to their relationships as evidence. Perhaps in time it will be like those who proffer evidence of a miracle and some Church tribunal does proclaim romantic relationships as “soul-mated.” But until then, I’d like to enter the conversation as a single person.
The Problem of Privilege
I find that many supporters of the concept are already married, and this is a problem, because really, they’re coming from a place of privilege. Privilege meaning that they have had certain formative experiences that naturally (not negatively) limit the ability to understand or speak to the experiences of another group.
And married privilege is just that. Of course, you believe your spouse is your soul mate and couldn’t imagine being married to anyone else. He’s your husband! You chose each other (come back tomorrow) and know each other so intimately now, that of course you can’t imagine being married to Barabbas, who had a nasty addiction, or Mordecai, who was nice, but boring, or even Ephrem from Marketing, whom you loved, but he got transferred, and the long distance killed an otherwise loving relationship.
As a single person (especially a young one, new to Catholic thought), it can be dangerous to be told there is just one person for you.
- A friend of mine believed this and agonized, “What if I never meet him?!?!” Well…that’s..silly..if God knows you have a husband (see below), you will meet him and decide to marry him. Oh, she meant soul mate. Then you will use God’s grace to make your marriage with another man as holy as possible. God isn’t arranging things so that our true happiness is solely dependent on only one person. It’s dependent solely on Him.
- It also clouds discernment (link). “Lady Blogger Awesome says I have a soul mate arranged for me. But I have this job offer in this other city. Does it mean I take it and he’s there? What if I leave and it turns out he was here? How do I know I’ll find him again? And what if we’re old? Like forty!” For the sake of Nervous Nellies, let’s please can the talk that free will choices mean we’re not going to attain true happiness. We will, no matter what—with God.
These two issues illustrate that “soul mates” imply that your greatest happiness is found in one person, and if you end up with another person, you’ll have less happiness, so hold out for your soul mate, and you’ll know when you know.**
I do think though that there are ways in which people cooperate with God’s grace that helped them end up with a man of their dreams. Hang on till tomorrow, okay?
The Problem of Star Trek God
Probably one of the hardest mysteries to contemplate is that God is outside of human perceptions of space and time. That He is simultaneously present in the woman who’s just received Eucharist in India, in the company of the praying children in a school in 1962, and with His Son, dying on the cross. Because we know the basic fact of “God is outside of space and time,” people sometimes use this to make certain conclusions. One of which is that “because God is outside of space and time, the Author of your life, knows how you will use your free will [hang on], He knows whom you will end up with, post ipso facto ergo propter hoc, you have a soul mate.” Um. No.
Here’s why: While God is outside of space and time, can see everything, know our decisions (tomorrow!), this does not mean He has ordained that person to be yours in a romantic context, or that your souls will unite perfectly and you will have a perfect marriage, or that there was a soul mate, you didn’t pick him, and there was someone better for you and you’ll find out who when you get to Heaven.
What I believe is that because God sits outside of space and time, it simply means he sees all our decisions, how we cooperated with His grace (or not), and our earthly lives were being shaped by us and Him for that moment when we are called to Him and we our either welcomed into His company with the saints, are told we cannot see Him just yet and are told to wait in the vestibule (Purgatory), or we choose to reject his company forever and permanently. In the end, perhaps God knew I ended up with Malachi from CatholicMatch, who was only okay, but saw that Joachim in Miami was a good and holy man and may have made me happier, given me more children. Yet, at the “End” of the literal Day, I do not believe it matters whether my soul “mated”*** with Mal’s soul over Jo’s. What matters is that I and my own soul said “yes” to union with God.
Which leads me to:
The Problem of Yenta God
The very notion of a soul mate precludes the possibility that someone else could make you just as happy or happy in different ways. Or that one person will lead you to Heaven and anyone else will take over your entire decision-making skills and you will be led astray. Or that there is just one person whom you are called to lead to Heaven (marriage: visit tomorrow!) and if you don’t get together, he’ll end up in the darkness, where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. My goodness, the pressure!
But very often we don’t think of these issues when we think “soul mate.” We think about how companionable the person is, how his good qualities make him a good husband, and because by the time we end up married to him, we can’t imagine anyone else making us feel (this word very deliberately chosen) this good about ourselves and relationships with God. And it seems like to us that we were destined to be together, MFEO, and God wanted us with this one man.
Well, He does and He doesn’t. God wants us to be happy; He wants us to make choices that draw us closer to Him; He wants us to be in communion with other persons. But I don’t think God necessarily appoints Charbel to be matched with Hildegard. He may lead one to the other through promptings of the Holy Spirit and guardian angels, but he doesn’t have a web site of profiles that he divinely pairs together. There are two issues with thinking God arranges a soul “mating” between two individuals:
a.: It conflicts with the gift of free will (tomorrow, I love ya)
2. The very idea smacks of predestination, and we are not Calvinists. We’re Catholic.
A dangerous line of thinking here is that if you believe God has destined you for one particular man, say, Clement, and because you’re supposed to meet, fall in love, and have babies, God will make it so, and you have to do nothing. Unless Clement turns out to be the Fed Ex guy you see every day all along (and also just so happens to share your views on faithful married life) or that Ephrem from Marketing (and unlike in the 1st problem, you’d “know” to move with him) who is the only man you see because you live at your job, it is quite easy to remain single. Why can’t your future spouse be Boniface on the bus, whom you’re too shy to talk to? And oh, dear, what do you do if your “soul mate” uses his free will and does something that necessitates you end the civil part of the marriage and remain single the rest of your days? Does that mean you never had a soul mate?
It’s like the old joke priests love to throw into the homily at least once a year: A flood is coming. A man prays to God to save him. A warning goes out that the waters are rising, to get to the shelter. The man stays. The waters rise, and someone in a canoe passes by to bring the man to safety. The man stays. The waters rise, and a helicopter hovers over to pluck the man from the roof. The man stays. And dies. When he gets to Heaven, he asks God, “Lord, why didn’t you save me?” And God replies “What do you mean? I sent you a warning, a canoe, and a helicopter!”
Dear hearts, God wants us to be with Him in Heaven, and that may mean we get there through marriages. He will send us only good things—and He will send many, especially if we miss Him the first time around! It’s just up to us to practice the art of discernment (link) and really listen to understand what He knows we have ahead of us.
*I think it’s fun to use random Catholic saints/historical people as my example characters. Any similarity to persons living or with God unintended and not deliberate, either.
**Please stop telling single people this statement. Instead, describe the feelings, the result of prayer, the comparison and contrast between this girlfriend and your ex.
***Whatever that means! There’s no single, solitary definition. Yet another Problem.