The concept of having a soulmate has been floating around practically forever. The idea behind it is simple: There’s one person out there who is destined to be your other half.
Of course, this is a little controversial. And the stars-are-aligned nirvana depicted in the movies, TV shows, and books doesn’t exactly play out like that in most IRL relationships. While some people are all in with the idea of having a soulmate, others think it’s total B.S. Many people are somewhere in the middle, with the belief that you can have several "soulmates" during your lifetime.
Merriam-Webster defines the concept of a soulmate as “a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament.” And while that sounds all rosebuds and romantic bliss, psychologists caution that even soulmate-status relationships take work. “There is an assumption that soulmates are like puzzle pieces, and when two partners meet their pieces will align in perfect harmony,” says Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
“This expectation paves the way for significant disappointment. Instead, replace the idea of ‘finding’ your soulmate, with ‘creating’ one through years of learning about them, navigating challenges, creating a family, and loving each other through all the happy and hard times,” Romanoff continues. She stresses that soulmates are created through a more deliberate process than pop culture has led many to believe.
Before we get into whether soulmates are real or not, it’s important to define what exactly they are.
What is a soulmate, really?
The definition depends on who you’re talking to. “The actual meaning of the notion of ‘soulmates’ varies from person to person,” says Joseph Cilona, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist in Manhattan.
Still, he says, it’s fair to say that the most common belief around the term is that there is only one person in the world that is your soulmate, that that person is the perfect match for each of us, and that you must find that person to be happy in love and marriage.
“Furthermore, the thought is that if we do find them, the relationship will be perfect and blissful,” Cilona says. “If we don’t, any other relationship will never be as good.”
Other people define soulmates by what they do. A soulmate is “a person who appears in your life in order to teach you an important lesson,” says clinical psychologist Suzana E. Flores, author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives.
“They can shake up your soul by providing experiences that change the way you perceive yourself and the world,” Flores explains. “Soulmates challenge you to transcend into a higher state of consciousness.”
Why is the idea of soulmates controversial?
Here’s the thing: The concept of a soulmate is really romantic—provided you’re with someone you love and feel really, really good with. But experts have some issues with thinking your S.O. is your soulmate for a slew of reasons.
For starters, the concept implies that you’re not whole without someone else, and that’s pretty messed up, says relationship psychologist Karin Anderson Abrell, PhD.
“If you’re stuck on the notion of soulmates, you could feel this void throughout your single years,” she says. “Feeling like you need someone to complete you is a horrible way to approach dating and relationships because it comes from a place of need.”
Then there’s the fact that being in a relationship with someone, even when you’re an amazing match, can never be a totally flawless experience. The concept of soulmates can delude us into believing that once you find your person, everything will be perfect and easy—and that’s not real life.
“I feel strongly that the entire notion of soulmates is totally toxic, completely false, and that the expectations and beliefs that it fosters can very often sabotage relationships and undermine for many the quest for healthy romantic love,” says Cilona. (A little harsh, maybe, but definitely not wrong.)
Is there scientific proof that soulmates exist?
The math doesn’t quite work out here. If there’s only one person out there for you somewhere in the world, the odds that you’ll actually find them are not exactly in your favor. Not only that, but you’re pretty likely to click with plenty of different people.
It seems that science agrees with this statement, and no psychologists we reached out to could point to any research studies with convincing evidence of the existence of soulmates. For some, it may be worthwhile to consider soulmates outside the framework of conventional scientific research. “Soulmates might be an unquantifiable idea, something you can't prove or measure. But many other disciplines and individuals put great value in these relationships with descriptions that include spiritual healing, past lives, and other [abstract] concepts,” notes Shari Foos, MA, MFT, a marriage and family therapist and founder of The Narrative Method.
If you conceptualize a soulmate as a person you love deeply and feel at ease with, says Foos, many people can understand and relate. Nevertheless, many relationship experts warn of the potentially negative impact holding the idea of “soulmates” a bit too dear to your heart can have on your current relationship or even finding a potential partner.
Can the concept of soulmates harm your relationship?
Sorry to disappoint Bachelor Nation, but experts found the idea of soulmates potentially detrimental to forging healthy relationships. “While this notion has been romanticized, it can be extremely problematic,” shares Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, CPLC, head of couple relationships for Paired relationship app.
“If you are constantly on the search for ‘the one,’ you may not fully be present in your relationship. A study that I love conducted by Gili Freedman and colleagues in 2018 demonstrated that participants who had stronger beliefs in destiny felt more positively toward ghosting and were more likely to have ghosted partners in the past,” Cohen notes. Basically, the research found that people who hold onto the belief that there is someone who they are "destined" to be with are often the same people who used ghosting to break things off with potential partners whom they didn't feel were "soulmate-worthy."
Anecdotally, in the work that Cohen has done with couples, it seems that people who describe their partners as their "soulmate" or "one true love" take it harder when they face challenges within their relationships. "[They put pressure on] the assumption that things should always be 'perfect,'" she says.
Pursuing a particular relationship is a choice, and staying in that relationship is a decision too. “Perhaps rather than believing in soulmates, which can be viewed as something out of our control, it is better to frame it as actively choosing to be with your partner (and your partner actively choosing to be with you) out of mutual love, respect, and admiration for one another,” adds Cohen.
And finally, what if something bad happens to your soulmate? What if you break up or, worst-case scenario, they die? Are you supposed to just take yourself out of the relationship pool for life? That seems kind of…unrealistic, to say the least.
What's a healthier way to think of soulmates?
How about this: A soulmate doesn't have to be limited to a significant other.
“Soulmates don’t necessarily have to be reserved for romance,” says Abrell. Think of Meredith and Cristina on Grey’s Anatomy. Or Monica, Rachel, and Phoebe on Friends. Or Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw and her girls. Sometimes you have a BFF who just gets you like no one else—and that's magical on its own.
“Soulmates don’t necessarily have to be reserved for romance."
With this broader definition, you can feel more fulfilled in life by the high-vibration connections you have with multiple people. And there’s less pressure to make things perfect that way.
So I should let go of the idea that romantic soulmates are real?
If you're single, you don't want the fairytale idea of love to blind you from potential partners just because they may not seem like the soulmate match you've envisioned. Being a hopeless romantic can definitely ding you in that department.
But if you swear you've found your soulmate in life and you feel like an otherwise happy and fulfilled person, there’s no harm in thinking the concept is legit, Abrell says. Just keep in mind that, on a romantic level, it’s really not something that science can prove or that most relationship experts even support (if, ya know, that matters to you).
You also need to remember that "soulmate" or not, relationships take work. Cilona stresses the importance of clear and effective communication, mutual trust that develops when each person’s words match their behavior over time, mutual respect, and mutual caring. (Clearly, lots of mutual stuff here.)
It’s also crucial to have a life partner who doesn’t want to change you, Flores says. Sure, some things about your S.O. might annoy you, and vice versa, but accepting that person as a whole is what makes a good relationship a great one. Being comfortable spending time apart and doing your own thing also helps couples go the distance, Flores says, whether they consider themselves to be "soulmates" or not.