Monday, February 14, 2011

The Western True Love Myth

We all grow up hearing in various ways that we are meant to find true love. Western society seems to interpret this as finding the one and only soulmate that we are each 'destined' to find. The culture places tremendous value on achieving this vision. The media, and especially so many Hollywood movies, does a great job of drilling this incomplete message into young people.

Although this fanciful idea has some very emotionally positive and "nice" feelings associated with it, it is still critically flawed and misleading in many ways, and at the same time does nothing to correct the misconceptions and pressures placed on those forming ideas about what love is.

I've learned that there is no one soulmate, and that makes me glad, when I consider the odds of discovering that individual among the 6 billion humans out there. (And what if my soulmate is in a tribal village that has no outside contact!!?) The whole idea strikes me as silly, as though there is some magical fairy that picks these two people out at birth. I would counter that there are many people capable of being a great partner to a given individual. Admittedly, the definition of "great" isn't clear either, nor is it generally agreed upon. Still, to use myself as an example, I know that whatever it is that I value in a partner or relationship can be achieved through any one of a very large number of people. That doesn't mean I choose randomly, it just means I have more choices. It is not simply a matter of finding the one "right" choice, but rather being able to see the elements of a great match and know what I deem good for me.

The online dating world does a great job of promoting this different philosophy, and is a shining example as it does this better than other sites like and, from my research. I respect the interface, transparency and algorithms on, not to mention the general attitude of the site. Match and Eharmony are stuck in older internet ideas and don't seem to develop much over the years. On the other hand the young and dynamic site is always changing, developing and analysing their vast array of data to provide useful information. Not to mention, the site is a dozen times more fun. And it is also a dozen times more addictive (which is why I've stopped my 'research'!). I mention this because the site's strategy matches you based on how you answer important questions and how you expect your ideal matches to answer, and provides you many matches with a match percentage, as opposed to pretending that there is that ONE person you need to find. guess I'm saying that taking a scientific approach resonates with me, even in the search for a great partner. As a society it isn't healthy to operate on misconceptions that are culturally reinforced.

Don't think that I don't believe in True Love. I really do, but I simply define it differently. In The Happiness Hypothesis (which might be the most enlightening book I've ever read), Jonathan De Haidt discusses the differences between passionate love (which flares up short term but doesn't last) and companionate love (which constantly grows and eventually overshadows passionate love). I think his model of how human relationships work is very apt. According to De Haidt the Hollywood model of love also tells us that passionate love should last forever, and is the love we should expect to find. The truth is, however, that companionate love is more fulfilling over the long term, and ultimately has more potential in my opinion to make a lasting difference. Both can be good and beneficial, but I do take issue with the false impression that our culture can create. (That being said, the culture is staring to mature.)

There is no need to believe that I will find the one soulmate and have an intensely passionate relationship forever. The relationships I seek aren't based on that advertised idea. Just like my platonic relationships, what I am "romantically" drawn to is building trust and love through bonds over the long term. And I'm not only grateful that I've already experienced that kind of relationship, but also absolutely convinced that I can find it with other people.

Happy Valentine's Day.


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